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Desert Companion

Open house: Inside designer homes

Ever wanted to take a peek behind the curtains of your developer's, designer's or decorator's home? With their magic, they turn the mushy domestic visions of the masses into art you can live in. What's it like when they unleash that power on their own dwellings?

Stunning. But what distinguishes the homes of the design-savvy elite is not special access to fellow architects, art collectors, antique dealers and contractors. Rather, it's how the owners skillfully apply these resources to their own intention, producing a pure expression of themselves.

Linear Equation

It must be the construction background. When Trinity Schlottman, division manager of Urban Lofts for Atlanta, Dallas and Las Vegas, was customizing his own unit in the Fremont Street Lofts, he ran string from one side of the house to the other, and used it to line up ducts, lights, smoke detectors and sprinklers. He rerouted all the wiring in the three-story loft to one central closet so that no appliance or electronic would be "junked up" with exposed cords. "I thought about the livability of the house once I'd be in it," he says. "I wanted everything to be clean, straight lines, with function in mind." That function is entertaining - and enjoying art, Schlottman's passion. The Michael Wardle painting and Leslie Rowland artillery shell shown are two of several works he's acquired from local artists. The colorful elephant was a thank-you from L.A. artist Steve Kaufman after Schlottman bought one of Kaufman's paintings in a charity auction. Schlottman wants nothing to detract from his art collection, going as far as removing one fancifully named appliance that was stealing the show.

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"Every time somebody would come in, they'd look at my Big Ass Fan, instead of my art, and I didn't like that," he says.

Celebrate the ordinary

"We like to take ordinary things and celebrate them as art," says Ken Kulas, principal of Cleo Design, summarizing the philosophy behind the home he and partner Scott Underwood created from scratch. Case in point: Over the two-way kitchen hearth hangs a well-framed paper grocery bag the pair brought home from a trip to Portland, Ore. On a wooden tray in the middle of the living room (pictured), an antique teapot they found in New York sits next to a pair of chopsticks they brought home from a dinner out. More important than labels or autographs are the memories objects carry. The hand-carved wooden bust on the bench by the piano came from Kulas' aunt. She received several like it when she was a Peace Corps volunteer at a Nigerian leper colony in the 1960s.

"We have very few pieces that are considered good fine art," Kulas says. "Everything else is a collection of things that appeal to us and we've found a way to glamorize." One exception: The painting by Nashville artist David Guidera hanging behind the couch.

Gather 'round the table

J. Christopher Stuhmer, owner and CEO of Christopher Homes, believes that "no matter what you do in any area of the house, design-wise, people always end up in the kitchen when you're entertaining." So in this custom home, he made the kitchen a place to entertain, and the living areas places to eat. Instead of closed cabinets full of dishes, kitchen shelving here is open to display artistically stacked dishes, spices and cookwear. The long rectangular island paneled with vertical grain zebra wood runs into an oversized round island, set apart with a brushed aluminum siding and a different colored stone top. Within 50 feet of the kitchen are five different places to eat, and the kitchen spills seamlessly into the bar/living area, which spills seamlessly onto the patio through stacked glass doors.

"We wanted to make the kitchen the hub. When somebody's in the kitchen, they want to be part of what's going on," Stuhmer says. This sense of togetherness extends to the art, too, such as sculptor Bob Wilfong's piece, "Circle of Love," seen through the kitchen windows giving way to the courtyard.

Midcentury gold mine

With a Ph.D. in archaeology, Bill Johnson is busy digging up his own past. Raised in Miami by artist parents, he loved the style that defined his childhood, and has spent the last few decades recapturing it. Partner Marc Comstock, a former Army engineer, provides the practical guidance, combing estate sales, researching authenticity and comparing prices. Between them, the two have amassed a Fort Knox of 1940s, '50s and '60s home furnishings, some of which can be seen at their store, Retro Vegas, in the Arts District. Johnson and Comstock's current home was built by Jackie Gaughan in 1963 and still has some original lava rock and Moroccan-style stained glass to prove it. So pieces from Johnson and Comstock's collection, like the 1950s Danish modern floor lamp shown, fit right in. Johnson coveted a $5,000 sofa he spotted at a furniture store on Maryland Parkway, but wisely held off; the similar one pictured cost him only $300 at a consignment store in Phoenix. As for the cool lamp in the corner, Johnson says he got it from Gypsy Caravan, evidence of downtown antique dealers' practice of swapping finds. "When we first opened, we got a couch from Modify. Gypsy Caravan got it from us. The last time we saw it, it was at Sin City," Johnson says.

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