Design Tips for ‘Fun’ Apartments

The Residences at W Hollywood recently selected Christopher Grubb of Arch-Interiors Design Group, to design one of their penthouses. MHN talks to Grubb about his playful design for the unit, as well as his tips on how to stage small apartments so that they look bigger.
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Beverly Hills, Calif.—The Residences at W Hollywood, the residential unit of the W Hollywood hotel, recently selected Christopher Grubb, president and founder of Arch-Interiors Design Group, to design one of their penthouses. MHN talks to Grubb about his playful design for the unit, as well as his tips on how to stage small apartments so that they look bigger.

MHN: Your penthouse at The Residences at W Hollywood is described as a “grown-up playhouse.” What does this mean?

Grubb: They invited designers to design penthouse units, which are one-bedroom units—and I’m flattered, always, to be considered for something like this, and I created kind of a “fake” client. This was [for] somebody who lived in Malibu, Orange County, or even out of town. [I imagined] they came in and wanted something that was a lot of fun. So in my head, what they are is somebody who’s hip and cool and thinks, “We’re fine sleeping on fold-out sofas. We want a game room where we can have poker night, we can have friends over for dinner.” There’s a 110-in. screen that drops down in the living room where they can watch the Super Bowl or the Academy Awards. It’s set up to play Wii, so they can have Wii competitions. And then there’s a putting green out on the balcony in case he or she wants to do some putting 1,200 feet above Hollywood Blvd. It was really supposed to be something that was unexpected. It’s funny because [The Residences at W Hollywood] have events, and they were using the putting green, so that’s always nice to see. I do get asked, “Where’s the bedroom?” And I’m like, “Right there—the sofa folds out!” It’s a little unconventional, but it was the excitement of what could be a lifestyle for someone who is much more into this fun playhouse concept versus formal living.

MHN: Do you think this is going to be a trend? Luxury is big in apartments and condos—do you think more people will go that way instead of having a formal dining room or bedroom?Balcony 01 thumbnail

Grubb: I think that if I had to do this for a client, I probably would have done a setup of some sort with a Murphy bed, to really take a small space and make it functional that way. If a client said, “That’s a fun idea, but we really do want a bed,” I think that we would have done something where the Murphy bed had plasma screens on it, so it would still look like a wall. It’s pretty unconventional—most people do want a bed, but in my mind, these people are fun and they don’t care.

MHN: How would you typically design an apartment for entertaining?

Grubb: What I liked about this [particular space] was that we used smaller-scale furniture that was easy to move around. We added drama with a large mural and bookcase, so you’ve got this sense of balance. I added a built-in and removed a whole closet to make the space seem bigger. On this, it was smaller pieces of furniture. The tables are something I designed for the living area that can actually be used as stools as well, so if you have a large group that couldn’t sit on the sofas, you can have more people sit on the stools.

MHN: I like that idea of playing with space and using smaller furniture. Would that be helpful for people staging an apartment?  

Grubb: Yeah, that’s a tip I give often. One of my signature things is I like using stools as decoration or tables, because that way you have tables that can also be used as seating. For smaller units, I also recommend that people cantilever a piece of furniture on the wall versus on the floor—the flooring continues underneath it and makes the unit seem larger visually.

MHN: What other tips do you have for making an apartment look bigger?

Grubb: We added a mirror on the wall here. Most people think that they need to mirror the whole wall. I think it’s much more sexy as an architectural element to go ahead and put up a mirror, but to put a frame around it so it looks more like an accessory versus you just mirrored the wall. You know what I mean, right?

Kitchen 01 thumbnailMHN: Yeah, so it doesn’t end up looking like a ballet studio.

Grubb: Exactly! Or a home gym. There are a plethora of frame options to go with your style. It does give the sense that the space is bigger. In this unit we did that as well because it reflects the view back.

Also, try to use a larger-scale rug to unify a space more. The great thing with rugs is you can go to a carpet showroom that is local and have something cut with the edges bound so it’ll fit the space. You’re not limited to trying to buy certain sizes—you can create the size you need.

MHN: What are your top tips for staging an apartment?

Grubb: Try to keep the furniture a bit lower in profile and scale—comfortable but recognize the actual scale of the room. Don’t make things too large because then it will make somebody feel like the unit is smaller than it actually is.

I really like doing a feature such as an unexpected material. For this unit, we have the mural, which was an homage to the view of L.A. Try to find something that’s just completely unique. Most people can’t visualize what they’re going to do—that’s why I have a job, fortunately. Use something that’s more exciting and playful to step up the quality of the unit.

MHN: Is there anything you’d like to add?

Grubb: This unit we designed was smaller—well, it’s 1,400 square feet, and I live in a 1,200-square-foot house, but compared to the other units it was smaller—and what we had done was where the balcony is was simply a gray floor, and I actually had the faux finisher we worked with come in and make the wood planking look like it continued outside, so visually it brought the outdoor in and made the units seem a whole lot bigger. For somebody who wants to make a unit bigger, if there’s an adjoining area that connects with the main unit, trying to match the floor is a great idea. Don’t limit yourself in having fun in the space.

MHN: I think it’s important to have fun in a space.

Grubb: A lot of people subscribe to [the thinking that] they need to keep it neutral and the ceiling white to make it seem bigger—but [then you have a space] that’s not unique. My whole career is to create a space that people will love.