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  • Writer's pictureDann Foley

Desert Design Done Right

Oct 7, 2016

5 Tips to Help Your Home Avoid that ‘Desert Look’ After flow, color is the single most important element of the desert lifestyle look. Can we be honest here? During my many years designing homes for desert dwellers, I have often marveled at the lack of personality and originality in the “Desert Look”. The issue is not the ever-popular neutral palette. Truth be told, designing a neutral room really well is quite difficult. Combining similar shades of color and mixing textures really takes an experienced eye and an adept hand to make it truly inviting and memorable. Case in point. We recently completed work on a home in La Quinta. What we found was the typical builder-grade interior of beige on beige with brown as the accent color., creating less than inspiring interiors.

Now, the home has become the perfect example of Before & After design that did not include breaking the bank to breath new life into a tired aesthetic. Here are 5 tips to creating beautiful, personal, and memorable spaces that are also comfortable, warm, and useable! Brown is NOT an accent. Losing the pony walls and arches creates a larger living room and dramatic entry. NO. 1 Get the background right first. In this case I told my clients it was mandatory to eliminate the multiple pony-walls, half walls and faux corbel details in every doorway. By opening and exisiting wall, the dining room is instantly bigger and the back hall brighter. NO. 2 Open the space. In the desert, flow is everything, views, air circulation and traffic flow between spaces is what southern California living is all about. I have never added walls in projects here in the desert, only eliminated them. Lighter and brighter. The view from the den into the living room. NO. 3 Color! After flow, color is the single most important element of the desert lifestyle look. Finding the right neutral is tough! Most paint I see here is either too yellow or just too muddy beige. It is important to remember that white, off-white, and ivory paints reflect everything else in the room. One of my go-to paint colors is this favorite shade of ivory from Ralph Lauren called, Studio White (RL1008). For the fireplace mantle, go simple and use stone or cast stone to again, create visual importance. NO. 4 The Fireplace. One of the most common design elements in desert homes meant to be a focal point. The problem is the way most fireplaces are finished. They look like either an after thought or over the top as if they are stolen from Versailles. There are a couple of things to look at when giving your fireplace the best detail.

• If your floor tile has been used on the hearth and the surround, you need to make a change! You don’t have to remove it all; I usually take the slab of matching floor tiles and overlay the hearth to give it more beauty, luxury and OOMPH! • I almost always choose some kind of black or dark stone as the surround material around your firebox. This little trick will visually expand the size the box. Be sure to use fireplace paint on the inside of the box as well. By visually widening the scale of the fireplace, you are increasing its sense of luxury and importance in the space. • A fireplace mantle is appropriate no matter what the style of your home. The trick is picking the right one! My rule of thumb is to go simple and use stone or cast stone to again, create visual importance. There are many choices online or that can be ordered from the big box stores. The bar area is open and brighter and now is part of the den and the living room. Swivel chairs can direct attention anywhere in either room. NO. 5 Window Treatments. Keep them simple and make them tall. Standard room heights can be above average here. To accentuate the room and the window/view, I always take my drapery panels up to almost the ceiling. It creates height and drama. You can use fabric to contrast or fade away. A room without window treatments is like a beautifully dressed woman without eye makeup. In this client’s home, as in many, there were personal and prized possessions that we were asked to include in the design. In this case, family antiques, fine jewel toned rugs, the warm, neutral palette and the open spaces enliven traditional pieces. The rich rugs define seating areas and become the platform for classically shaped and soft upholstery. Panels of sheer woven scrim fabric soften the window frames and frame the view; they have the added effect of breathing new life into the dark woods and delicate inlay of much of the existing furniture pieces. Be thoughtful in your selections. Be mindful of how neutral color takes on what is around it in the room. Rethink existing pieces to give them a new life and new perspective.

Live Well!

Dann Foley, Allied ASID, has been a Palm Springs interior designer for more than 20 years. Dann has been featured on NBC’s American Dream Builders. His monthly column will focus on trends, what’s hot, and design specific to the desert lifestyle. Visit for more information.

Find Dann Foley on Twitter: @DesignerDann As seen in: PALMSPRINGSLIFE

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