One word: vanilla.
That’s all interior designer Amanda Webster, ASID, needed to describe the beige walls, ivory trim, tan floor tiles, cream carpet and white popcorn ceilings of the oceanfront condo in Amelia Island she was hired to make over. Even worse, it wasn’t just the color palette that she was referring to.
From one-dimensional paint and run-of-the-mill finishes to dated light fixtures and fake woodgrain doors, the interior was completely devoid of style. If not for the spectacular view of the Atlantic Ocean, the space felt more like a generic apartment in a Southside Boulevard complex than a luxury condo on Amelia Island.
Admittedly, Webster’s task was not a simple one. For starters, the homeowners, who wished to remain anonymous for this article, lived 800 miles away. Then there was the matter of the spaciousness of the home’s interior—or, rather, lack thereof. Despite the builder’s attempts to make it appear more commodious by incorporating tray ceilings and sliding glass doors, the three-bedroom, four-bathroom condo felt cramped. And with the residence sharing walls, floors and/or ceilings with adjacent units, remodeling options would be severely limited.
As it turned out, long distance designing was not an issue for Webster, especially since the clients did their homework (as evidenced by the huge folder of magazine articles and photos they shared with her). It also helped, she says, that they had a strong sense of style, knew what they wanted and were able to articulate their vision. On the other hand, opening up the space without knocking down walls, raising ceilings or building an addition presented quite a challenge. Fortunately, Webster had a few tricks of the trade up her sleeve.
To make the space feel more airy, she did away with design elements that weighed the home down like the thick textured ceilings, dense wall-to-wall carpeting and heavy crown molding, replacing them them with simplified versions. Lighting the condo more effectively also served to brighten it. In addition to being unstylish and clunky, the existing ceiling lights, chandeliers and sconces didn’t exactly flood the space with light, so Webster swapped them out for bright and sophisticated, yet whimsical, fixtures like the glass bubble chandelier over the dining room table and the multifaceted sphere hanging in the entryway. Finding the right lighting for the great room, however, proved to be much more of a challenge.
The room was already awash with natural light from the back glass wall, but the designer wanted the homeowners to be able to change the mood in the room with the lighting. Obviously, the existing ceiling fan with lights and can spotlight pointed at the imaginary fireplace mantle weren’t going to do the trick, nor was recessed lighting a viable option in a condo. Instead, Webster chose a custom monorail lighting system. By combining heads and bulbs in a variety of sizes and shapes, she gave the homeowners flexibility as to whether they wanted to change the brightness level or reposition the lights to accent a specific piece of artwork. She brought in accent lamps to give the room a warm, cozy glow.
Webster faced an even bigger design dilemma in the great room with the odd positioning of the fireplace. Built into the north wall, the fireplace was pretty non-descript with a beige tile surround that blended into the floor and no mantel to speak of, but what made it worse is that it wasn’t centered on the wall, and the niches on each side were noticeably different sizes.
Since she couldn’t relocate the fireplace, Webster used the asymmetrical layout to her advantage. She had a mantel fashioned out of a slab of limestone and positioned it off-center. Then she had custom cabinets built into the niches and hid the recesses behind walnut grain panels with stainless steal reveals. With the niches-turned-cabinets appearing to be the same size, she could honor the homeowners’ request to center the flat screen TV on the wall while maintaining harmony and balance in the room.
An added benefit of Webster’s ingenious streamlined design is that the space feels more open, an impression she perpetuates throughout the home by keeping accessories and artwork to a minimum and using a neutral color scheme. Ironically, there’s nothing vanilla about her use of cream, beige, ivory and white in the condo. Well, except for the fact that Webster’s interior design is simple, elegant and tasteful and is only made better with a squirt of chocolate and caramel, a sprinkle of walnut and a cherry on top.
Interior designer: Amanda Webster Design
Contractor: Gorham Custom Builders of Florida
Cabinetry: Mooney’s Custom Woodworks
Lighting: ITRE, Tech Lighting and Wired Lighting
Carpet: Oasis Rug & Home
Home accessories: Absolute Fabrics & Home
Resin wall panels: 3form Material Solutions
Dining room table: Hudson Furniture, New York
Written by Kerry Speckman • Photos by Neil Rashba