A les­son in cus­tom case­goods

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Funky homes ha­bit­u­ally of­fer un­end­ing, oneof-a-kind pos­si­bil­i­ties for spe­cial built-in fea­tures. When you in­herit a floor plan that me­an­ders and changes lev­els be­cause it has been formed over gen­er­a­tions, you have the ba­sis for unique­ness. Some of the most charm­ing homes I’ve ever worked on at­tained that qual­ity only be­cause they were not per­fect tract homes. Even the well planned out cus­tom home of­ten is too care­fully plot­ted out, and be­cause of that fact, can risk feel­ing far too pre­dictable. Char­ac­ter em­anates from the un­pre­dictable sit­u­a­tion.

This din­ing room set­ting is in present day Aus­tralia and of­fers a mod- ern Mid-Cen­tury ta­ble hand­made from tim­ber re­cy­cled from old Queens­lan­der houses. While we don’t know how the painted brick wall was orig­i­nally planned, the brick in­tro­duces tex­ture to a nearly all-white room. Some­times walls like this one were, in the be­gin­ning, ex­te­rior walls. Changes in ma­te­ri­als very of­ten are the sort of de­sign fea­tures that oc­cur ran­domly over time and would not be a fea­ture found in a newly built home. In the South­west­ern U.S. one could run into an adobe wall. In the rain-soaked North­west, per­haps, you might run into a stone wall that would have been used in a 1960s home, or a red brick wall from the 1940s. In­stead of tear­ing such fea­tures out, the wise home­owner seeks a way to use dif­fer­ent lay­ers of style to their ad­van­tage. I have worked around wood pan­el­ing and old wall cov­er­ings be­fore.

When one trav­els to other coun­tries, very of­ten you find very old struc­tures that have been adapted to mod­ern use over hun­dreds of years. That’s the charm of France and Italy: hon­est ma­te­ri­als like stone and plas­ter that have turned and cracked and worn un­evenly over time. The im­per­fec­tion it­self is what we Amer­i­cans have tried to copy in our de­sign over the last three decades as more and more peo­ple have taken ad­van­tage of ac­ces­si­ble travel. Note how the slim built-in shelves mount to the side and up and over the French doors. In­stead of ap­pear­ing awk­ward, there is a seam­less qual­ity achieved by the white painted fin­ish on all ma­te­ri­als. Wood doors, brick, wall sur­face and trim all blend to­gether. The eye ac­cepts the va­ri­ety as friendly and wo­ven.

Since this is the year of white, or more ac­cu­rately, “Al­abaster,” ac­cord­ing to Sher­win-Wil­liams paint, it is note­wor­thy that this scene demon­strates ex­actly how white works its magic. The rea­son the non-color was cho­sen was to foster calm and seren­ity in our tur­bu­lent days. Our hope for 2016 is that it be a year of peace, but the pop­u­lar­ity of white speaks to the stress felt out­side of our home. The only warmth in­tro­duced into this room comes from rus­tic wood with per­son­al­ity. That tone is art­fully re­peated in the cop­per light globes, chairs and ac­ces­sory items. One could just as eas­ily have in­tro­duced a vi­brant yel­low or a peace­ful blue color to use as ac­cent.

Of­ten a light neu­tral base color works bet­ter in a struc­ture that is undis­ci­plined and a bit bumpy. You don’t really want to em­pha­size all the warped lines or mis­matched cor­ners, de­tails or lev­els. There is a bit of a trick to care­fully pre­serv­ing some of the unique fea­tures while smooth­ing out the sharp edges. A ba­sic rule of thumb might be this: Stand back and study any odd fea­ture with both ac­cep­tance and prac­ti­cal­ity. If the sit­u­a­tion is just too strange or lim­it­ing, then you might wish to elim­i­nate the trait. If you can save it by making it blend in bet­ter, then take the steps to do just that. This might in­volve tear­ing out the most of­fen­sive part of it. For ex­am­ple, if to the right side of th­ese doors there had been a very deep lower stor­age cab­i­net, per­haps it would be best to tear that bulky sec­tion out and only leave the shal­low up­per shelves in place. That would ac­com­plish both ac­cep­tance and prac­ti­cal­ity in one ac­tion.

Christine Brun

Small Spa­ces

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