The Interior Design Move That Adds Luxury And Always Gets Noticed
Our experts’ advice: Spring for soft colour in a glossy finish on your ceiling.
Our experts’ advice: Spring for soft colour in a glossy finish on your ceiling.
IF YOU’RE LOOKING to put a room’s décor over the top, lacquer up, say interior design pros. The multi-layered technique yields a mirror-like finish, and when applied to a ceiling, says interior designer Mary Beth Wagner, it brings dynamism and texture to the space. “People notice an interesting detail above because, for the most part, there usually isn’t one,” said the Dallas, Texas, pro. “Most ceilings are white.” Here, Mrs. Wagner and other interiors experts weigh in on what the design move entails, and why you should consider it.
The Appeal: If you want to elevate a space and brim with decorating confidence, says Mrs. Wagner, look to your ceiling, a surface typically taken for granted. In the coming months, the designer plans to coat the ceiling of a client’s dining room in a deep-blue lacquer, with walls of pale blue Venetian plaster. As afternoons wind down in the Lexington, Ky., home of Matthew Carter, the interior designer admires the sinking sun’s reflections on the “fifth wall” of his recently repainted living room, the lacquered ceiling shown right. “It’s a little bit of drama,” he said. Mr. Carter had lived for a year with matte pink overhead, and though he loved the pale hue, “it needed a pick-me-up.” So he colour-matched the existing shade to a Fine Paints of Europe hyper-gloss (similar in colour to Farrow & Ball’s Pink Ground). Its reflective sheen conferred glamour on the entire room. “Everyone comments on it,” he said.
New York City-based interior designer Elizabeth Bolognino lacquered a barely-there peach onto the ceiling of her client’s Manhattan dining room. The impact floored her. “It’s not a bright colour,” she said. “It’s more of this curious little accent, but it plays a big role.”
Both designers wax lyrical about lacquer’s mirroring prowess. During the day, reflections stretch and bend; come evening, flickers of candle- and lamplight sparkle back reflectively. Even wall art gets a boost, said Mr. Carter. “Lacquer enhances the room as a whole and makes you more aware of the backgrounds,” he said, letting art pop.
The Tips: Also known as an automotive or museum finish, true lacquer isn’t an easy fix. But the many-layered process of repeated sanding and polishing pays off. When fully cured, “it looks like glass,” Ms. Bolognino said, watery and gleaming. The technique yields more depth and “wow” than simple high-gloss paint does, said Mr. Carter, noting that some find the effect addictive. If you’re tempted to douse a whole room in the shine, stand down, he says: “It can be too much of a good thing.” Besides, it’s the contrast of painted plaster and a glossy sheen that heightens the effect.
For a larger ceiling, try an uplifting but non-oppressive pale blue, shell pink or ivory lacquer, counsels Mr. Carter. If you want to start small, consider the ceiling of a jewel-box room—a foyer bath or a hidden-away butler’s pantry. In tighter quarters, even an emerald green or saturated yellow won’t overwhelm, he adds.
The Caveats: “There is definitely a price to be paid,” conceded Ms. Bolognino. Applying a lacquer finish is an endeavour best left to a professional. In the Midwest, a 12×15 ceiling will set you back approx. $9300 (or approx. $51 a square foot), reports Mike Foley, of Chicago’s DiVinci Painters. Prices are even steeper on the coasts, he says, averaging around $90 a square foot versus $1.50 for matte. Expect mess and a few weeks of fumes. “Generally speaking, most people tolerate it well when site protection is utilised,” Mr. Foley said, referring to dust- and fume-collecting machines, among other precautions. Fortunately, most people who opt for the specialty finish ultimately feel it’s well worth the cost and tussle, said Mrs. Wagner: “It’s a conversation starter.”
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You’ll never guess where they found a little extra room when renovating this west coast house
There was a time, not too long ago, when the most important must-have for would-be renovators was space. It was all about space to be together and space to be apart.
But as house prices increase across the country, the conversation has started to shift from size for the sake of it towards more flexible, well-designed spaces better suited to contemporary living.
For the owners of this 1920s weatherboard workers’ cottage in Fremantle, the emphasis was less on having an abundance of room and more about creating cohesive environments that could still maintain their own distinct moods. Key to achieving this was manipulating the floorplan in such a way that it could draw in light, giving the impression at least of a larger footprint.
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Positioned on a site that fell three metres from street level, the humble four-room residence had been added to over the years. First order of business for local architect Philip Stejskal was to strip the house back to its original state.
“In this case, they were not quality additions,” Stejskal says. “Sometimes it is important to make sure later additions are not lean-tos.”
The decision to demolish was not taken lightly.
“Sometimes they can be as historically significant as the original building and need to be considered — I wouldn’t want people to demolish our addition in 50 years’ time.”
Northern light hits the site diagonally, so the design solution was to open up the side of the house via a spacious courtyard to maximise opportunities to draw natural light in. However, this had a knock-on effect.
“We had to make space in the middle of the site to get light in,” Stejskal says. “That was one of the first moves, but that created another issue because we would be looking onto the back of the neighbouring building at less appealing things, like their aircon unit.”
To draw attention away from the undesirable view, Stejskal designed a modern-day ‘folly’.
“It’s a chimney and lookout and it was created to give us something nice to look at in the living space and in the kitchen,” Stejskal says.
“With a growing family, the idea was to create a space where people could find a bit of solitude. It does have views to the wider locality but you can also see the port and you can connect to the street as well.”
A garden tap has also been installed to allow for a herb garden at the top of the steps.
“That’s the plan anyway,” he says.
Conjuring up space has been at the core of this project, from the basement-style garaging to the use of the central courtyard to create a pavilion-like addition.
The original cottage now consists of two bedrooms, with a central hallway leading onto a spacious reception and living area. Here, the large kitchen and dining spaces wrap around the courtyard, offering easy access to outdoor spaces via large sliding doors.
Moments of solitude and privacy have been secreted throughout the floorplan, with clever placement of built-in window seats and the crow’s nest lookout on the roof, ideal for morning coffee and sunset drinks.
The house has three bedrooms, including a spacious master suite with walk-in robe and ensuite overlooking the back garden. Adjustable blades on the bedroom windows allow for the control of light, as well as privacy. Although the house was designed pre COVID, it offers the sensibility so many sought through that time — sanctuary, comfort and retreat.
“When the clients came to us, they wanted a house that was flexible enough to cater for the unknown and changes in the family into the future,” Stejskal says. “We gave the owners a series of spaces and a certain variety or moods, regardless of the occasion. We wanted it to be a space that would support that.”
Mood has also been manipulated through the choice of materials. Stejskal has used common materials such as timber and brick, but in unexpected ways to create spaces that are at once sumptuous but also in keeping with the origins of the existing building.
Externally, the brickwork has been finished in beaded pointing, a style of bricklaying that has a softening effect on the varied colours of bricks. For the flooring, crazy paving in the courtyard contrasts with the controlled lines of tiles laid in a stack bond pattern. Close attention has also been paid to the use of veneer on select joinery in the house, championing the beauty of Australian timbers with a lustrous finish.
“The joinery is finished in spotted gum veneer that has been rotary cut,” says Stejskal. “It is peeled off the log like you peel an apple to give you this different grain.”
Even the laundry has been carefully considered.
“The laundry is like a zen space with bare stone,” he says. “We wanted these different moods and the landscape of rooms. We wanted to create a rich tapestry in this house.”
The owners now each experience the house differently, highlighting separate aspects of the building as their favourite parts. It’s quite an achievement when the site is not enormous. Maybe it’s not size that matters so much after all.
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