How to create a stunning, guest-friendly condo
• Photography By Colin Perry
Choosing your finishes is a joyful rite of passage when buying a new condo – the first step in putting a personal stamp on a new home. But what if the finishes have been chosen for you? Or worse, were chosen by the builder 25 years ago?
When this homeowner finally found the perfect condo – after months of hunting for a three-bedroom, two-bath place, as elusive as a four-leaf clover in Vancouver’s frenzied market – she was faced with positively uninspiring decor. The finishes were bland, the bathrooms were dated, and the galley kitchen was “claustrophobic.”
A GUIDING LIGHT
While she was downsizing from a much larger home, she was intent on embracing a new esthetic in her new nest. So when she tapped seasoned Vancouver designer Negar Reihani to help take the 1,100-sq.-ft. Yaletown apartment from drab to dazzling, the dossier was slim, and there was no existing furniture to work with. “She gave me very little. She showed me some pictures, and that was it,” Reihani recalls. “She said, ‘Imagine this is your own home; treat it and design it the way you would do for yourself.’ She gave me carte blanche, then left the country for six months.” Every designer’s dream client, right? Not entirely. “It’s a major responsibility and comes with a lot of stress.”
The goals for the condo were two-fold: imbue it with a bright, welcoming transitional style, and make it work for the homeowner’s frequent entertaining and overnight guests. “When family visits from Iran, she can host them here,” she says. “And with her background, you usually have more people when you entertain.” The designer deftly skirted the form-versus-function dichotomy by building in piles of storage while maintaining the innate airiness of the surprisingly ample rooms and brightening them up with fresh finishes and furniture.
“She was coming from a large, single-family home on two acres of land in Iran where she raised her children,” Reihani says. “Her old home was very classic, with lots of antiques and rugs. But a house is a lot of maintenance, and at her age, it becomes more difficult. So, here in Vancouver, she wanted her home to be modern and elegant with none of the care and upkeep she worried about before.”
The decorating, too, would be a departure. “She wanted light blues and greens, colours that make you happy in Vancouver’s grey weather. A mix of modern, with some classic touches – pretty simple, pretty modern.” To keep the look from feeling one-dimensional, Reihani incorporated elements – like the brushed-brass accents and moodier artwork—that reference older, more traditional or more opulent styles. Pale-wood flooring installed throughout the home updates the look.
Opening up the tiny, closed-in kitchen – the project’s biggest challenge – meant refinishing it with a light, elegant touch. Now fully visible from the dining room and den, the overhauled space had to be stylish. “The trick was to keep things sleek,” Reihani says. She replaced aged cabinet doors with simple MDF ones painted in mossy taupe. Laminate counters were swapped out in favour of stretches of cool Bianco Carrara marble. On the rear wall, upper cabinets fronted in back-painted glass are lushly framed in a crisp box of marble. “The marble box creates visual interest and movement, and the glass panelling has sparkle, so it makes the kitchen look more spacious.” Reihani also panelled the inside surfaces of the pillar and thin bulkhead (essential for the plumbing and structural support) in mirror, so they all but disappear.
Of course, looks weren’t everything: the space had to have brains, too. “She’s an older lady and she likes to cook,” she says. To boost cooking space and function, Reihani pulled the fridge and stove out of the tiny galley space, packing those plus a full-height pantry cupboard and more storage into repurposed closets along the adjacent hallway, and freeing up space for cooking and storage in the kitchen.
BUDGET-FRIENDLY CUSTOM TOUCHES
To keep the reno budget manageable, Reihani didn’t radically alter the structural elements. She left the narrow column in place for support, and it also houses the kitchen’s pipes and drains. “I didn’t touch the plumbing,” she says. She hid the outer support wall inside the cabinet. “By extending the materials from the cabinets, I made it look more custom.”
Reihani had equal aplomb when tackling the dull-as-dishwater bathrooms. In the master bath, she focused her redesign on a long, lean display shelf that runs the length of the room, right into the glass-walled shower, for a look that’s crisp and architectural. The guest bath riffs on the kitchen design, with its vanity area boxed in in sheets of quartz composite.
When she started thinking about the condo as she would her own, Reihani developed a long list of alterations for the home. But, of course, all good things must come to an end. “I would have done wallpaper in the master bedroom to give it that extra layer, and upgraded the closet doors in the bedrooms. But you have to spend your budget where it’s most visible and always keep resale in mind as well,” Reihani says. “You have to create changes that will stay relevant. By that token, the bedrooms are usually last.”
In the end, the homeowner never got to choose her own finishes – that pleasure went to the designer. Nonetheless, she has gained a bright and charming new home base that’s a perfect launchpad for the next phase of her life. And as for the personal stamp… she’ll have to make that mark through memories she creates hosting guests overnight, and throwing parties for her friends, children and grandchildren.
INTERIOR DESIGN by Negar Reihani, CONSTRUCTION, FLORAL ARRANGEMENTS, Space Harmony; WOOD FLOORING, Floor House; PAINT, Pure White by Sherwin-Williams. LIVING ROOM: CUSTOM SOFA, Space Harmony; SIDEBOARD, Nuevo Living; SIDE TABLE, Suquet; POUFS, HomeSense; COFFEE TABLE, Jonathan Adler; BENCH FABRICS, Brentano. DINING ROOM: TABLE, Suquet; CHAIRS, CHANDELIER, LH Imports; ARTWORK (behind dining table) by Caro (caro-paint. com). KITCHEN: CABINETRY COMPANY, BACK-PAINTED GLASS, Modaa Kitchen; COUNTERTOPS, MARBLE BACKSPLASHES, Alpine Countertops; DRAWER PULLS, Atlas Homewear. DEN: WALLPAPER, Hygge & West; CUSTOM SOFA, Space Harmony; TABLES, West Elm; RUG, Surya (surya.com); MIRROR, The Home Depot; WALL SCONCE, Aerin; large PLANT in basket, HomeSense. MASTER BEDROOM: BED, COVERLET, West Elm; BEDDING, HomeSense; WALL SCONCES, Aerin; SIDE TABLE, CB2; ARTWORK by Negar Reihani, Space Harmony. ENSUITE BATHROOM: MARBLE FOR WALLS, FLOOR TILE, Creekside Tile; GLASS FOR SHOWER WALLS, Universal Supply; CABINETRY MANUFACTURER, Modaa Kitchen; TOILET, SINK, FAUCETS, TAPS, SHOWER HEAD, Universal Supply; DRAWER PULLS, Atlas; COUNTERTOP, Alpine Countertop. GUEST BEDROOM: BED, SIDE TABLE, BEDSPREAD, West Elm; WALL SCONCE, Aerin; PLANTS (on bedside table), HomeSense. GUEST BATHROOM: MARBLE FOR WALLS, FLOOR TILE, Creekside Tile; GLASS FOR SHOWER WALLS, Universal Supply; CABINETRY MANUFACTURER, Modaa Kitchen; TOILET, SINK, FAUCETS, TAPS, SHOWER HEAD, Universal Supply; DRAWER PULLS, Atlas; COUNTERTOP, Alpine Countertop.