‘Talking’ walls inspire designer

The view that morning from my client’s home high atop the Spanish Hill community was truly something to see. The winds had finally died down leaving behind a crystalline blue sky to the east with the western mountain range in glorious, rugged relief to the multitude of houses spread out at its feet. I remember thinking it was the kind of day that people in cities like Los Angeles and New York could only dream about.

My little reverie over, I quickly reminded myself that I was there to do a job, let myself in through the glorious custom entry doors and made my way into the vast space of what was to be the family room and the focus of my work that day.

I had been hired by a prominent family to provide most of the built-ins and a good deal of the furniture for its dream home. The house was well thought out, expertly crafted and had wonderful amenities — even a commercial elevator. I was determined to come up with the design plan for the cabinetry in this large and wonderful space with its awesome view of the Las Vegas Strip.

And, as I stood there, surrounded by what seemed like miles of just-completed drywall, I wondered how many spaces such as this, devoid of any character or even an element of design, had I stood in during the past 30 years of working at my craft?

It’s amazing, even to me, that each time I’m called upon to come up with fresh and individual solutions for a client’s home, I’m always able to “deliver the goods.” I have often wondered what makes me, or any designer for that matter, tick? What inspires my choices and where does the well of inspiration come from? No doubt the talent is innate and these questions are certainly rhetorical in nature.

Nevertheless, I’m proud to say that to date this seemingly preternatural insight has never failed me. That day at Spanish Hill I knew instinctively that the design would have to be clean and contemporary, devoid of any surface decoration. And, since the client was used to and demanded only the best, I would utilize a new (at the time) and very exciting material called vitricor, which is in essence a laminate sandwiched between clear acrylic. So, you can just imagine the challenge it presents to a cabinet worker in building and installation.

The results were stunning. There was a very large, floor-to-ceiling and wall-to-wall display and entertainment unit that also wrapped around one side of the room and featured a granite fireplace.

I encountered another interesting challenge in a home at Lake Las Vegas a few years ago. There, divine inspiration helped me conjure up a very memorable — and one of the more unusual entertainment cabinets — of my career. The space allotted by the builder for the TV was next to the fireplace, but the client wanted to have a display cabinet incorporated into the unit as well.

My solution called for sinking and cantilevering heavy 3/4-inch thick clear glass shelves into the right-facing side of the built-in so that they would literally appear to float in midair, creating a display cabinet without any surrounding frame that could be viewed from all sides. It also featured tracks of low-voltage lighting running from top to bottom that beautifully illuminated the client’s crystal collection.

To be able to walk into an empty space and somehow know the road to take for a particular client is some sort of talent to be sure. And when I recently said to a colleague that I’m able to do it because the walls in a room seem to talk to me and show me the way, she didn’t reach for the phone to call for help. Rather, she looked directly into my eyes and said quite casually, “Oh, you’re a wall whisperer, then!”

She said it, I didn’t — and you could have knocked me over with a feather.

Stephen Leon is president of Soleil Design International and has been designing and manufacturing custom furniture and cabinetry for more than 25 years, along with his accomplishments in interior design. He has served on the board of directors of the Central California/Nevada Chapter of the American Society of Interior Designers. Questions can be sent to soleildesign@cox.net.

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