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City Sanctuary 

Designer John Fernandez takes a downtown condo from raw to refined

Three years ago, when interior designer John Fernandez purchased the downtown condo that he and partner Greg Wells share, the fifth-floor space embodied the kind of unrefined, industrial architecture typically associated with urban loft living. But Fernandez and Wells, who then lived in a smaller unit just down the hall, envisioned their new home more as a polished gem than a diamond in the rough.

"We wanted it to be dark, masculine, sexy and spa-like rather than just raw, while still having a gentle nod to its warehouse beginnings," says Fernandez. "We were going for a cocoon sort of feel." The idea, according to the designer, whose skill and friendly aplomb has connected him with clients across the country, was to soften the loft's naked edges by marrying them with sophisticated surfaces and embellishments rather than trying to camouflage or obliterate them all together. From a practical standpoint, he also wanted the loft to have an adequate balance of open and private areas.

Though the renovation took only three months, Fernandez gutted and redesigned both the kitchen and master bath; added new walls; trimmed windows and doorways with classic moldings; brought in time-honored materials like wide-plank pine floors stained a reddish mahogany; and showcased a distinctive mix of high-end, contemporary fixtures. The finished condo, which originally included a home office, now houses three bedrooms, two baths, a kitchen and an adjoining great room with living and dining areas.

The entrance foyer, painted a deep shade of mink, sets the tone for the entire home. Fernandez used the color throughout the 1,900-square-foot abode to achieve a multitude of effects. In addition to providing an enveloping feel, it serves as a dramatic backdrop for art, a neutral foil for a variety of colors, a unifying device between all of the rooms and a means of detracting from crude, sometimes cold features like concrete ceilings and exposed sprinkler pipes.

"My soul craves color," says Fernandez, who was born in Cuba and raised in America. "Whether I'm doing an interpretation of modern using deep hues or a French Creole palette of ochre and saffron, it's all about the color. I'm not afraid of a dark environment. I see them as moody and rich."

To keep the dark interior from feeling oppressive, Fernandez left the windows uncovered. Tinted panes keep the heat to a minimum while still allowing in plenty of natural light and unobstructed views. By day, panoramas of sky and cityscape are an integral part of the condo's metropolitan aesthetic; by night, the CBD's canvas of twinkling lights underscores its urban identity.

The modernist-inspired kitchen and great room are the center of the home. Fernandez travels frequently, but he and Wells like to entertain — on average, about once a month — and the open flow of the kitchen and the comfort of the adjacent seating area, dressed in warm tones and earthy textures, are equally suited to small, intimate gatherings or large groups. In the corridor-shaped cooking area, Fernandez juxtaposed organic surfaces — mahogany cabinets and a wall of tactile, Japanese river rock in pale shades of blue and green — with a sleek, stainless steel hood and pantry. A roomy island, topped with a slick slab of Geo Crete, a concrete composite, provides ample counter space and storage. Curved support columns painted robin's-egg blue frame the space, lending a visual counterpoint to its sharp, rectilinear lines, while the arc of the island's restaurant-style faucet stands out like a piece of sculpture.

At one end of the great room, a large, flat-screen TV is mounted above a teak entertainment center. On the other, Fernandez replaced what formerly was a freight elevator tower with an aluminum spiral staircase that leads to a rooftop office, visible through its glass floor. Behind the stairs, the same brown paint that diminished the prominence of the home's less refined characteristics was used to achieve the opposite effect. By highlighting the rustic brick of the walls, the designer maximized the impact of the corner, which is used for informal dining.

An equally creative wall treatment became the focal point of the minimalist master bedroom. There, Fernandez floated an 8-foot partial wall and gave it a fabriclike finish by painting it with Ralph Lauren's do-it-yourself suede technique. The result is a partition that does double duty as a backdrop for the bed and a way to conceal the dressing area directly behind it without compromising the room's feeling of openness. The dressing area itself is outfitted with plumbing pipe for hanging towels and clothing. Fernandez regularly uses the hanging space when packing for travel.

Next to the dressing area are a walk-in closet and a master bath, in which a spa-like serenity marked by Asian simplicity prevails. As he had in the kitchen's makeover, Fernandez employed an organic-meets-modernist approach, combining black river rock floors, a T-shaped pedestal vanity of blood wood topped with honed limestone, a pair of white vessel sinks and streamlined mirrors. The guest room, swathed in crisply contrasting shades of robin's-egg blue and espresso, also was designed to offer the kind of soothing ambience found at a get-away retreat. "We wanted it to feel hotellike and cheerful," says Fernandez. "We want guests to feel pampered."

To furnish the condo, Fernandez — who at one time collected elegant European antiques — edited what he already had and added an uncomplicated mix of retro and contemporary designs. "I thought it would be difficult to let go of some those things, but I found it very cathartic," he says. "That comes from doing this long enough that you want to focus on specific pieces. Everything can live in harmony and then collectively tell a more quiet story."

Contemporary art by local artists already established as important names in New Orleans' cultural heritage punctuates the decor with touches of whimsy and splashes of turquoise blue, the elegant end result being one that evokes a sigh of relief and invites city dwellers to leave their cares at the door.

"I love it here," says Fernandez. "It makes me feel great when I get home because I travel so much. It really is my sanctuary."

click to enlarge Jewel in the crown -  - "Because the kitchen is the center of things, it needed to - be finished like a piece of jewelry," says Fernandez. A - back wall of Japanese river rock  in shades of soft - greens and blues  and a sleek, stainless steel hood - provide a focal point as does a large center island - topped with Geo Crete. Iconic, 20th century furnishings - like an Eames chair and a Tizio lamp are part of the - design scheme opposite the kitchen. - SHERWOOD COX
  • Sherwood Cox
  • Jewel in the crown
    "Because the kitchen is the center of things, it needed to be finished like a piece of jewelry," says Fernandez. A back wall of Japanese river rock in shades of soft greens and blues and a sleek, stainless steel hood provide a focal point as does a large center island topped with Geo Crete. Iconic, 20th century furnishings like an Eames chair and a Tizio lamp are part of the design scheme opposite the kitchen.
click to enlarge Blue mood -  - The guest bedroom is painted with the same robin's-egg - blue used in the kitchen and the same brown used - throughout the condo. The bed is from Villa Vici, and the - duvet is from Target. From below, the brown ceiling - looks like a canopy topping the bed frame. - SHERWOOD COX
  • Sherwood Cox
  • Blue mood
    The guest bedroom is painted with the same robin's-egg blue used in the kitchen and the same brown used throughout the condo. The bed is from Villa Vici, and the duvet is from Target. From below, the brown ceiling looks like a canopy topping the bed frame.
click to enlarge Eastern Eden -  - The serene tone of the spare master bath was inspired in - part by Asian simplicity. Fernandez designed the T- - shaped vanity topped with honed limestone and - combined it with white porcelain sinks from the XOXO - line by Lefroy Brooks, a set of streamlined mirrors, and a - floor of black Japanese river rock. - SHERWOOD COX
  • Sherwood Cox
  • Eastern Eden
    The serene tone of the spare master bath was inspired in part by Asian simplicity. Fernandez designed the T- shaped vanity topped with honed limestone and combined it with white porcelain sinks from the XOXO line by Lefroy Brooks, a set of streamlined mirrors, and a floor of black Japanese river rock.
click to enlarge The high life -  - A seagrass rug, a cowhide ottoman/coffee table, an - Eames chair and a sectional linen sofa create an easy, - masculine comfort in the great room of the top-floor - condo that John Fernandez shares with Greg Wells. The - room overlooks the CBD. - SHERWOOD COX
  • Sherwood Cox
  • The high life
    A seagrass rug, a cowhide ottoman/coffee table, an Eames chair and a sectional linen sofa create an easy, masculine comfort in the great room of the top-floor condo that John Fernandez shares with Greg Wells. The room overlooks the CBD.
click to enlarge Bare essentials -  - Fernandez used an 8 -foot partial wall, painted with a - faux-suede finish as a backdrop for the bed and a way to - conceal the dressing area behind it. Rolling tables of - layered wood by the late furniture designer Christopher - Maier serve as bedside tables. In the dressing area, - plumbing pipe from Home Depot provides a place to - hang towels and clothes. - SHERWOOD COX
  • Sherwood Cox
  • Bare essentials
    Fernandez used an 8 -foot partial wall, painted with a faux-suede finish as a backdrop for the bed and a way to conceal the dressing area behind it. Rolling tables of layered wood by the late furniture designer Christopher Maier serve as bedside tables. In the dressing area, plumbing pipe from Home Depot provides a place to hang towels and clothes.
click to enlarge Now and Zen -  - A painting by David Harouni, a statue of a figure seated - in the lotus position and a zinc console from Villa Vici - lend a Zen flavor to the minimalist master bedroom. - SHERWOOD COX
  • Sherwood Cox
  • Now and Zen
    A painting by David Harouni, a statue of a figure seated in the lotus position and a zinc console from Villa Vici lend a Zen flavor to the minimalist master bedroom.
click to enlarge Flight of fancy -  - An aluminum spiral staircase now resides in the spot - formerly occupied by a freight elevator tower. The rustic - nature of the original brick walls highlights the shine and - shape of the stairs. A plaque by glass artist Mitchell - Gaudet reads like an aquamarine gemstone against the - wall's weathered patina. - SHERWOOD COX
  • Sherwood Cox
  • Flight of fancy
    An aluminum spiral staircase now resides in the spot formerly occupied by a freight elevator tower. The rustic nature of the original brick walls highlights the shine and shape of the stairs. A plaque by glass artist Mitchell Gaudet reads like an aquamarine gemstone against the wall's weathered patina.
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