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Trade Secrets

They design spaces all around town. Now these top designers give us a rare glimpse inside their own homes.

Robert Wright
Bast-Wright Interiors

Five wooden leg splints hang behind Robert Wright’s custom dining table. Striking yet unexpected, they’re not the type of art commonly hung on a prominent wall. In an area smaller than 1,000 square feet, however, there’s no reason to waste space with clutter when you can fill it with meaningful pieces —especially if those pieces were designed by the iconic Charles Eames.

“I’ve been a fan of Ray and Charles Eames since I was in college,” says the Houston-born Wright, as he casually removes one of the World War II–era splints to demonstrate its effectiveness. “Charles was the first designer to experiment with molded plywood as a material that would conform to the human body. I found these in a Gal - ves ton, Texas, army surplus store for $7 apiece. I bought all 12 and gave all but these five to friends.”

The former national president of the American Society of Interior Designers, Wright is unexpectedly approachable and pragmatic. His firm, Bast-Wright Interiors, is highly regarded by peers and recognized for stunning spaces they’ve created throughout San Diego. This year, Bast-Wright received three first-place awards in design excellence from ASID. Considering his 31 years of practicing interior design professionally, his national title and a slew of other honors, you might expect Wright’s home to be expansive and ostentatious. Instead, it is smaller than most of the projects he works on, free of kitschy objects and humble in design. It is, in short, an honest reflection of Wright, who may have lost his Texas drawl but not his sensible approach to design.

“For 18 years, I lived in a 464-squarefoot condominium originally designed by Homer Delawie and Lloyd Ruocco,” he says. “I kept an empty shelf in my closet, so when friends commented on the size of the place, I showed them the shelf and told them I still had room to grow.”

While today Wright lives in a condo almost double the size of his previous home, it wasn’t the extra space that convinced him to move. His decision to buy a unit at The Egyptian in Hillcrest was purely for lifestyle. His office is around the corner, as are some of his favorite shops and cafés—allowing him to achieve a better work-life balance.

“It’s my first time living in a building with an elevator,” says Wright, whose design philosophy hasn’t changed despite the bigger digs. “If you subdivide a small space like this condo, you give it a sense of mystery by allowing the areas to unfold.” A folding screen creates a formal entry, while also defining a home office consisting of a writing desk and Eames chair. A gorgeous table of macassar ebony—his own design—marks the dining area, while two sitting areas add depth to the living space.

“I love the creative process, and I love the built environment,” says Wright, who is an advocate of responsible design for the aging baby-boom generation. “And I sincerely believe the quality of interior design can impact someone’s life. I have seen clients’ confidence, security and comfort blossom after living in a home better suited to them.”

Janice Howard
Howard•Sneed Architecture and Design

“I’ve been well-known among friends for some big disasters,” says Janice Howard. “I’m a notoriously bad cook, so everybody laughed when we said we were going to remodel our kitchen.”

An established commercial interior designer, Howard is a partner at Howard•Sneed Architecture and Design, which is responsible for some highly visible commercial spaces around town —from the corporate headquarters for Jenny Craig to the law offices of Procopio, Cory, Hargreaves & Savitch. So while casseroles and cannoli may not be her forte, space planning most definitely is. When it came time to remodel the kitchen in her 1940s Tudor-style home, Howard kept in mind two things: her commercial work and her cocktails.

“I knew what I wanted in terms of flow and materials,” she says. “I was determined to have a beautiful kitchen primarily for entertainment pur poses, but also to use as a recipe lab for my tequila- based drinks.” Two years ago, Howard, who has twice been named a finalist for Entrepreneur of the Year by Inc. Magazine, discovered 100 percent blue-agave tequila during a trip to San Miguel de Allende. She has been experimenting with it and creating cocktail recipes ever since.

Today, she has not only transformed her once-narrow galley kitchen into an expansive space that opens onto the family room, she has also launched scarletjanice, a series of low-carb cocktails made with allnatural ingredients and José Cuervo Platino Reserva Tequila (to download one of her recipes, go to sandiegomagazine.com/ scarletjanice).

Howard shares the Coronado home with her husband, Richard McElroy, and daughters, Kristina and Michelle, so the kitchen bears testament to a lifestyle that’s busy and fulfilling. On one of two large islands is a stainless-steel serpentine sink Howard fills with ice and steamed shrimp during the family’s many soirées, and an Apple computer station where the girls download digital pictures after school. Appliances— including a built-in Miele espresso machine, Dacor ovens, a Sharp microwave drawer, Vino temp wine cooler and multiple dish - washers—are built into walls or under counters so the room remains clean and clutter-free.

“I cannot stand the gap between base cabinets and upper cabinets,” Howard says of the pet peeve she developed from years working as a commercial designer. “But I wanted adequate work surface as well as ample storage, so to do it, I needed to have two large islands.” Fullheight Scavolini cabinets run the perimeter of her kitchen and surround islands topped with verona quartz, another idea adapted from one of her commercial projects, the investment firm Relational Advisors.

For the backsplash to her Viking range, Howard wanted something more in line with the sexy, modern space she had designed. Tile would have been incongruous. And a window wasn’t structurally feasible. Instead, she chose a water feature similar to one she had designed for the office of Lerach Law.

“I wanted it to look like a vanishing- edge pool,” she says of the continuously flowing water feature behind her cooktop. Ribbed coppercolored plexiglass gives the uncommon splash even more drama.

With 12 cocktail recipes in hand, this “notoriously bad cook” has made great use of her new kitchen. “I haven’t gained a pound, and I’ve been enjoying myself,” Howard says.