A Basement With Hollywood Glamour

Michelle Workman re-invented her Lafayette, Calif., home's game room as a chic design studio with a budget of $4,000 and a timeline of three weeks.
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Interior designer Michelle Workman's life is busier by the minute. In the past two years, the well-respected style maker and mother of two has helmed her rapidly growing design business, had projects featured in leading shelter publications and has taken on high-profile clientele. In the midst of all this, she and her family moved from Los Angeles to the San Francisco Bay Area. "My husband's job relocated us to the Bay Area," says Michelle. "Although I fell in love with our new house's midcentury modern architecture, the game room on the bottom floor was hideous."

Determined to overhaul her new home's bottom floor, the designer devised a way to transform the dated game room into a Hollywood-inspired design studio reminiscent of the same signature style that keeps her clients coming back for more.

In its existing state, the 16x12 room didn't have much to offer visually or functionally. "I think it had always been used as a game room," Michelle explains. "The entire space was taken up by an enormous pool table. It was hard to see the space as anything but a game room due to the way it was set up. Plus, there was a gaping hole in a wall near the entrance that houses the HVAC duct, which made the room kind of creepy."

Upon moving in, Michelle was anxious to rid the space of its pool table past. Not only did she have the enormous table removed, but she also tackled a long list of tasks, including:

  • Lightening the space with white paint and graphic wall covering
  • Reconfiguring an existing wall of storage for her design needs
  • Adding extra storage for fabrics
  • Using custom window coverings to distract attention from the dated windows and sliding-glass doors
  • Creating an inspiration corner packed with vertical space for tear sheets from magazines
  • Updating the overhead lighting, re-covering a custom banquette
  • Floating a desk in the center of the room
  • Replacing the dated carpet with something light, airy and graphic

To accomplish all of this, the designer stuck to a budget of $4,000 and a timeline of three weeks, achievable mostly due to the fact that she would be repurposing furniture pieces she already owned and had in her possession.

Chic Basement Remodel

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Outdated Beginnings

When Michelle Workman first moved into her Lafayette, Calif., home, she was determined to overhaul its dated game room into a sophisticated, serene, Hollywood-inspired design studio.

Hollywood-Inspired Style

Determined to save costs and stick with a short timeline of three weeks, Michelle decided to keep the built-ins that were previously used as game room storage. By placing her writing desk in front of the wall, she can look out into the backyard while working. "I didn't want to sit at my desk all day and stare at the wall. It was important to be able to look outside from my chair," the designer explains. "Floating the desk in front of the storage wall was the perfect solution."

Wall-to-Wall Carpet

A fan of clean, graphic patterns, Michelle fell in love with a wool and sisal blend carpet with herringbone detail. In order to install the new carpet, the existing wall-to-wall cut pile and its padding first had to be torn out. "Something to consider when putting in wall-to-wall carpet: Before falling in love with a particular style, know what the total will come to, including padding," the designer advises. "Keep in mind that, in addition to the carpet and installation costs, padding runs about $2.50 per square foot."

Graphic Wallpaper

Although Michelle is a fan of using bold color, she opted for a muted palette in her studio, a place meant for concentration and serenity. The graphic wallpaper in the design studio packs graphic punch, yet is in a subdued color palette of white and gold.

Vintage Lighting

Much of Michelle's interiors are made up of vintage pieces she picked up at boutiques and flea markets. When hunting for finds at her go-to sources for clients, she came across a brass 1960s chandelier. The lighting fixture is in the glamorous style she's known for, which also coordinated perfectly with the gold pattern of the wallpaper.

Custom Pieces

To take full advantage of an 8-foot wall to the left of her design studio's entrance, Michelle designed a custom banquette where she can read design books. In keeping with her signature glamorous style, she chose a glossy, glazed linen for the upholstery with super shiny chrome nail head detail.

Studio Inspiration

When putting together the design of her Lafayette, Calif., design studio, Michelle turned to her business's branding colors for inspiration." The white and gold backdrop was ideal for showcasing the same apple green color used in my branding," says Michelle. "It's not matchy-matchy — something I wanted avoid. Instead it coordinates wonderfully; in fact, it looks kind of effortless."

A Storage System That Works

Much of Michelle's work is inspired by textiles. To keep her large supply of fabric samples within arm's reach, she has them organized in clear drawers placed above the built-in wall of storage. Each freestanding drawer is organized by color. Michelle notes: "It didn't make sense to keep my swatches hidden behind doors, which I'd have to rummage through to find things by color. This system is perfect; all I have to do is glance over and all the colors are right there in clear view."

Desk Drawers

While the built-in cabinetry is designated for storing Michelle's swatches and samples, she relies on the writing desk's drawers for more personal, everyday things such as keys, change purses, pens and pencils.

Screen Inspiration Board

Michelle gave a corner of her design studio a defined purpose as an area for sourcing ideas and fabrics. She had custom folding screens made by a local upholster using plywood, white cotton and apple green satin ribbon. When she comes across something inspiring in a magazine, she simply tears a page out, then tacks it up on the screen behind her.

Chic Hardware

Since Michelle saved a great deal of money by keeping the space's existing built-ins, then painting them white, she planned to splurge on new hardware. Luckily, she came across chunky square chrome pulls from IKEA at about one-third the price of similar styles available through designer showrooms.

Home Is Where the Art Is

Art is a major element in the design of each of Michelle's interiors. To ensure that her favorite pieces remain in view from the writing desk just above the banquette, she hung a trio of pieces created by her sister, Sophie, an abstract artist.

Roman Shades

Since replacing the windows of the design studio was not within Michelle's budget, she decided to take the focus off of them by having custom white silk window coverings made. By installing the shades for the window on the built-in storage wall all the way up flush with the ceiling, the dated casings are kept hidden and the window appears to be even higher than it actually is.

Delicate Draperies

The California light that streams in from Michelle's backyard can be blinding. To help control it, she installed white silk draperies along the sliding-glass doors that, when closed, help diffuse the light and cast a gorgeous glow on the room.

Tackling the Carpet

Once Michelle and her family were settled into their home in Lafayette, a quaint town roughly 20 miles from downtown San Francisco, she turned her focus to ridding the space of its existing carpet. "The carpet was the first to go. It was disgusting. I think the space had been flooded multiple times," says Michelle. "The only thing Hollywood about that carpet was how well it would have fit into a big budget studio-produced horror movie."

When sourcing styles for the design studio, she instantly fell in love with an off-white wool and sisal blend carpet with a graphic herringbone pattern. Although choosing the right carpet was easy, installation proved to be more of a challenge. "Once the old carpet was removed, a 6-foot-long crack down the center [of the floor] was revealed, the result of an earthquake," Michelle recalls. "This unexpected discovery could have been a financial setback, but, luckily, my installers had already included repairing any cracks in the concrete in their bid." Although the additional labor to fill the cracks did throw off the momentum of the installation, Michelle still managed to stick to her timeline.

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The graphic wallpaper in the design studio packs graphic punch.

The graphic wallpaper in the design studio packs graphic punch.

Introducing the Wallpaper

In addition to pattern on the floor, Michelle also introduced a much larger-scale pattern similar to Greek key on the walls with wallpaper. "My style is pretty Hollywood-driven, yet more livable and not at all over-the-top," she says. "While I love bold pattern with saturated color in most rooms, I personally require a light and airy space to work. Otherwise I truly can't concentrate; my creative juices just won't flow."

Something Michelle didn't anticipate was how the texture of the room's walls would affect the installation of the wallpaper. She adds: "While the drywall in the room was by no means perfectly smooth, it didn't appear to be imperfect enough to affect the way it would hang. After my wallpaper hanger, Bill Emberton, noticed the orange peel texture of the walls, he informed me that it would slightly show through the paper. The alternative was for him to first skim coat the walls, which would come with a hefty price tag. I decided to have it installed as-is, assuming the graphic pattern of the paper would overpower any imperfections in the walls behind it." Luckily, Michelle was right. The imperfections of the walls behind the paper are only noticeable from close up.

Illuminating the Space

Next on Michelle's list was updating the room's lighting. To add a personal touch to her design studio's lighting plan, Michelle repurposed a vintage fixture that previously hung in her Los Angles home furnishings store. Its midcentury modern style blended perfectly with the house's architecture, and its brass finish worked well with the gold tone of the wallpaper. "I love my gold chandelier. It's totally Hollywood," says Michelle. "And even though I'm no longer living in Hollywood, I've got a piece of it here with me in the Bay Area."

Since the junction box for the room's existing lighting was already centered in the space, Michelle simply centered her small writing desk under the chandelier and had it installed directly into the existing junction box. "When you've got the right chandelier, it's important to hang it directly in your field of vision; you should be able to look directly at it, not up into it," Michelle notes. "My rule of thumb for installing pendants is that the bottom of the fixture should sit roughly around 36 inches above the top of the table."

Putting together mood boards and presentations is an important part of what Michelle does. To ensure vertical space for pinning up fabrics, wall covering samples, tear sheets and trim, Michelle has a custom three-piece folding screen that is upholstered with white cotton and apple green satin ribbon. In addition to being functional, the screen also delineates one corner as a designated reading area where Michelle sits in her lounge chair and seeks out inspiration from pages of shelter magazines.

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Michelle removed the top cabinet door front from the wall of built-in storage to create an open system containing magazines inside of clear plastic rectangular bins.

Michelle removed the top cabinet door front from the wall of built-in storage to create an open system containing magazines inside of clear plastic rectangular bins.

Organization played a big part in the design of Michelle's studio. Luckily, the existing space included custom built-ins that Michelle updated easily with a fresh coat of white paint. To give them a more polished look, she replaced the existing hardware with affordable chrome pulls from IKEA, an option that set her back only $100.

"I found similar styles in designer showrooms, which were three times the price, if not more," says Michelle. "Thanks to these shiny little guys, I was able to stick with my budget." Since the existing built-ins offered plenty of space to house all of Michelle's design books, vendor binders and swatches, she simply had to decide which cabinets and drawers would be assigned to which items.

To incorporate an element of open storage for books and magazines, Michelle simply unhinged some of the built-in doors to create an open look. The designer adds: "I wish I could take credit for inventing this idea, but I didn't! It's a great tip for anyone trying to give old built-ins a new look or purpose. Simply taking a few doors off is a great way to display favorite items, whether they're decorating or things which require quick, instant access."

With the project complete, Michelle's Bay Area design business is now in full swing. As far as anything she would have done differently, the designer says: "On gorgeous days, I would love more than anything else to be able to fully open the exterior wall and have the breeze come in. If I'd budgeted to have double French doors installed, it would be more like an office that's also slightly an outdoor room."

Although Michelle and her design business are now 300 miles north of Los Angeles, she's bringing Hollywood to the Bay Area, one space at a time.

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