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From ’80s blah to stylish ahhhh

Ever wonder what an interior designer’s home looks like? Well, I have to admit to incredible curiosity. But would the home be too stylish? Would I feel at home? And, OK, I admit it, would it be just a little pretentious?

The moment Barbara Wirth and her husband Cary invited me in, I got my answers: NO … YES … and NO. Their home is as warm and inviting as they are.

When Barbara and Cary Wirth first saw this Nevada City home a little more than a



year ago, according to Barbara Wirth, “It was a plain 1980’s home, full of angles, edges and dull. The colors, however, were bright and brash ” with a loud turquoise exterior and strong blues, yellows and greens clashing throughout the interior.”

“When Barbara expressed her enthusiasm for this house,” Cary Wirth said, “I had difficulty sharing her vision and enthusiasm. To me it looked tense, tired and dated, but look at it now.”




The ugly-duckling, 2,400 square foot home has certainly been transformed. Its three-bedroom, two-bathroom floor plan is now a designer’s dream come true.

“It’s been like a puzzle,” Barbara admits, “but we’ve made the pieces fit, and it’s now a home we truly love living in.”

Some of the changes include new placement and replacement of doors and windows. When you walk in, even though the great room, dining room and kitchen are open floor plan, the large doors and windows create a warm, welcoming energy.

Light enough to offer inspiration, yet a sense of quiet dignity prevails. Each door and window looks out on recently planted gardens, inviting decks and views of what will soon be pastures for the horses they intend to have on their 11.3 acres of land.

Other noticeable changes can be seen on the walls and ceilings. “It’s imperfect smooth plaster,” Barbara Wirth said, “and it adds a sense of tranquility and craftsmanship. Those old-fashioned, orange-peel textured walls and ceilings had to go.” Gentle bull-nose corners add a modern softness throughout the house as well ” and the choice of tonal shades of golds, terra cottas, greens and creams complement the eclectic furnishings and artifacts.

Each table, sofa, chair and lamp has its own special purpose and style. The shapes, colors and textures may vary, yet by placing them strategically, they create a harmony that works seamlessly.

When you walk through the front door, the kitchen is part of the first impression. While dark wood pillars define the kitchen space, they also make it look a little like a library or a den. The rich-wood cabinets are discreet. The appliances are recessed, so you barely know they’re there.

The transition from the living and dining areas to the kitchen is distinct, yet smooth and intriguing. In fact, so is the transition from indoors to outside. For example, a charming bistro table at the far end of the great room links the simple drama inside to the inviting, screened-in porch outside.

“The screened-in porch has become our summer attraction,” Barbara points out. “It’s where we visit with friends, and enjoy sunsets while we share a glass of wine – or where we read the newspaper over a cup of coffee.”

“How do you manage to make such variety hang together so well?” I asked.

According to Barbara Wirth the secret is “Don’t overdecorate. Highlight the items you love, and try and hide everything else whenever it’s practical.”

Intriguing and inviting as the home is, there’s plenty of breathing space between the tasteful paintings, furniture and accessories. Part of that simple spaciousness is due to the absence of clutter ” and the absence of clutter is due to the incredible amount of storage cleverly built in to the home.

Closets are plentiful and innovatively designed to organize and display such items as clothing, shoes, vacuum cleaners and an ironing board. Even the cats’ litter box in the laundry room is hidden. Neither bathroom has a toothbrush, a curling iron or even a nail file in sight. Everything you need is handy ” just hidden ” often in the unusual, full-size storage cabinets and bottom drawers under the bathroom sinks.

Balancing aesthetics, practicality

Barbara and Cary Wirth’s home addresses both masterfully. Quartz counters in the bathrooms and kitchen are less expensive than granite, and combine character with easy-clean smoothness. The laminate floors in the foyer and kitchen closely resemble real wood. “What you’re seeing is actually a photograph of real wood, permanently incorporated in the laminating process. Since this will soon be a horse property, the laminate flooring can take the punishment of boots without scratching.

It’s also going to be easy to clean,” said Cary Wirth.

Other practical features include a whole-house fan and dimmers everywhere, even in the closets. For noticeably improved insulation, they’ve put a solar blanket in the attic. Made of the same material used in spacesuits, the blanket reflects summer heat and keeps the house cool and comfortable.

Open for business

Since both Barbara and Cary Wirth work from home, their offices reveal a different kind of innovation. Cary Wirth’s office is compact and comfortable. While sitting at his desk, he enjoys a great view of the enchanting, low-maintenance front garden as well as a grouping of the wild animals he photographed on an unforgettable adventure he and Barbara shared in Africa.

To the side of the office is their fitness room, which features more of his exotic wildlife photographs.

Take three steps down, and you’re in Barbara Wirth’s office. It’s interesting and practical ” spacious enough to double as a guest room. While the atmosphere is professional, it’s also relaxed and imaginative.

Book nooks help create an alcove where a denim-covered couch provides comfortable seating by day. However, when you remove the decorative throw cushions, the couch is really a bed, complete with a trundle bed below. The bed linens are stored in the two smaller closets on either side. “When we have guests,” Barbara says, “the bedding’s on the bed, so there’s plenty of closet space for their clothing and suitcases.”

“What other advice can you share?” I asked Barbara.

“With so many homes for sale right now, it really is a buyer’s market, so you can strike

a great deal. The trick is when you’re looking at prospective homes, look beyond the immediate. If you like the area and the basic floor plan, the rest is changeable. I’m not saying it’s always easy, but you can buy a bargain ” and turn it into your ideal home. Just make sure it has the basics that suit your lifestyle every single day.”

Comparing the ‘before’ pictures of Barbara and Cary Wirth’s home with the breathtaking ‘after’ ones confirmed her convictions. They’ve turned a blah 1980s home into a stylish 2007 home ” one that’s loaded with the ahhhhh! factor.


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