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At Home: From flaw to fabulous

CorrespondentApril 4, 2014 

Years ago when I was taking horseback-riding lessons, I felt an unfamiliar, fleeting sensation that could only be described as getting the hang of it. In that same millisecond, my trainer, perhaps glimpsing smugness, knocked me off my high horse by saying, “A good rider is not one who can ride a good horse and look good; it’s one who can ride a bad horse and look good.”

Life. So humbling.

This maxim is reverberating in my head as I get psyched up to move next week into the fourth house I will stage to sell. House No. 4 will have design challenges. I don’t know what they are yet, but challenges come with every home along with the keys.

A great designer isn’t one who can make a great space look fabulous. A great designer is one who makes a house with issues look as if it fell from the pages of a magazine.

To gear up for my next staging project, I look to Beverly Hills interior designer and master home flipper Nicole Sassaman, whose book “100 Sassy Tips: Renovations” just came out.

I throw house problems at her like fastballs, and she hits every pitch. That bathroom tile in colors that date back to “Miami Vice,” that hallway that looks as if it leads to the temple of doom, that picture window that looks straight onto the neighbor’s air conditioner, that column in the middle of the living room ... where many decorators see obstacles, Sassaman sees opportunity.

“Don’t just focus on what’s there,” she says. “Focus on what could be.”

Here are some common design challenges we have both run up against, and some solutions.

Dreary hallway: Sassaman adds interest and dimension to long, narrow hallways by creating niches on one long wall. She adds a downlight in the niches and something artful, like flowers or a sculpture. Painting the hallway ceiling darker and walls lighter will also give the illusion of width.

No entry: When a home doesn’t have an entry, you can make one with furniture. Put a console table in front of the door, for keys and purses. If the door opens by a wall, add a small bench. An area rug or a change of flooring can also declare the space as an entry.

Wasted space: Odd halls, the space under the stairs, landings, and the gap between cabinets and ceilings are often wasted. Make them usable and more attractive by building small desk areas, book niches or wine racks into them.

Outdated tile: When old tile or floor pavers detract, repaint, says Sassaman. Materials are available to turn orange clay pavers into an up-to-date color like chocolate. When bath tile is turquoise and bubblegum pink, and you want ecru, ask your paint professional about paints specially designed for tile surfaces.

No boundaries: Many open floor plans backfire because they are too vast and ill defined. When that happens in a kitchen, a row of hanging pendant lights between the cooking and eating areas can create a subtle boundary.

An ugly view: If a window looks onto a less-than-scenic view, cover the wall with a ceiling-to-floor drapery on a fabulous rod or place a decorative folding screen in front of the window.

Inconvenient columns: When a column stands in the middle of a room or another inopportune place, turn it into a statement or bury it. Cladding it with mosaic tiles or a smoky-mirror veneer will highlight it. Wrap a circular bench around it and add pillows. Or hide it by building a double-sided book case between the column and the wall, encasing the column inside, so no one will know it’s there, says Sassaman.

“Look at these situations from different angles until you see all the possibilities,” she says.

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