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An Unexpected Color Palette Gives a Sonoran Pied-a-Terre Urban Appeal

In transforming this Optima unit for a client new to Arizona and condominium living, interior designer James McIntyre chose a dramatic color palette. “Don’t always think that when space is limited you have to try and make it look bigger,” he says.

Interior designer James McIntyre’s elegant re-imagining of a Scottsdale condominium.

By John Roark | Photography by Austin LaRue Baker

The assignment: Transform a two-bedroom Optima condominium into a gracious pied-à-terre for an executive who divides his time between the Midwest and the Southwest. “I really liked the idea of going darker to make it cozy, handsome and neutral,” interior designer James McIntyre recalls of his initial impression of the 1,300-square-foot unit. “The question was: How do we change the energy of this place so that it’s personal and welcoming even though it’s a smaller space?”

McIntyre embraced what he calls a casual desert urban aesthetic, inspired in part by Ralph Lauren’s early 1990s ‘modern penthouse’ style. “Condominium living is new to this client. I needed to make this feel like home but charming and sexy,” McIntyre says. The  element that holds the project together is the distinctive color of the walls. “I never get tired of taking a chance. It doesn’t matter if it’s a big or small space. I know intuitively that dark gray will be dramatic. Can black and gray work together in the desert? The answer is yes, they can.”

 “Don’t always think that when the space is small you must make it look bigger,” McIntyre continues. “One might think, keep it white. But in this case, I thought I would like to do the opposite—not be afraid of making it cozier. Work with the smaller square footage.” 

The designer was able to achieve what he envisioned for the diminutive dwelling. “It doesn’t look like a little condo,” he says. “It looks rich, even though we were careful with our budget.” The project was a bull’s-eye for the client. “I held my breath until I saw his reaction. He was almost overwhelmed by it,” McIntyre recalls. “In many ways, transforming this space was even more rewarding than designing a big space.” 

LIVING ROOM “My first thoughts were to go for a masculine, moody aesthetic,” McIntyre says. “We have so much bright light here in Arizona. I wanted to create a darker backdrop. At one point I considered painting the ceiling dark, but we needed the reflection of light. The mirror over the sofa is a very deliberate attempt at expanding the room and bouncing brightness in from outside. It behaves like a window, which is very important for this space.”

Smokey gray drapes were the choice for both atmosphere and light filtration. “What’s interesting about sheers—whether they’re light or dark—is that they give you the ability to control the mood,” McIntyre observes. “They filter light and give you privacy without darkening the room too much. I really wanted the place to feel charming and sexy. The view out to the Optima condos is very urban. The sheers are a nice softening detail.”

1. A mirror on the living room wall creates the illusion of a window, reflecting the outdoors and bouncing additional light into the room. Throw pillows with a desert-vibe pattern reinforce the Southwestern aesthetic. 2. “These condos have no foyers; they open up into a kitchen,” McIntyre says of the unit’s originally unremarkable entryway, which he redefined with a simple pedestal and vase. “We created a visual pause, a moment,” he says. The designer also replaced a glaring overhead light with ambient track lighting “to create a bit of a gallery feeling as you enter, creating a foyer that really doesn’t exist.” 3. The dining room and kitchen are  essentially one space divided by a counter. McIntyre added a large painting to separate and anchor the dining area. “Using multiple artworks as we did in the bedroom would have been too cluttered,” he says. 4. “Because the client is starting fresh in a brand-new home, he asked me to help with some artwork,” McIntyre says. “Photography was part of the inspiration concept and a really good way to meet the budget on art.” These affordable desert-inspired prints were ordered from a stock-image company and framed inexpensively. “The collection almost becomes a visual texture. The overall impact comes from the layout. It’s like a visual pattern on the wall.”

“Keeping a continuous color palette gives a sense of harmony and calmness. ”

—James Mcintyre, interior designer

The custom sectional was made with the client’s comfort in mind. “The pieces are large enough for the owner, who is more than 6 feet tall,” McIntyre says. “A small sectional and a tiny chair would never have worked. If the client was a young woman who was 5-foot-2 and 110 pounds, I could have used smaller-scale furniture and made the room look bigger.”

In the master bedroom, a custom leather headboard, pinstripe linens, graphic pillows and black-and-white photography follow the palette established in the living and dining rooms.

THE DINING AREA McIntyre used the existing kitchen cabinetry and countertops as inspiration for the luxe velvet dining chairs. The room is anchored by an ebony black oak dining table and a large abstract painting that reinforces the Southwestern vibe. “Even though the room isn’t large, it still needs a focal point,” McIntyre says. On the dining table, the designer selected a grouping of seven affordable vases. “If you’re not going for symmetry, always use odd numbers,” he advises. “We went with very graphic shapes to connect to the geometry of the art piece.”

THE PRIMARY BEDROOM For continuity and cohesiveness, the black/white/gray theme is carried into the primary bedroom with bed linens, textured pillows and framed artwork. “The fact that the palette is continuous throughout the unit helps to expand the space. There’s no jarring transition between rooms.” McIntyre says. “It also gives a sense of harmony and calmness.” 

The designer took cues from Optima’s distinctive urban architecture. For example, the bedroom’s sisal rug visually repeats the pattern found in exterior metal screens. “Your eye almost doesn’t notice it, but psychologically that’s what makes the room feel harmonious.” 


Interior designer: James McIntyre, Scottsdale,

living room—Black leather chair: Draperies (custom): Large mirror over sectional area rug:

dining room—Dining table: Counter stools:

bedroom—Bedside lamps: Sectional and bed (custom):


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