Designing a House the Hard Way


Written By: Karen Buscemi

Most interior designers begin with a project at the beginning – before the plans are drawn or the first scoop of dirt is removed from the land. But Jan Friedman and partner Traci Shields, owners of Friedman & Shields, took on a house project after the framing was finished – leaving the duo many design restrictions and making creativity more important than usual.

Nothing that bringing in a designer so late in the process is a more stressful and costly situation, Friedman says she had to play catch up, which included an education in design for the homeowners, a husband and wife, who wanted the look for their four-bedroom, five-bath, 6,000-square-foot home in a southeast suburb of Phoenix to be simple yet include bursts of bright colors.

The design process started for the homeowners with fabrics. They were instructed to pick out anything that they liked, whether it was the color, the texture, or the pattern.

The couple also had to agree on the style of the decor. While the wife was originally interested in a museum look – a colder contemporary that was extremely minimalist – the husband was against it, not wanting to be afraid to sit on the couch and put his feet up.

The most important room of the house was also the greatest challenge. A close family (the couple have a preteen daughter), who like to stay in close proximity of each other, the homeowners wanted only on public area where they could sit together, entertain occasionally, and watch TV. And they did not want a formal dining room. The way the house was framed, a formal dining room had already been constructed off the great room, with both spaces boasting 23-foot-high ceilings. In addition, the enormous great room had a large wall of nearly floor-to-ceiling windows that caused problems with sound, glare, and heat.

To solve the issues of these areas, first the formal dining room was converted to a library, with plush, oversized facing chairs and non-traditional bookshelves. A ceiling was built, making the space more intimate while providing a loft area upstairs for extra space.

Sound issues were taken care of by acoustically upholstering the great room ceiling, adding the area rug – which also gave form to the seating area – and installed motorized window dressings that disappeared into custom pockets in the ceiling.

One large, mostly bare wall was broken up with a 75-inch TV that fit into a custom wood cutout. Extra interest was provided with a geometric cutout around the TV cabinetry.

The homeowners wanted the dining area close to the kitchen, so the dining table was placed just behind the seating area in the great room, filling in the space while solving the homeowners’ requirement.

Pops of color were working into the kitchen – the husband’s favorite room in the house – with the upholstery on the breakfast bar stools as well as the banquette located at the far wall of the room, where the family can enjoy casual meals or the daughter can do homework. Commissioned artwork of glass rectangles adds to the colorful nook. The rest of the room stays subtle yet modern with glass mosaic tiles behind the stove and highly lacquered wood cabinets.

With five bathrooms and designers who don’t believe in repeating a concept, each room has a look all its own.

The master bath, which was designed – along with the master bedroom – to look like a luxury hotel, had to be serene; a private retreat.

Having already been framed out, this room presented a couple of major challenges: It was very long and narrow, and the toilet area had no space for a door – and Friedman is not fan of a pocket door.

The issue of the long, narrow sink area was solved by installing two custom vanities down opposite walls. Artist-designed glass tiles cover much of the walls, adding visual interest while keeping the look muted.

The daughter’s bathroom, with magenta splashes of color, is age-appropriate without looking childish. The fun circles around the room are wood hoops that Traci found, painted, and hung around the room.

One of the upstairs guest bathrooms is Friedman’s favorite – a narrow space that required a long, custom cabinet and was set off with blue tiled walls with shelving that appears to float on light. Between the two shelves is a floor-to-ceiling mirror and medicine cabinet, with even the section below the vanity usable as storage.

Though the house took two years to finish – far more time than the homeowners originally anticipated – they say they are thrilled with the design.