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Creating a sense of place through architecture and design

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Celeste Randolph/Special to the Town Crier
Weaving the old and new can breathe new life into a home with traditional architecture.

Every home has a sense of place: the ground beneath, the history of the structure, the neighborhood, the surrounding natural environment, the way the light floods in.

Place, architecture and interior design are inextricably linked. As a designer, I’m always thinking about the big picture – looking at how design impacts the room, the greater space, the entire home, and bringing all the components together into something beautiful and cohesive.

When a friend of mine moved into a home that was traditional in style, it was vital for her to preserve the classic architecture while also breathing new life into it, as her own style leaned more modern.

Embracing your home’s traditional architecture doesn’t mean you need to stay inside the lines: It means embracing what is already there by weaving together old and new. In my friend’s white lap-sided home, gas lanterns are visible as you walk up the brick pathway lined with large, healthy boxwoods. As you enter the home, you notice the creamy-white wainscoting in a cool design that screams glamour. Beautiful crystal globe lights hang down the hallway over a custom made-to-fit rug to add character.

From the entry to the left, a grand piano sits in a bay window, a funky art piece hangs over an intricately carved limestone mantel and a bohemian chandelier and a bold piece of black-and-white art add interest to an otherwise traditional space. Modern and classic are not, in fact, opposites – they complement one another beautifully.

Mixing styles

A recent commercial project in downtown Palo Alto required that we maintain the existing building to comply with code. We wanted to keep its style consistent with the neighborhood but update the space. By keeping some aspects of the original building, but modernizing the space, we preserved the building’s architectural integrity while also making it contemporary.

From the outside, the building looks like an apartment building from the 1960s. We opted to paint the exterior beige brick white for a clean look, and enlarge the windows on the atrium from floor to ceiling to make it modern and let more light in.

We kept the original black wrought-iron gates at the entrance and the mid-century banisters with interlocking circles in black that line the concrete floating stairs leading to the upstairs landing. Lush greenery will line the entryway to the building as well as the atrium, softening the black-and-white details and inviting visitors in.

Design that complements architecture is all about saving the designs we love while also updating them. Good design stays true to the architecture of the building but still pushes the envelope, bringing renewal and rebirth to that which is classic. A traditionally built home doesn’t need to limit your style; in fact, it can be the perfect foundation upon which to express your unique design story.

All of these design decisions are meant to enhance the architecture and sense of place that is already there. We love mixing modern with antiques, contemporary with classic. Mixing styles has to be done carefully, but when done well, the house feels collected, fresh and contemporary. In your home, this might mean pairing a modern cocktail table with a classic sofa and adding pillows and art to tie the two together. It could mean adding an abstract piece of art over an antique dresser, making both pieces shine.

More than ever, in this moment of social distancing, home should feel like a haven and a refuge. While we all may be pressing pause on things, this is the perfect time to dream, design and enjoy the extra time in your home. May this be a moment of stillness, connection and rest that rejuvenates mind, body and spirit.

Celeste Randolph is an interior designer in Los Altos. For more information, visit

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