Region's top interior designers reveal trends

From innovative space-planning that organizes a room to geometric lines and shapes that gain new prominence, interior trends have a way arriving on the design scene with a splash.

It's no surprise when a color theme, classic shape, new finish or unusual furniture treatment infiltrates the collective consciousness of designers, says Kipepeo Brown, the Seattle Design Center's marketing director.

"No two designers ever do anything the same, but if you sit down and look at a project as a whole and compare it to another project as a whole, you see that different views converge on themselves — and the end result is a sense of commonality," Brown said.

Interior designers embrace themes inspired by everything from films to fashion.

"They take their cues from all parts of their environment," Brown said.

Last October, the Seattle Design Center recognized the region's top designers at the annual Northwest Design Awards Gala, honoring residential, commercial and luxury yacht projects. The winning residential projects reveal several emerging trends that reflect a fresh, modern design sensibility.

With attention to functional — and livable — spaces, the projects pair crisp, clean lines with warm, organic materials. Here's a review of some of the best award-winning ideas from the program:

Space-saving for function and style

Seattle furniture maker Joel Shepard borrowed a centuries-old idea of the traditional Japanese tansu cabinet to solve a client's modern problem: organizing the clutter of a home entertainment system.

"The homeowners had a problem with all this ugly TV stuff hanging out of open shelving," Shepard said. "Personally, I don't like to have the television impose itself on a room, so this way, we in effect took it out of contention."

The freestanding unit was built to fit into an alcove, giving it a built-in appearance.

Hand-built from elm, coated in layers of dark-brown stain with a transparent black glaze, the 6-foot-wide by 7½-foot-tall cabinet has the look and feel of a tansu's asymmetrical, stair-stepped outline. Sliding doors hide a large-screen television and several audio-video components. Drawers outfitted with hand-wrought Japanese hardware slide open to store CDs and DVDs.

"I wanted it to appear that [my clients] had been really lucky in shopping all over in antique shops and found three pieces that fit together perfectly," Shepard said.

One winning project draws its inspiration from early 20th Century Pullman-style railroad cars, which provide additional sleeping space in a client's guesthouse.

Seattle designer Amy Baker of Amy Baker Interior Design, partnered with Stephen Bobbitt Architects on this Gig Harbor project. They added two oversized window seats in a hallway landing. Each space accommodates a custom twin-sized mattress.

"This is a guesthouse on the water, with a master suite and a bunkroom," Baker said. "It's a place where groups of people will come and stay.

"We had a fairly generous entry on the first floor, and we kept that footprint above, on the second floor. That allowed us to use the extra space to create two side-by-side places for reading, lounging and napping."

Each nook holds a comfortable mattress and oversized pillows (drawers beneath the mattress store extra bedding and linens). A reading light and bookcases invite guests to curl up with their favorite book. Window blinds open to provide views of the lagoon in one window seat. The other has an interior window overlooking the entry tower.

"We included curtains along the hallway so people can have privacy," Baker said. "Here's where the kids can hide and do their homework."

Mix-and-match woods

For 21st Century interiors, the use of wood is anything but dark and depressing. Instead, say designers, many types of wood grains, textures and hues infuse glamour and warmth into a space. Whether it's a new take on the ubiquitous 1970s wood paneling, or a confident pairing of dark and light woods in the same room, the look is engaging and updated.

"We don't mind mixing woods, but clients always ask: Is it OK if we mix?" said Nancy Burfiend, of Seattle-based NB Design Group. "I just look at it as building a textural statement where everything doesn't have to match. By building layers, it gives a space an eclectic, more lived-in feeling."

Burfiend specified four types of wood for a client's Bainbridge Island home, a design that took first place in the Design Center's "living-dining room" category. She likes the way the subtle differences in wood grain and color work together, "like a layered pattern."

The 16-foot-tall walls are finished in a distinctive vertical-grain cherry, selected to highlight a dramatic painting. Much of the furniture features dark walnut, and the windows are trimmed in fir. Her clients wanted flooring that looked like cherry, but asked Burfiend to find something from a sustainably managed forest. She recommended a hardwood from Mexico called machiche, which radiates visual warmth.

"And it's tough — it hold up to scratches from the clients' dogs," Burfiend said.

Darker woods also complement brighter non-wood finishes, as illustrated in the first-place kitchen makeover by Seattle designer Karen Ellentuck.

She devised a design vocabulary of lighter elements on the horizontal plane and darker treatments on the vertical. Honed marble floors in a shade called "Sahara gold" and granite counters with flecks of yellow, olive and rust serve to continue the eye outward, through the expansive windows, toward the west-facing view. These elements appear vibrant in contrast with the deep-cherry cabinetry.

"They wanted warm, rich tones, so we used cherry and added a brown glaze over it," Ellentuck said. "The result is a more chocolaty color."

Spa-like bathrooms

While clients expect high functionality from their bathrooms, many desire something more than that.

"They want the experience and feeling of going to a spa," said Faith Sheridan of Seattle-based Faith Sheridan Interior Design.

For her clients, a busy professional couple with a young child who live in Montlake, Sheridan transformed a 1980s-era master bathroom into a spa-inspired getaway, complete with custom artwork.

"My theme was to keep everything somewhat warm and very rich," Sheridan said. "I wanted to captivate all the sensory elements so that [my clients] could de-stress, come into this environment and feel like they're being treated to a fabulous, luxury experience."

A priority for the clients was to have two pedestal sinks instead of one. Sheridan captured space to accommodate this request by removing the tub (another bathroom in the home already had one) and installing a walk-in, wet-dry large shower. "This is a place for her to walk in and hang a robe or towel, then step into the wet area, which has five jets and overhead spray," Sheridan said.

His-and-hers vanities have honed granite counters and cherry cabinets, with glass sconces flanking each of two mirrors. The walls are finished in waxed Venetian plaster. Heated travertine stone warms the floor and gold-hued travertine stone lines the shower wall.

Christine Suzuki, who took first place in the award's bathroom category for renovation of a Montlake master bathroom, also created a spa-like setting for her clients — in 167 square feet.

Suzuki used visual tricks to make the tiny bathroom appear more spacious, including removing the original 7-foot ceiling and using the home's peaked roofline. Two skylights brighten the space, offering treetop views.

"A skylight gives you better natural light than a window — it's pure light that's not shaded by an eave," Suzuki said. "Skylights always make a room seem bigger."

The wall-mounted maple vanity gives the room a streamlined appearance, also suggesting more space, she said.

"If you took that counter and built a cabinet all the way down to the ground, it would seem bulkier. We were trying to get what we needed — to cover up the sink pipes and have some storage — but also to minimize the cabinet. It's cantilevered and seems to be floating," Suzuki said.

Space-saving storage that tucks under the eaves of the roofline add a deep drawer for towels and accommodate a secondary hot water tank to supply a shower and tub.

"The wife was inspired by Japanese baths, which have open hand-held showers and a separate soaking tub," Suzuki said.

The open shower is tucked in to the room's corner. A quartz-tiled floor has radiant heat. The walls are finished with an iridescent mica slate.

"We took it all the way up to the top part of the roof, which draws the eye upward and emphasizes the skylights," she said.

Geometry with a twist

The new equation for a well-balanced composition uses square, rectangular, circular and cylindrical shapes. Such shapes used to be seen in ultra-contemporary treatments, said Brown, of the Seattle Design Center.

"Literal straight-line geometry used to be associated with modern and contemporary spaces," Brown said. "Today, we're seeing that same sensibility move into what was once considered the traditional aesthetic."

For example, she says, luxury textile lines such as F. Schumacher & Co. and Scalamandre Fabrics have introduced geometric patterns. Whether it's in lampshades or carpet design, the trend is toward more prominent shapes, Brown said.

Deftly illustrating this motif is the winning bedroom, a serene master suite designed for their Mercer Island clients by Midori Yoshikawa Interior Design and Hughes Building Co., both of Redmond.

"Today's trends invite a blend of traditional and modern design with creative drama," Yoshikawa said.

Relying on a strong geometric motif, she chose square-sprinkled carpeting, horizontal-banded bedding and a bolster cushion animated with dotted fabric. There's a weightless feeling to the "floating" bed, which is mounted on a platform and flanked by a pair of rectangular, dark-stained vanities.

Hughes Building Co. engineered Yoshikawa's headboard design, giving prominence to the upholstered grid of oversized squares. Echoing this shape are the lampshades, which look like shoji boxes wrapped in rice paper.

Debra Prinzing is a Seattle-based garden and design writer. She can be reached at

Design resources

Seattle Design Center: 5701 Sixth Ave. S., Seattle, 98108; 206-762-1200;

Amy Baker Interior Design: 914 W. Galer St., No.2, Seattle, 98119; 206-284-1969;

Joel Shepard Furniture: 2118 E. Olive St., Seattle, 98122; 206-324-9382;

NB Design Group: 1932 First Ave., Suite 926, Seattle, 98101; 206-441-7754;

Ellentuck Interiors: 2717 E. Madison St., Seattle, 98112; 206-322-3367;

Faith Sheridan Interior Design: 1426 Harvard Ave., Seattle, 98122; 206-774-6771;

Christine Suzuki & Associates : 3513 NE 45th St., Suite M, Seattle, 98015; 206-517-4424;

Midori Yoshikawa Interior Design: 18110 NE 91st Court, Redmond, 98052; 425-241-3745;

Hughest Building Co.: 5850 245th Place N.E., Redmond, 98053; 425-868-8404;