Designing Luxury Homes from Maine to Argentina
Sandra Espinet is a luxury designer who divides her time between Los Angeles and San Jose del Cabo, Mexico, where she owns Square One Interiors and Galleries and heads a staff of 12 design divas. She is also an inveterate traveler, as likely to be found shopping the bazaars of Morocco as the Shanghai World Expo.
If you are an HGTV fan, you probably saw Sandra Espinet work her magic on Celebrity Holiday Homes last December. If you listen to Martha Stewart Radio you may have heard her on Living Today with Mario Bosquez.
Sandy, who has been an allied member of American Society of Interior Designers since 1995, recently won the California Home + Design’ Readers’ Choice Designer of the Year Award for a Bohemian-style Outdoor Room. It’s just one of the fabulous environments she has created from Maine to Argentina.
Serving a sophisticated and busy clientele has given Sandy a unique perspective on the needs and desires of the wealthy. What she has to say about interior design is both amazing and practical.
JVD. Sandy, you studied design at the New England School of Design in Boston, the American College of Art in Atlanta, and you have a master’s degree in production design from the American Film Institute in Los Angeles. I am curious as to the regional impact of these different places on your design sense.
S.E. In Boston and Atlanta, I learned to appreciate traditional decorating, antiques and textiles. Los Angeles, and Miami too, gave me an appreciation for contemporary and vintage.
JVD. How does that work out in the real world?
S.E. Ultimately, it comes down to what’s your style? Everyone has their own personal style. My designs reflect how clients live and what they want.
JVD. Do you mix the genres?
S.E. You can’t do a house completely in one style. It becomes too much like Disneyland, so you have to mix it up.
JVD. And, how about antiques? Is there a place for them in today’s homes?
S.E. I love antiques. They are the ultimate green. The craftsmanship is unequal to what we have today. Pieces are unique, not cookie cutter items. Everyone will recognize a Holly Hunt contemporary chair or a Donghia piece, but when they see an antique, there’s a gasp followed by the question, “Where did you get that?” It makes things more interesting.
JVD. How do you work with antiques?
S.E. When we’re using them to make a statement, I start with the most expensive pieces. An antique table for the entry foyer or an antique side table. Then I do contemporary upholsteries mixed in with that.
JVD. Do you think the attitude about antiques has changed?
S.E. There was a time when antiques were mostly for show. That’s not as true anymore. People want functional, practical antiques.
JVD. What do you mean by practical antiques?
S.E. Until recently we used armoires to put TVs in. With flat screens, it’s different. Men always think you can just hang them on the wall but you can’t, so I like to use old secretaries. They tend to be narrower or thin on the top and we put TVs in those now.
JVD. Good idea. What else?
S.E. For a young Laguna Beach family, we mixed provincial with industrial and brought in remnants of architecture. We made a table from an old door. And that worked very well because it was so usable. The family loved it.
JVD. Sandy, tales of your shopping trips have preceded you. Do you shop for inspiration or are you inspired to shop?
S.E. My dad was a petroleum exec so we moved a lot when I was a child. Because of that, I don’t’ think twice about traveling. I love to shop and find that I get to know countries by how they sell things. In Turkey, people negotiate. In Morocco, not so much. In Indonesia, people invite you into their homes.
JVD. Is shopping your muse?
S.E. I am influenced by great hotels. They are always an inspiration. Some people do jewelry; I don’t. I stay in the best hotels. It’s fun to see what different countries think about luxury.
JVD. Do those influences show up in your designs?
S.E. You know, my clients travel too. They have good taste and their own opinions. But they are busy and don’t have time to do it themselves. They are looking for someone with equal taste to do it all. I always start by listening to the client.
JVD. What’s the next step?
S.E. I go shopping. Take photos, get tear sheets. Work up a layout and do a presentation. It’s an organic process. I can’t interject my own personal taste.
JVD. Do you have a favorite room?
S.E. In renovations, it’s always the bedroom. I love them. I believe the master bedroom is very important. You watch TV there. Reading happens there. You sleep there, so it should always be extremely comfortable. If a bedroom is perfect, people can put up with construction anywhere else in the house.
JVD. What’s essential to a bedroom?
S.E. The comfort level. Good lighting. Fabulous bedding, great mattress and sheets of the best quality. We used to do a wet bar in the bedroom but don’t see that as much anymore. People like an office or small media room off the master.
JVD. Is there an opposite room that doesn’t require as much attention to detail?
S.E. Maybe the dining room. It may be used only a few times a year but people want it. It’s a good space for guests, so not a good idea to repurpose it. The rest of the time, no one cares.
JVD. How about collectibles. How do you treat them?
S.E. Today wealthy people have their own jets and can bring back almost anything they want from their travels. The generally want huge objects, like the 7-foot Buddha we found in Hawaii. One client brought a huge, long, dark wood alligator back from Africa. We put it out by the pool.
JVD. Sounds fun! But what is your suggestion for those of us who don’t travel by private jet?
S.E. Simplicity is something everyone is aiming for these days. What with the recession and the cuts, people are asking themselves, “What do I really need?” We’re doing a lot of renovations these days. And for that, I say start with a fabulous bedroom.
Whether your tastes are luxury or you’re working on a budget, Sandy Espinet’s ideas can certainly influence you design schemes. To view her portfolio, visit www. sandraespinet.com. For pieces that will give you the Espinet-inspired look, search Latique’s more than 1400 antiques and decorative accessories.