Architects Marry Visions Of Two Distinct Styles HOME DESIGN 1992


April 26, 1992

It is said that art is a process as much as a product. For architect Tom Nichols, a new inspiration led to an altered vision. The principal of Nichols Architects in Columbia, and a designer of classical Bauhaus residential and commercial buildings, Mr. Nichols has always thought of himself as a purist. The transplanted New Englander's light-filled, minimalist designs have been celebrated for their sense of context: The restrained, non-ornamental beauty of his buildings balance spare interiors with their surroundings.

Then, his marriage two years ago to architect and native Texan Karalei Nunn added a slight, but distinct, Southwestern twist to his Bauhausian vision. Their inspired collaboration on the design of their new home, a 2,100-square-foot, top-floor apartment at Highfield House in Guilford, reflects this more joyful sensibility.

The apartment had previously been converted from two small units into an elongated space. As such, it sprawls in a fashion that reminds Mr. Nichols of "an upscale version of a railroad flat. But it's the only way we could get a 35-foot living room. There's a 35-foot expanse of glass. On a clear day, you can see the bay. And we get wonderful sunrises."

The views allowed the architects to see past the Addams Family interior design, which consisted of black carpeting, red flocked wallpaper and lipstick-red doors trimmed with black. Existing finishes were removed and walls were painted white. "We

decided to emphasize the linearity of the space by using thin, horizontal aluminum blinds. This gives us a chance to play

games with the light that comes in," Mr. Nichols says.

This linearity allowed the couple to divide the living room into two areas: formal and informal. Mr. Nichols says, "I've always believed in putting furniture on islands and letting the white walls act as backdrops, instead of the dance floor approach where you push everything against the walls. I think it gives an integrity to the furnishings that you don't get any other way."

On the informal side, casual furnishings are placed atop a custom-cut sisal rug and arranged to focus on a collection of unusual Venetian festival masks mounted on the wall above stereo equipment. The fragile masks, crafted of traditional papier-mache as well as stained and carved leather, were purchased on frequent trips to Venice.

The living room's formal side is decorated with what Mr. Nichols calls "essential Corbusier" upholstered pieces, including a calfskin Corbusier chaise. The coffee table, by Cabinart, a Baltimore firm, features a glass top and a hinged, lacquered accordion base. Above the fireplace, a 6-by-12-foot shawl crafted by Mr. Nichols' great-grandmother hangs doubled over a dowel. Both the formal and informal sides of the room feature Mexican rugs -- colorful and casual counterpoints to the precision of the rest of the design.

Separate from the living room is the formal dining room, where a marble counter tops the built-in buffet, lacquered a Santa Fe teal. A colorful acrylic collage in the room was purchased in Santa Fe. Italian halogen lighting was selected for use here and throughout the apartment.

The kitchen's original wood cabinets were salvaged, sanded, spray-painted with acrylic automotive paint in Santa Fe blue, and finally clear-coated. A Garland six-burner stainless steel professional stove, referred to by the couple as their DeLorean, allows them to indulge their passion for creating gourmet meals at home.

"It's fascinating how well good Southwestern design and colors can fit well with contemporary design and architecture," says the converted Mr. Nichols.

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