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How to Create Design Drama in a Small Space — Secrets from the THR Showhouse

Robert A.M. Stern Architects’ Alexander Lamis reveals how the firm turned a tiny vestibule at the Century into a show-stopping moment.
Daniel Hennessy

One of the most talked-about rooms the THR Design Hollywood at The Century design showhouse -- which is open for just three more days Nov. 16-18 -- is the elevator vestibule created by Robert A.M. Stern Architects, one of 14 rooms specially created by top interior designers. The company transformed one of the smallest spaces in the 7,000-square-foot showhouse into a room that feels larger than itself through the use of richly lacquered walls that give the appearance of depth, zig-zagging marble and a Fornisetti screen that looks like an extra space in itself. The entry is approximately 190 square feet and is just under seven feet deep.

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The luxury residential Century tower, developed by the Related Companies, was designed by Robert A.M. Stern Architects, who are also famed for creating the highest-priced condominium building in New York's history, 15 Central Park West, with residents ranging from Sting to Denzel Washington. The Century garnered headlines in 2010 when Candy Spelling, purchased the two floors for $35 million, her first permanent residence since selling the Spelling estate, The Manor, in Holmby Hills. The showhouse -- which offers sweeping views from downtown to the Pacific from two luxury residences on the Century’s 20th floor -- is open tomorrow, Friday, from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 17 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sunday, Nov. 18 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tickets are $40, available for purchase at THR.com/designhollywood with sales benefiting the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts.

THR talked to Alexander Lamis, managing partner of Robert A.M. Stern Interiors, about the design details and expertise that went into creating the space.

What was your overall design concept for the vestibule?

Since to New Yorkers L.A. means the movies, we wanted to create a theatrical space that alters your perceptions as you step off the elevator -- a space that says you're definitely somewhere different. We were inspired by the grainy black-and-white of 1930s and 40s Hollywood films and their projection of an idealized glamour and sophistication.

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That lacquer is incredible. What does it take to create that finish?

The walls had to be prepped so there were no imperfections -- any irregularities would have been visible in the final presentation -- and then each layer of lacquer was applied by hand, allowed to dry, and finally wet-sanded before the next coat was applies. That meant six coats over the course of six days.

Where did you find the interesting screen and ceiling fixture?

The screen is a Fornisetti piece we borrowed from Dragonette in L.A. The pendant is a contemporary piece sold at Maison Gerard. Called the moon pendant, it echoes the moon's rough yet glowing surface. 

What's the special challenge of designing a vestibule?

Because the space is quite compressed, we gave the walls the appearance of depth and emphasized the floor with striated marble and the ceiling with Gio Ponti-inspired detailing. Visitors' attention is captured immediately, so their eyes will travel around the room instead of simply looking through the space into the apartment proper.

Why did you choose to use dark colors in the vestibule?

The walls are dark, but they reflect every mote of light. They make the floor and ceiling pop, drawing attention to their detailing.

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What inspired you about creating in the Century? Do you think luxury vertical living in buildings like the Century is going to catch on more in Los Angeles?

Our firm designed the Century, so we know the building well. Once people get past an initial resistance to living in an apartment house rather than a house, they love high-rise living. It's urbane, social, environmentally responsible -- and the views are spectacular.

What else are you working on right now? Where do you see design heading in 2013?

We're designing high-end residential towers across the U.S. and around the world, but especially in Asia. A whole generation of well-traveled, design-savvy global entrepreneurs are demanding more, which is ratcheting up the quality of apartment living worldwide. It's an exciting time to be in this business. 

Right: Alexander P. Lamis photographed by Peter Aaron.

What do you think?

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