These home-design creatives share their tips for making the most of the spaces we live in
My Favorite Designs
In 1992, Laura Sullivan purchased her first house, a 1927 Spanish-influenced Glendale, California home, complete with crystal doorknobs, wrought-iron elements and a traditional red clay roof. “All the architectural features that I’m drawn to,” says Sullivan. It was the first of several homes of that era that she would buy, restore, furnish and resell; it was also the beginning of her career in interior design.
Sullivan has relocated to Las Vegas, where, for nine years, she’s been catering to local clients who also prefer classic, timeless, elegant décor. As the owner of My Favorite Designs, she’s tackled countless Southern Nevada decorating projects, including more than 30 kitchens.
“Budget, appliances, the layout of the kitchen.” These are her initial considerations when remodeling a kitchen. “And I love designing islands,” she says. “Everybody gathers around the kitchen island.”
Generally a focal point, this center-stage feature can really set the tone for the rest of the room. “It’s the shape of the island; the intricacies,” Sullivan says, “and it doesn’t necessarily have to be the same color as the rest of the room.” Sullivan’s portfolio includes islands of deep red shades, blacks and grays, creating rich drama in otherwise neutral rooms.
By incorporating unique designs, exceptional materials and custom colors into her novel creations, Sullivan ensures that her kitchen projects are always special — but also classic.
“Nothing too trendy,” she says, since she aspires to create rooms her clients will still be happy with a decade later. Think classic lines, refined tones.
When faced with a smaller kitchen, Sullivan has several tricks up her sleeve: “If you don’t have the width to work with, you focus on height,” she says. For instance, a chic white-tiled backsplash beneath white cupboards creates the illusion of a larger and grander kitchen, when every square foot counts.
Other small-kitchen solutions include knocking down walls, installing compact appliances or paneling the refrigerator to appear to be part of the cabinetry. “Glass doors on the uppers also achieves an open feel in a tight space,” she says. Oh, and that whole triangle business that we’re always hearing about when redoing kitchens? Sullivan says it’s nothing to worry about if the kitchen is small. Chantal Corcoran
1 Utilizing a custom-mixed smoke-gray paint on both the kitchen island and the entertainment center in the family room helps to tie both spaces together.
2 Wallpaper above the upper cabinets adds some dimension, texture and a touch of glimmer and interest.
3 Gray and white is a timeless and beautiful pairing that complements both contemporary and traditional styles.
4 Cherry cabinets refinished with a white stain make this kitchen appear larger than it is.
Designers always say they get their inspiration by listening to their clients, but you can believe Jane Cunningham’s ear is better honed than most people’s. Pre-interior design, Cunningham earned a master’s degree in music and was the principal clarinetist in the Honolulu Symphony.
“Knowing how you sound as a musician helps connect with your audience,” she says, “so I think I have that give-and-take with my audience, which, in this case, would be my clients.”
For instance: While getting to know the couple whose project Cunningham named “Modern Zen,” she learned that they loved to travel, meditate and practice tai chi — hobbies that influenced the project in ways both obvious and subtle, from the large Buddha statue in the meditation space to the natural colors and wood finishes. Probing further, Cunningham also got the clients to pull their extensive teapot collection out of a closet and show it to her. The pots are now integrated into a partial wall dividing the dining nook from the meditation space that greets guests as they enter the home.
“We want to bring in who they are immediately when you walk in the house,” Cunningham says. “How people project themselves is huge in how I think about doing their home.”
Modern Zen earned her the multiple residential spaces project award in the 2015 ANDYZ, given by the California Central/Nevada Chapter of the American Society of Interior Designers.
Besides getting an award-winning designer, hiring Room Resolutions also means getting two Cunninghams for the price of one. Jane’s daughter, Amanda Cunningham, is the firm’s design manager.
“She’s really good at finding the most expensive fabric — or the one that’s discontinued,” Amanda jokes about her mom. Then she adds, “She’s also good at pulling things out of people without them even realizing she’s doing it.” Heidi Kyser
1 Cunningham filled the dining area with furniture and collectibles from her clients’ European travels.
2 She looks for opportunities to integrate personal items, such as these teapots.
3 A large Buddha statue greets visitors from the clients’ meditation area, setting the tone of the home.
Cecilia Schafler marked going out on her own — after a couple of decades working as a landscape architect in the public sector and then in other people’s firms — by naming her private practice after her grandmother, who taught her about gardening and plants and the importance of the environment. When Schafler looks at a yard, it’s personal. She believes her mandate is to straddle the dual responsibilities of, on one hand, creating a space where her clients will feel comfortable having their coffee in the morning or playing with the kids after work and, on the other, minimizing the burden of that space on a delicate desert ecosystem.
“I’ve been doing this a long time, and drought-tolerant landscaping has always been my focus,” she says.
Standing on a reputation cemented over 30 years in the field, Schafler can afford to be picky today. She won’t take on just anyone as a client, only those who share her values.
But she’s also doing her part to cultivate a world in which her high standards are the norm. Besides running Lage Design, she teaches in the landscape architecture program at UNLV and volunteers for the Nevada chapter of the American Society for Landscape Architects.
Schafler is also a role model for young women coming up in her field. During a 2013 women-in-design panel discussion held at the Amanda Harris Art Gallery, she told about once being asked by a contractor if she shouldn’t be home baking cookies instead of out on a project site. After earning his trust over the course of the project, Schafler showed up with a package of store-bought cookies as a gift for him.
“I’ve always thought that humor is the best way to deal with prejudice,” she says. “That and being really good at what you do.” Heidi Kyser
1 Schafler had contractors mix different sizes of rock to mimic the natural gravel found in nearby Red Rock.
2 The curved retaining wall on the formerly sloped lawn follows the shape of the cul-de-sac in front of the house and creates terrace levels to hold flowering desert plants. Schafler matched the stone to that of the fireplace in the background.
3 Even in leafless winter, the native mesquite tree adds sculptural drama to the front yard.
Matthew (Matt) Lane began building patio covers at age 18. Four years later, he and his wife opened their own business out of their home. While the economy collapsed around them, Lane continued to expand on his expertise — adding landscaping, concrete, masonry, stucco, horticulture and more to his résumé — and their business continued to flourish.
Today, Proficient Patios boasts 50 employees and a 20,000-square-foot showroom consisting of eight creative patio samples that look almost like complete backyards. These vignettes, as Lane calls them, help him to understand his customers’ tastes, even when they, themselves, don’t know what they want.
“Typically, what we try to do is grab a style, whether that be Mediterranean or Tuscan, traditional or contemporary. From there, we just run with it,” he says.
But, of course, it isn’t that simple.
Matt strives for seamlessness in his designs, and this can be difficult to achieve when people want to incorporate too many different colors or mix multiple hardscapes (walking surfaces like pavers and concrete). This hardscape hodgepodging, he explains, is the layperson’s most common patio faux pas.
“There are certain things you want to do to make it flow together,” he explains. Often this means removing the concrete slab already in place and starting from scratch or overlaying another material atop it. Otherwise, “it looks too mismatched, you know?”
Once Lane has inspected a backyard to assess the feasibility of his customer’s outdoor living wish list — including kitchens, barbecues, seating areas, furniture, spas, fire pits, grass, artificial grass and plants — he creates an elaborate three-dimensional model of the prospective patio project to ensure everything really does flow just right in terms of design. Chantal Corcoran
1 Extending the hardscape around the existing pool into the new outdoor kitchen and utilizing the same stone that wraps around the raised hot tub in the focal wall creates a pleasant continuity of design.
2 An aluminum pergola, fabricated to look like dark wood, lends style and shade to outdoor dining, while the lattice design enables airflow.
3 A custom-designed TV wall has built-in and illuminated niche shelving for
4 A dramatic black granite countertop contrasts with warm daffodil stucco of both the outdoor room and the house’s exterior paint, creating a rich and inviting gathering space.
David F. Schmidt
If David Schmidt had his way, he’d be completely off the grid — the solar panels on his roof storing energy in batteries and in his electric car, with a generator serving as backup power supply. Until his wife is okay with that, however, he’ll have to settle for the ongoing tweaks and upgrades that get their home ever closer to being as eco-friendly and energy-efficient as a natural cave.
“I’ve always had an interest in high-performance buildings,” he says. “I read and attend conferences and study the latest developments, and sometimes I apply what I learn here. This house is kind of my laboratory.”
Although technically retired from a 50-year career, Schmidt keeps himself busy on more than his own home. A registered architect, the former urban- and land-planner has earned certification as a LEED consultant, is active in the local chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council and has helped guide UNLV students through two solar decathlons — including the one that led to the creation of Desert Sol, which won second place in the 2013 international competition. He’s signed on for the next solar decathlon in 2017, too.
“The day is coming,” he says, “when our homes will no longer need to house little power plants in order to be comfortable.”
Instead, he envisions a Thermos bottle-like dwelling, with a super-efficient envelope to keep temperature and air quality constant inside, and an energy recovery unit to deliver fresh air that’s preheated or cooled.
For now, he’s content with a home that, according to a recent test, is 70 percent more efficient than one officially considered energy compliant.
“I feel great about everything we’ve done,” he says. “All these technologies add about 10 percent to the cost of a home, but they reduce the power consumption by way more than that.” Heidi Kyser
1 Schmidt installed a pond and desert plants to foster native wildlife. Vines and shrubs shade walls for natural cooling. The site is graded to capture rainwater, which is used to water plants.
2 Enhanced insulation in the walls and attic, a radiant barrier under the rafters, and seals around windows and doors create a climate-controlled envelope.
3 Hollow-frame window shutters and a canopy extending from the south-facing wall moderate heat and light inside the house.
4 Installed by Bombard Renewable in 2010, Schmidt’s 4.8 kilowatt, 22-panel solar array powers his home and his car, a Chevy Volt.
Elevate Design Studio
It wasn’t until a two-year stint as the visual manager for West Elm, in 2013 and 2014, that Nicole Holt became intrigued with interior design. For her first project, the self-taught artist and hobbyist took a sledgehammer to the outdated Italian tile floor in her 1,300-square-foot Green Valley home. Then, by refinishing the underlying cement with a slate-colored stain; removing window curtains; and painting the interior walls a clean white, she created an open, lofty, industrial vibe in this otherwise small space she shares with her two children.
“My sense of style is definitely mid-century meets bohemian, natural, light,” she says. “I like things very airy, very minimal, but also sentimental to where I’m living and what’s important to me.”
That’s why she’ll often venture into Calico Basin to find the raw materials — gems, she calls them — that inevitably grace her white walls.
“I found a beautiful piece of teak wood, really weathered, really raw, very desert,” she says explaining the origins of one particular piece. After sanding and bleaching it for an even more weathered effect, Holt accentuated it with live, gnarly-figured air plants (which need not be potted).
Indigenous plants are a favorite raw material for this New York City native, “since I’m living in the desert now.” She also freelances what she calls succulent wall frames: shadow boxes that she fashions out of frames or old drawers then fills with soil and succulents to create live art pieces.
As well as wood and plants, Holt favors acrylic paints and natural fibers, like the yarn and string she uses in her dream catcher-like wall pieces or others that look like large macramé rugs. “I’ll make a really big pattern and then crochet something and hang it as an art piece instead of purchasing something,” says Holt, who six months ago decided to make a go at going pro.
“It’s so new, and it’s so organic,” she says of Elevate Design Studio, the business that’s evolved from her passions. Thus far, Holt’s done work for C2 Lofts in Summerlin, a Henderson yoga studio, and she’s taken on a handful of residential projects. “It all just kind of flowed.” Chantal Corcoran
1 Pops of color and earthy features complement white-on-white designs to achieve a relaxed contemporary bohemian fusion feel.
2 A West Elm dining table of reclaimed wood complements the clean lines and minimalist flavor of the kitchen and makes for an appealing gathering spot. (The piece also inspired Holt to learn to fabricate similar tables from pallet wood for her new clients.)
3 Holt invests in quality items to layer in with pieces that are personal and have sentimental value, such as her children’s artwork. A colorful wall hanging her daughter created of yarn, twigs and feathers resembles a dream catcher.
4 Easy-to-maintain indigenous plant installations make lovely spring and summer artwork — as well as improved air quality.