Fantastic Living Spaces – #4 Trio of Paradoxes

Written By: Bethany Bradsher

In the Las Vegas living room designed by Lorena Gaxiola, the true story is found in the paradoxes.

The first paradox: a traditionally appointed room with hints of Ralph Lauren located in a tract neighborhood just off the Vegas strip. In a development where it’s hard to distinguish one exterior from the other within a city defined by flashiness, it’s a room that you might sooner expect in Williamsburg, Virginia, than just blocks away from Glitter Gulch.

Of course, that’s just the type of contradiction that fuels the creative juices of a designer like Gaxiola, the owner of Kuatro Design, in San Diego. She embraced the opportunity to craft a distinctive room that also reflected the homeowner’s preferences.

Paradox number two: the zebra-print ottoman at the hub of the room, flanked by armchairs. The ottoman, standing in contrast with the more traditional fabrics and woods throughout the room, defines one of Gaxiola’s favorite principles: Every good design them should be meddled with from time to time.

The homeowners in Las Vegas liked the Ralph Lauren fabrics and styles and wanted to incorporate those into the living room. But the Ralph Lauren influence, while strong, wasn’t the only theme of the room, and the zebra ottoman, which was a piece the owners loved, was the perfect way to express individuality.

The ottoman was a pricey piece, Gaxiola says, but she encourages people to choose one accent piece that they really love to build their room around, even if it takes a good chunk of their budget. The rest of the room can be low budget, and she cites the tapestry handing over the fireplace of this living room as an example of a low-priced item that carries a lot of weight in the decor. The bottom line for Gaxiola was that the homeowners loved the distinct ottoman, and that was enough to make it work with the two-story stone fireplace and the distressed oak lining the walls and the center column.

Another preference of the homeowners that loosened the design reins for Gaxiola was their desire for four chairs as the central seating area rather than the more traditional couch arrangement. Couches are hard to place aesthetically, and the chairs and zebra ottoman create an openness that highlights the other aspects of the room.

And the final paradox: the unique arrangement of paintings on the mantel. A large framed tapestry forms the centerpiece of the group and is flanked by two historic and traditional oil paintings. The grouping exemplifies Gaxiola’s belief that diverse art styles can work together when the matting and framing are consistent.

Gaxiola, who became the sole proprietor of Kuatro Design five years ago and is one of the youngest Hispanic business owners in the San Diego area, also has a line of contemporary furniture called Kuatro Living. She has designed interiors for residential and business clients and also works with model merchandising and staging.

Fantastic Living Spaces – #3 House in the Hills


Written By: Blake Miller

In order to keep the ’70s feel while also modernizing it, designer Steve Hermann added a white shag rug and covered the built-in, custom sectional with a synthetic suede in a contemporary chocolate brown. Slate-colored terrazzo surrounds the sunken living room and adds another modern element to the mix.

For months, friends and colleagues told Steve Hermann about a Hollywood Hills home he had to see. But like many things in real estate, the price and timing were off. Nevertheless, Hermann, a well-known architectural designer whose niche is catering to young celebrities who are drawn to his clean lines and simplistic yet dramatic architecture and interiors, was intrigued. So, after months of prodding and an exceptional cut in asking price, Hermann decided to take a peek at it.

Within five minutes of walking through the space, he was sold.

In spite of its great bones and character, the 30-plus-year-old home was in serious disrepair. The original owners, actress Liza Minnelli and then-husband, Jack Haley Jr., were known to throw extravagant house parties during the ’60s and ’70s. But when Haley passed away, his family inherited the home and was unable to maintain the property, resulting in rotted wood, faulty plumbing and electrical, not to mention outdated aesthetics.

Hermann knew this project would be very different from the minimal, modern residences he’d become accustomed to creating, but the challenge piqued his interest.

One room where Hermann abandoned his signature crisp lines and minimal decor in favor of a more “playful and striking” look was the living room. Outfitted with a wet bar, expansive views of the Los Angeles basin, and a sunken living area with an enormous triangular fireplace and built-in sectional sofa, the living room functioned more as a great room where homeowners could host a cocktail party and keep everyone in on area, if necessary. Striking glulam poplar wood beams, which lined the ceiling jutted from the inside through the glass and out and above the outdoor living area, were one feature Hermann adamantly wanted to restore.

The triangular fireplace was another feature Hermann chose to keep, albeit with some changes. Hermann covered the fireplace in stainless steel, which provided a cool, contemporary edge, but he also made sure the lava rock was preserved underneath.

To complement the edgy look of the fireplace, Hermann opted for slate-colored terrazzo flooring, which runs throughout the living area and the rest of the house. The sunken living area, though, was furnished with a significant white shag rug, a retro nof to the home’s ’60s origin. The aforementioned built-in sofa was a usual fixture in ’70s-era homes, and Hermann again was set on keeping it but modernizing it at the same time. To customize the expansive, three-piece sectional, Hermann swathed the piece in rich, chocolate brown synthetic suede, which works well with the brown, gray, and white color palette he established in the room. To further enhance the color scheme but also add some texture to the room, Hermann covered the wall along the backside of the living space and in a hallway leading to the sleeping quarters with hair-on-hide panels with round convex glass fish tanks.

After an 18-month renovation of the property, Hermann and his then-fiancee finally moved in and enjoyed the fruits of his labor, even by having their wedding reception there. Just eight months later, though, Hermann decided to sell after seeing the opportunity to cash in on his extraordinary design.

First it was Friends star Courteney Cox Arquette who fell in love with the home and its unique design. But with two dogs, Arquette had to pass because of the small size of the home’s yard. But it was the second potential buyer, Grammy-winning recording artist Christina Aguilera, who could not resist. Aguilera purchased the property in its entirety – artwork, furniture, candles, silverware, and all.

Since the completion of what Hermann calls one of his most challenging projects, he has designed homes for other hot, young Hollywood types from executives to producers to actors to musicians. But this home will forever remain unique.

Fantastic Living Spaces – #2 Small-Space Personality


Written By: Maresa Giovannini

Based on Gail Shields-Miller’s glamorous renovation of her 850-square-foot New York City apartment, she knows how to dress a room for any occasion. Since moving into what she calls her “jewel box,” a hotel apartment on the East Side, the veteran designer and her husband have relished the simplicity and elegance of city life.

After discovering the petite co-op building, which Shields-Miller describes as “very European,” the couple jumped on the hotel living trend and purchased the apartment as a second residence in 2006. With cleaning, laundry, and food services available daily, the functions of traditional spaces change. For example, the kitchen, especially in the city, becomes less of a necessity. In fact, Shields-Miller agrees with nearly half her clients who renovate their Manhattan kitchens and ultimately realize the space would be better utilized as a walk-in closet.

Still, Shields-Miller chose to renovate her own kitchen and the rest of the dated interior with a complete gutting. The transformation of the quiet back-facing space took six months to complete and ultimately reconfigured the layout into two large rooms, a kitchen, and an extended hallway.

The designer made major structural changes, including expanding the master bedroom, yet she kept the attached living room its original size. At 14 by 20 feet, this multipurpose space acts as a dining area, a mini office, and a living room for lounging and entertaining – limited to simple cocktails for a few people. Because this is a second residence, entertaining and office work can be done elsewhere and therefore were less of a factor in the design; however, comfort and privacy were deciding factors.

Another success of a small utility space is maximizing the appearance. Shields-Miller accomplished this ultimate goal in the remodel by laying wall-to-wall carpeting and adding depth to the ceilings. For additional elegance, she fearlessly added oversized moldings. And this room was not about the tiny details. By featuring minimal oversized decor, Shields-Miller gave importance to an otherwise diminutive living room.

People tend to be shocked by the intimate space, but Shields-Miller is content with the size for a city dwelling.

Shields-Miller often spends time with her son in Los Angeles, where she was inspired by the glamour of old Hollywood for her new space. By using bold patterns, heavy materials, and classic lines, she set the glamorous tone and made it modern with the addition of primitive furnishings – porcupine quills, Murano urchin-like lighting fixtures, and a steer-horn table base.

The designer combined mohair, chenille, cut velvet, white marble, metal, walnut, and rosewood to create an enticingly exotic appeal.

Most of the furnishings were reinvented for this design but already existed in Shields-Miller’s life. It was important for her to incorporate her treasured art and possessions, such as the two original Warhols hung stately above the couch. So important, in fact, that to include an over size art deco sideboard that she purchased in Dublin, Ireland, Shields-Miller opened the ceiling at the entrance to get it in the apartment. Because the ceiling was the first step in the renovation, the sideboard stayed hidden under plastic in the middle of the living room for the entire six months of construction. For the designer, there seem to be no physical limits to making a statement with classic bold furniture, and her grandiose approach facilitated the stylish final product.

Fantastic Living Spaces – #1 Comfortable Chic


Written By: Jeanine Matlow

Steven Zelman knows a thing or two about small spaces. The president of FineDesign Interiors, in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, is from New York, where less-than-large living quarters are the norm.

So, when the designer was called upon to create a plan for a South Beach condo with limited square footage, he was up for the challenge.

What he did with the high-rise apartment, in a curve structure complete with sweeping ocean views, is what the designer calls “comfortable contemporary.”

Since the condo is a vacation residence for clients who love to entertain, the living room had to perform many functions. It was also essential that nothing compete with the views. The designer turned to neutral tones to visually expand the modest space – a pale, but pleasing palette to make the views, not the furniture, become the focus.

A custom rug covers a portion of the marble floors, helping to define the main seating area. A round column became the perfect spot for a bar. The unique design includes storage area for glassware above the counter. Nearby, the designer carved out an intimate conversation area to sit and enjoy the view.

Since the living room was designed with a number of functions in mind, a pop-up television was part of the plan. Other inconspicuous pieces include a stainless steel cocktail table with a glass top that allows you to see through the space.

Even the draperies get in on the act. The subtle sheers use a simply yet stylish approach to soften the hard edges in the room. A drop ceiling panel features electronically operated shades that black the sun without blocking the view. The shades are programmed to open and close automatically each day.

Wood panels add contract along with architectural detail to the subdued surroundings. The clients, who are from Europe, were drawn to the dark cherry wood. Sconces provide soft lighting at night, while Jamali paintings help to personalize the space.

A shelf holds a handful of accessories along a wall without windows. Those who are seated facing that direction are given interesting pieces to ponder. Grass cloth adds a touch of texture to the wall where there is not wood.

The living room was designed with a number of functions in mind. Defined seating areas and a neutral palette help to visually expand the space.

The clean-lined furniture needed to be comfortable, too. Thanks to the sofas, chairs, and an oversized ottoman, the central conversation area can easily accommodate a dozen guests. Ottomans always come in handy where extra seating, footrests, and surface space are concerned. But in South Florida, they serve another purpose as well. The ottoman helps the eye move across the room to the bar and beyond.

The same can be said for keeping other elements, such as art and window treatments, clean and simple.

Floor-to-ceiling windows bathe the living room with light, as do sliding glass doors that lead to a terrace that acts as an extension of the living room. Outdoor furniture is kept to a minimum because severe weather can become a factor.

Another popular choice in warm weather climates, particularly vacation homes, is the use of silk plants, which add color without demanding special care. One thing you won’t see in the well-thought-out plan is any hardware on the furniture. This helps to emphasize the uninterrupted flow of the space. Other details, such as the baseboards, add a note of distinction to the decor.

Not only was the designer able to deliver the elegant entertainment area his clients were after, but he also enlarged the visual footprint of the living room through the clever use of color, scale, and texture while giving them the clutter-free space they craved.

Fantastic Living Spaces

More than any other room, a living room has to be adaptable. Especially as more people embrace small-space living, the modern-day living room has myriad functions, serving as everything from a place to entertain to a spot to relax after a long day. The rooms over the next following days, take advantage of every bit of square footage, showcasing personality and style at their best.