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Welcome to the West's best rooms: 19 winners of our first Interior Design Awards.

Judging from the 324 entries in Sunset's first-ever search for the West's best interior designs, announced in the April issue, Westerners ask a lot of their homes. They want the kitchen to be a family-living room. They want the bath to be a decompression zone. They want to bounce on the furniture. They want rooms furnished to fulfill their fantasies, and to fulfill pure function--not uncommonly many functions at once. They want comfort and craftsmanship.

Entries from across the West challenged our jurors (identified on page 6). On the following pages are their picks for interior design excellence. Do you see a room you'd like to come home to?

It won for its elegant theatricality

The jury loved this house. "Take a look!" exclaimed juror Heidi Richardson. "There's more and more and more to it. They had the courage to make a theatrical statement." Juror Ron Rezek noted, "It looks like French deco. Neat to see historical inspiration from a different place." The seamless flow of the interiors and the subtle way they recall earlier periods of modern design, without appearing to be reproductions, won rave reviews.

The owners, an active empty-nest couple interested in music and collecting art and decorative objects, asked the architects for a setting that "would meld past and present." Homeowners and architects achieved an elegant backdrop, especially in the living room, where the piano, the vivid poster, and the granite mantel stand out against the light tones of the maple fireplace and the pitched oak-and-fir ceiling.

Rounded and angled like a piece of furniture, the fire-place flanked by built-in bookshelves fits the room's scale and creates a focal point. Hues inside the box shelves are compatible with colors of the Czech and French glass, and American Arts and Crafts and contemporary ceramics displayed. Beiges and yellows in the carpet and upholstery extend the palette of natural wood tones.

The curving sapele-and cherry-paneled stair recalls interiors of French ocean liners of the '30s. Colored tiles frame the window like ceramic drapery.

The best little bistro kitchen

Some rooms just sing. This elegant sliver of a kitchen croons, "I left my heart in San Francisco." But here, it's the cabinets that climb halfway to the stars. With its black-and-white marble tiled floor, tall white walls awash in daylight, and clean-lined contemporary counters and cabinetry, the 9-foot-wide space won unanimous praise from the jury. Rezek summed up the group's reaction: "It's simply the greatest little closet kitchen. It looks like a little bistro."

San Francisco architects Catherine Armsden and Lewis Butler borrowed setback space from one side of their Victorian row house to add this kitchen. Open through a wide arch on one long side, it's a bright corridor of daylight adjoining the dining and family rooms. A skylight runs the 16-foot length of the room.

Deft choices of materials and finishes contribute to the bright, elegant appearance. The glass cabinet doors, the unusual wire-glass backsplash, and the stainless steel that wraps the island and faces the appliances all reflect light. The marble tile floor and black marble island top look related to the house's original antique elements. The airfoil-shaped curve of the island and display niches above the cabinets recall arches and curves elsewhere in the house.

"There's a cool warmth to it"

If interior design were a form of Olympic gymnastics, this house would score a 10 on the balance beam. For, as juror Marcia Johnson said, "This is a completely resolved, well-balanced interior." The judges appreciated the skill with which architect-owner Bernardo Urquieta integrated spatial organization, daylight, scale, texture, and color. Rezek explained, "There's a cool warmth to it--and that's difficult to achieve."

The crisp contemporary spaces--with display platforms and a stairway rising behind the elegant freestanding fireplace--are softened by the furnishings. And furniture is carefully scaled to the fireplace and the platform stair.

Warmth comes from leather and laminated wood chairs, the coffee table designed by Urquieta and made of aromatic California nutmeg, the antique gilt mirror, and the wheat-colored sisal carpeting.

Wall sconces, also Urquieta's design, use sheet metal, bronze tubing, and Japanese rice paper. For the walls, Urquieta applied plaster, then a yellow-tinted wax to create a smooth, handcrafted, light-reflecting texture.

Home gym, circa 1200 B.C.

Enter the shrine of Cybex, Egyptian goddess of exercise. In one of the more unusual and creative accommodations of interests seen by the jury, designer Suzy Schradle-Walker and Jim Walker combined their passion for ancient civilizations with their practice of weight training. Their fantasy exercise room lets them pump iron in the cradle of civilization. Textured walls have Moorish-style arched windows. Carpet resembles raked sand. The remarkable ceiling vault decoration was achieved with 20 patterns of Victorian-style wallpaper--dissected, rearranged, and pieced together to create the effect of a mosquelike mosaic.

The fresco, found in a showroom, inspired the project; it's a faux concrete reproduction of a wall in the Tomb of Ramses III, showing him greeting the god Ptah in the afterlife. This is fitting, as "ptah" is the sound one can't help but make when completing a clean and jerk with free weights.

Tut, tut, you say. All this for the two of them? To share it with friends, they center a dining table under the vault's ceiling fan.

Crayon colors fit a family room

"Here's a family room that's really a family room," Richardson said about this informal space opening onto a rear garden. "Let's throw this one in for the kids." In fact, architect Steven Ehrlich designed it with his clients' three young children firmly in mind. The room, adjacent to the kitchen, functions as a home theater, with a built-in big-screen television dominating one wall.

Drawn up around the screen like big, happy cartoon characters enjoying a friendly game of fish are four custom-designed curved-back armchairs, perfect for bouncing on when parents aren't looking. Rezek praised the choice of furniture: "It's nice having all those chairs instead of a sofa. It gives you greater flexibility in the way you can use the room."

The other furniture and finishes continue the playtime theme. A low table made of Finnish plywood has safe rounded edges and is just the right height for crayoning in front of the television. A second table, for informal dining, reminded the jury of tables in kindergarten classrooms. It has a cartoon yellow-stained top. Around it are springy red plywood cutout chairs designed by Greg Fleishman.

Deep blue linoleum flooring from the Netherlands sets off a geometric Tibetan rug placed in the entertainment area. All the built-in cabinetry is rift-sawn cherry, stained deep red.

Comfort in an industrial loft

Style magazines love factory-loft conversions. The tall spaces, rough walls, and abundant daylight create photogenic backdrops for skeletal fashion models or bony avantgarde furniture. But it's hard to imagine wanting to live full time in such an arty and anorexic environment. Margie Herron's loft is different.

Here you can sink into the sofa and snooze without guilt. The jury liked this loft because it didn't try to get too highfalutin and "la-di-done." In Richardson's words, "The owner didn't worry about the warehouse backdrop, but instead created a nice feeling of contrast between the soft sofa and chairs and the rough concrete walls." Rezek was also drawn to "the cross-pollination of industrial and comfortable."

Though the building is a former tobacco warehouse (remodeled by David Baker Associates Architects), Herron bypassed high tech, and opted for a softened atmosphere of comfort and elegance. To mix with antiques, she selected a washable cotton damask slip-covered sofa and chairs from a specialty furniture store, and a reproduction neoclassical dining table and chairs from a department store.

Tapestry pillows enhance the inviting squashiness of living-area seating. Examples from Herron's candelabra collection add romantic accents.

A great family kitchen

It's a scene and a half. Rap music blasts from the CD player while the whole family jokingly gets in the way of lunch preparations at the cooktop. But it's not just a show for the photographer. This kitchen-family room is where everyone genuinely wants to be.

As juror Tim Street-Porter explained: "It's wonderfully warm and welcoming, friendly." Richardson agreed: "It's a kitchen elevated to living room." Earthy red-orange walls and rich verdigris ceiling squares, prominent display areas for the owners' collection of Mexican and Italian figures, and carefully planned activity centers-organized around cooking, eating, deskwork, and relaxing--draw family and friends (and jurors) with the power of an electromagnet.

Interior designer Lou Ann Bauer established an Old World ambience with a large copper-hooded cooking island; it's like a heart-of-the-kitchen medieval hearth. An existing Victorian-era fireplace is now a pedestal for an earthenware jug.

Cabinetry has a furniture look, with molding and brackets, and details such as door pulls made from fish-handled wood letter openers found at an import store.

When a photographer decorates

"Quirky, inventive ... and pretty" were the words the jury used to describe interior designer and architectural photographer David Livingston's own 600-square-foot apartment on San Francisco's Telegraph Hill. They liked his eye for decorative composition. He says his approach is "studied and random, playful and historical."

You could also say he's simply wearing both career hats at once and creating still-life photography you can comfortably inhabit. In the bedroom, for example, he composed a scene of a black steel canopy bed (his own design), pale blue and white painted wall stripes, a tall 19th-century pine storage chest--acquired from an antiques cooperative, then whitewashed and waxed--and a broad-shouldered mahogany and chestnut chair inherited from his grandmother. With light streaming through the gauzy curtain--made of wedding-dress lace from a fabric outlet--the room resembles a summery cabana at a belle epoque French beach resort.

Livingston arranged smaller still lifes throughout the apartment as a way to organize and display his collections. some are themed, like the map corner above, which includes a cartographic lampshade and map-covered puzzle cubes. Some simply combine random elements, like the assemblage of contemporary houseshaped paperweights made of colored glass and the ornate giltframed antique mirror at right.

Home office in a daylight basement

Functional flexibility, in both furniture and spatial organization, attracted jurors' attention to the redesign of this daylight basement in a hillside house (also shown on our cover). The owners, both professors, wanted to replace three small bedrooms with two home offices that could also serve as sleeping quarters for guests. Architect Sam Davis replaced interior walls with sliding screens and designed two freestanding multipurpose storage cabinets that move on


Distant city views suggested the distinctive skyscraper shapes of the birch plywood-and-steel cabinets. They are wired for electricity and hold lighting, display and storage space, and bookshelves. One side of each cabinet is hinged and folds down to become a temporary desk, as shown in the upper photograph.

Custom-designed shoji panels--made of wood and sandblasted glass--follow the lines of the old interior walls, making it possible to keep the space open or to divide it into areas for working, sitting, and sleeping.

Davis kept details simple, and accented the warm natural tones of the maple cabinetry with deep red and bluegreen hues of a closet door and built-in box shelves. To unite the room visually, he used red, gray, and white stripes--in chair fabric, and painted on cabinetry and floor.

It's a shrine to wine

The jury uncorked this room and drank deeply from it. Actually, they savored its elemental simplicity and elegant finish. "I've never seen a wine cellar as wonderful as this," said Street-Porter. "It's a jewel in the rough," juror Mary Ord added.

Indeed, with its gently arching concrete vault pierced by twin skylights, romantic copper light fixtures, parallel walls of bottle-filled angled wood racks, and on-site boulder thrusting through the concrete end wall, it seems to embody the age-old magic of wine itself.

Architect Michael Shakespear added the underground wine cellar as part of a re-model and seismic upgrade. The room shows technical finesse in his design for double-deep bottle racks that slide on tracks like library stack systems.

Mixed colors, materials

Kitchen design is like cooking: ingredients are important, but it's how you blend them that makes for memorable results. This remodeled kitchen won jurors' praise for "creative and original combination of complementary materials and colors."

Interior designer Lou Ann Bauer used maple, ceramic tile, and glass, and treated each material as a band of color. All cabinets are maple. Lower fronts are natural, while upper ones are colored with paprika red aniline dye. Glass panels catch the light. Green, white, and patterned tile tie the composition together.

A word from the entrants

You don't need to be an award winner to have important things to say about shaping the Western home interior. Indeed, with more than a thousand pages of descriptive text accompanying the 324 entries, Sunset's first Interior Design Awards program turned out to be a remarkable poll on how Westerners turn houses, condominiums, and apartments into homes.

Entrants were as diverse as the West itself: young couples establishing their first homes, empty nesters moving from suburban houses to city apartments, aircraft brokers who rarely come home, and retired mathematics teachers who rarely leave it. They all offered insights into the process of making comfortable and personal interiors. Here's what their letters told us.

Westerners rise to a challenge. For Karen and John Tietjen of Orinda, California, the challenge was keeping to a strict budget.

John teaches high school, and Karen is at home with their 3-year-old. She described an all-too-familiar situation: "It's a challenge to have a home we can be proud of and the family life that makes it a home, in an age when real estate is so expensive and the recession is a constant threat to our dreams."

They wanted to brighten and update the kitchen of their 1958 tract house for no more than $10,000. Karen kept on budget by spray-painting cabinets and purchasing new appliances the same size as the originals.

Westerners are resourceful. Krista and Nick Desatoff of La Habra, California, hit upon an inventive approach to their kitchen remodel: "The maple wood cabinetry and pantry are freestanding to create a furniture look. This not only allows us to rearrange our kitchen but also allows us to mix in various furniture pieces."

Westerners can do it themselves. While seven months pregnant, Kelly Marshall of Novato, California, decided to spruce up the baby's bedroom with a carousel mural, though she had no previous painting experience. She made transparencies from a book illustration, used a projector to transfer the image to the wall, and traced it in pencil. She completed the scene with fumeless acrylic paint.

San Diego designer Charles Ramsey recalled this about his 1950s-era tract house: "An ugly gas heater was the first thing you saw when you entered the front door." So he covered the heater with lengths of 1-inch-diameter galvanized electrical conduit joined with threaded rods to create a decorative radiator that is also a contemporary sculptural screen.

Westerners respond to the region. Pamela and Donald Thornlow of Ketchikan, Alaska, took their area's annual 15-foot rainfall and harsh 100-mph winds into account when adding their new master bedroom suite. They wanted a sense of light and space along with a cozy feeling. Vinyl-clad windows and a triple-latching door to the deck provide daylight as well as defense against the elements; a cathedral ceiling lends spaciousness.

Geography influenced other Thornlow decisions. "It was a long process to create this room," Pamela wrote. "Living on an island in a community of 14,000, with no access except by boat or plane, one can't run down to the store for everything." She became a pro at catalog shopping to find just what she wanted.

Westerners appreciate history. Woodinville, Washington, homeowner Camille Keefe wanted to display jewel-toned family treasures, including an antique Oriental rug and both grandmothers' sets of fine china. She wrote, "My mother, a former department store window decorator, helped me select neutral colors and subtle patterns as noncompeting backdrops."

Jean and William Heizer wanted their passive solar house near Baker City, Oregon, to reflect the area's rural history. To adorn one interior wall, they collected dozens of old farming tools, including a scythe, a crosscut saw, a corn seeder, and a fly duster.

Folk art takes over the cocina

"Welcome to Cocina Ay! Ay! Chihuahua," wrote Joe Lino Beserra. The jury responded with bravos. Richardson observed that Beserra's spirited design--combining broken-tile mosaics, rich colors, and a wild variety of collected objects--"is one of those wacko projects that people should look at more often to make them less serious about their houses."

"When I moved in," says Beserra, "the entire kitchen was avocado with green lattice wallpaper, a symphony of yesterday's guacamole. Friends called it |Casa Tastrophe.'" He reworked every surface in a very personal concoction of tradition and fantasy, a sort of interior design salsa. Bright colors and vivid patterns became visual equivalents of jalapenos and tomatillos.

He treated new readymade cabinets to a crackle paint job of pumpkin and cobalt blue, and added Day of the Dead folk carvings as handles. Surrounding a restored 1949 range are counters surfaced in a mosaic of broken tiles and plates, which he also applies to terra cotta bowls and pots destined for sale in home furnishings specialty shops.

Zen spirit enters the bath

Give us a home that's a decompression zone combining serenity with a dash of drama. That was the request handed to interior designer Chadine Flood Gong in the remodel of this 1970 house. Jurors found both serenity and drama skillfully expressed in the "witty and amusing sink" disguised as a piece of furniture, and in the Japanese-style bath "with its indoor-outdoor orientation."

The powder room sink was a surprise. One juror remarked, "At first I couldn't figure out what it was." It's a contemporary fruit bowl, made of a pewterlike alloy, that Gong found in a gift shop. She had a drain drilled in the bottom and placed it on a Meiji-period tansu with a hole through the top to accommodate plumbing. An obi rack functions as towel bars.

For the bathing area, Gong designed a platform containing a Japanese soaking tub to face a small Japanese garden. All floor, platform, and wall surfaces are covered in multicolored African slate, which brings the outdoor feeling inside.

Street-Porter said, "This bath is the perfect opportunity for indoor-outdoor living ... but it is so rarely done this well. This is the reason we live in California."
COPYRIGHT 1992 Sunset Publishing Corp.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Sunset Magazine's Interior Design Awards 1992
Author:Gregory, Daniel P.
Article Type:Cover Story
Date:Oct 1, 1992
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