Ana and Mario's home is on the penthouse floor of an older downtown condo building. Their unit has some really great features, including high ceilings and a wood-burning fireplace. The fireplace really sold them on this home, but they were having trouble using the large, open space effectively.
Their small dining nook made it impossible to host friends and family, and the room's dysfunctional layout hid this condo's untapped potential. We needed a grand design, but we only had one month.
That wasn't much time to complete the renovation I had in mind; we really couldn't afford any delays. But as soon as the clock started ticking, we began to experience the challenges of renovating an urban condo.
Regulated working hours, limited elevator access, no outside parking and strict condo board rules cramped our style, but once we got all the tools and supplies inside, this downtown penthouse really started to shape up.
The key to working with a large, open space is to divide it into functional zones. My plan for Ana and Mario's condo called for a parlor area, a dining room/fireside lounge, a working nook with desk and storage, and an ultra-functional kitchen countertop prep area that flows right into a new breakfast bar.
Ana has several pieces of heavy, solid wooden furniture that hold real sentimental value for her because they were handmade by her father. Those pieces had to be incorporated into the design as well.
Starting with the kitchen, we introduced an old-world feeling with a large photo mural that takes up both corner walls. We found the perfect picture, one that evokes European charm and reminds Ana of her surroundings as a child in Portugal. A four-seat breakfast bar provides enough room for casual meals, and the extended countertop makes it easy for the cook to join the conversation.
In the dining area, Ana's heirloom cabinet remains the focal point of the wall. A large dining table with seating for six was placed opposite the fireplace, and is crowned by an elegant chandelier, which hangs from our custom coffered ceiling. The sunken square ceiling panels pull the entire space together and make the most of this condo's rare high ceiling, while recessed lighting fixtures brighten the entire space.
We removed a closet to make a nook for an elegant wooden desk and some shelving above it -- the perfect place to display interesting collectibles. A telescope placed beside the window adds more old-world charm, and a custom-made sofa with two rows of nail-head trim bathes in the natural light in front of the window. The parlor zone is home to not only the comfy custom couch, but also a shaggy white rug, a glass coffee table, a large bookcase, a comfortable tub chair and two wooden end tables.
And then, we come to the piece de resistance: the fireplace. Regulations required that this old wood-burning fireplace be inspected before renovation, and guess what? Rust and water damage were in the fireplace, and it was sentenced to never burn wood again.
This could have been a really big setback. So, we proceeded with the new cladding while we investigated alternatives. The building had no natural gas service, so the only option was an ethanol fireplace. Ethanol is absolute alcohol, made by fermenting the sugars and starches of plant by-products. It burns cleanly, with no smoke or sparks. Best of all, it looks like a real wood fire. Bingo! We had the answer to our burning question.
I wanted Ana and Mario's condo to transport them to another place every time they come home. The wall mural, the furnishings and the accessories all combine to give this space a distinctly European feel, while the redesign creates room for them to entertain family and friends.
Open concept spaces really work when you break them down into distinct zones. This beautiful and elegant penthouse delivers everything Ana and Mario were looking for: stylish flair, welcoming comfort and traditional European elegance.
It might not have been easy, but the end result is a sky-high condo that achieves some pretty lofty goals.