It’s not impossible to transform a nondescript, architecturally null LA apartment into something special, but it’s not easy. Especially when your client is dreaming of something out of the 16th arrondissement. Faced with just that task, L.A. designer Kristi Nelson didn’t say “Non.” But she didn’t utter “Pas de problème” either.
Nelson knew a bombe chest here and directoire writing table there weren’t going to get the job done. The 70s-era property required a complete reinvention. Equally at ease tackling a Georgian Revival or a modern bungalow, Nelson approached the project with a solid sense of proportion. To give the space the vibe of a house, rather than that of an apartment – she gutted and reconfigured the unit, expanding the foyer, opening up the kitchen, and cutting the living room down to a more inviting size by shaving off some square footage to create a separate den. She laid new floors and introduced space-enhancing millwork to establish a cohesive envelope and then set about generating a world of knowing sophistication.
Nelson’s architectural interventions – “an effort to create a sense of grandness” – are matched by her assured and judicious orchestration of everything from rugs and drapes, to furniture and wall treatments. “My client had been in the garment industry, in a company that manufactured jeans, and she’s very familiar with fabrics and construction,” explains Nelson. “So, she appreciates details, like nail heads on an upholstered wall. And cozy fabrics are a big deal for her, so we used tons of chenille, tons of velvet.”
Drawing from the client’s own possessions (including a 19th-century Pembroke table that Nelson ebonized) and sourcing new items (such as a Baccarat chandelier for the dining room) that support the Continental ambience she was out to achieve, Nelson devised interiors that project both luxury and ease – rooms that express both an appreciation for unmistakably nice things and the knowledge that comfort is a true luxury, too.
While this pied-à-terre certainly has its knockout spaces – that den, with its gold leaf ceiling and handsome built-ins housing a collection of Chinese export porcelain, and a master bath with classically-styled cabinets and custom mosaic tile floor – Nelson’s skill shines, too, in rooms that can sometimes look more off-the-rack than outstanding. Take a living room; there’s only so much you can do with a sofa, a couple of chairs, and a coffee table. But the right pieces in the right hands can result in something special. The space Nelson designed for the client – measured but not mannered, smart and not stuffy – is a room you want to be in.
“Part of it,” suggests Nelson, “is having a mix of things that look as if they came from here and there over time. And the feeling that things can be moved around and adjusted, that nothing is too perfect. So, we have a reproduction chinoiserie table and a sofa that looks like it could have been reupholstered a hundred times.”
That wide and welcoming embrace plays out vivaciously in the kitchen, where a stunningly upholstered banquette (with an 18th-century, gilded starburst Italian mirror on the wall above) keeps company with a pair of shell back chairs and a custom, walnut topped table resting on a fluted, cast cement base. “The fluted base of the table talks to the rays of the mirror that talk to the pattern in the chairs,” relates Nelson. “It’s knowing how things relate, establishing a repetition of form or shape or line.”
Formality is an attitude, but formally designed spaces don’t have to have attitude. That fact is clear as one absorbs Nelson’s rendering of a home a world away from L.A. Even the small kitchen terrace – with its ocher tile floor, wicker chairs and fois bois table – has a richness about it, but one spun from the simple play of color and material, not self-important snootiness. Bon travail!
Photography by Sarah R. Wauters.
For more like this LA apartment, be sure to check out this Rittenhouse Square renovation.
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