Art at the Heart
A creatively curated collection takes center stage in a major remodel.
By Suzanne Wright | Photography by Leland GeBhardt
As a high-powered CFO of a Fortune 500 company, one Phoenix homeowner is accustomed to calling the shots. But when she embarked on a major renovation of her 4,500-square-foot home, she sought expert guidance to avoid missteps.
“I’m very opinionated,” she says. “I know what I like. There’s an immediacy when I connect with something.”
Originally from Jamaica, she loves bold colors; she says they suit her personality. But the traditional, heavy furnishings she brought with her when she moved to the Valley following stints in Miami and San Francisco didn’t fit her aesthetic—or her new abode. Instead, she desired a clean, minimalist space that would showcase an eclectic art collection.
“The art drove our design choices,” explains interior designer Cathy Stark. “The homeowner’s taste is sophisticated but also playful. I wanted to bring pieces together that fit her level of creative expression.”
According to builder Tim Larson, the remodel included creating an open floor plan. Walls were removed and a 30-foot-long expanse of floor-to-ceiling sliding glass doors was installed for seamless indoor-outdoor living. A favorite destination for the homeowner and her dog, the pool and patio were extended and received a tropical overhaul—a nod to her heritage—with multiple seating areas, colorful tiles on the pool, an outdoor kitchen wrapped in iridescent tiles, furnishings and accessories in a cheery orange hue and plenty of potted plants. A see-through fireplace that can be enjoyed from inside and out adds a touch of luxurious comfort.
“Collecting is a personal process and a journey of enlightenment.”
—Christi Bonner Manuelito, art consultant
“Knowing about the importance of the art informed some of our build-out choices, especially when it came to lighting,” says Larson. “We knew the client wanted certain things in certain areas, and we didn’t want to have to retrofit anything after the renovation was complete.”
The homeowner also wanted her house to serve as a sanctuary—a place to relax after long days at the office. “I’m an introvert,” she explains. “At the end of the day, I need a place where I can recharge my batteries.”
Stark took that as her cue to create a clean backdrop that didn’t overpower the homeowner’s colorful collectibles. “The client is very sophisticated, but her taste is also playful,” Stark says. “I wanted to bring elements together that fit her level of creative expression. Elegant white marble floors with subtle veining, neutral walls and large sweeps of glass are visually soothing and unobtrusive. A backlit quartz bar and a glass mosaic kitchen backsplash are dramatic showstoppers in the otherwise restrained interior. Furnishings in a burnished palette of oranges, blues and yellows, accented with black and pearlized white, whisper rather than shout. Patterns—ranging from animal and boho prints to graphic midcentury-influenced designs—add depth and texture.
While the homeowner already owned a number of art pieces, she wanted to incorporate new works that would harmonize with the updated design, so Stark introduced her to art consultant Christi Bonner Manuelito, who helped the aficionado refine her focus and choose pieces that not only enhance the decor but also provide joy.
“Collecting is a personal process and a journey of enlightenment that lasts a lifetime,” notes Manuelito. “It’s not a race. One never knows when they will emotionally respond to art so much so that a piece of artwork becomes a need. This client kept an open heart and mind, which made it much easier to embrace the education process.
The homeowner would take Manuelito to the space and have her compile ideas of what she thought might be a perfect fit for the home. “We would watch the collector’s outward response to each work, and then focus on her inner feelings,” Manuelito explains. The homeowner also began attending gallery exhibits, meeting artists and learning their stories. “This is how you compile a personal art collection, and its also why you don’t have to worry if pieces will ‘fit’ in your home,” adds the gallery owner.
Throughout the house, contemporary sculpture in stone and bronze mix effortlessly with brightly hued abstract and botanical paintings. In the great room, a pair of oversized canvasses by Phoenix-based artist John Schieffer hang over the kitchen. The vibrant photorealism of marbles and dice splashing in water—the artist calls it “moving still life”—adds dynamic impact to the clean lines and neutral hues of the architecture and furnishings.
Becoming Art Smart
Art reflects a homeowner’s personality. Gallery owner and art consultant Christi Bonner Manuelito offers these guidelines to would-be collectors.
- Collecting art is organic. When you find the perfect piece, don’t wait and live with years of regret. It will find a way to work in your surroundings. Art collectors are eclectic and their collections reflect their lives.
- Collect what you love. Buy pieces that speak to you. If you love the work, it will always be priceless.
- Price is not a barrier. If your budget is small, begin collecting artists who are more affordable, then work art into your budget. Everyone can collect fine art.
- Don’t sweat size. Scale is important when placing works in a home. Pieces that are too small can get lost. But if you love the piece, it has a way of adapting to its surroundings. You’ll likely rotate a piece in your home many times, and every time you move a work of art, you’ll see something new.
They also emphasize the room’s soaring ceilings. Initially, the panels were hung above a sofa in a sitting room that overlooks the pool, but the homeowner suggested displaying them on the cantilevered wall. “That was the focal wall and we needed something monumental there,” Manuelito recalls. “The client was right. Hanging that piece there was brilliant.”
Although the renovation took 15 months and required her to move out during the process, the homeowner notes that it was worth it. She’s unabashed her in satisfaction. “It turned out exactly as I envisioned,” she says. “I’m glad I took the long road and in the process learned not only about the house but also about myself.”
For Manuelito, helping collectors garner the confidence to buy art that speaks to its owner’s soul. “Some pieces you will immediately gravitate toward, and some slowly sneak up on you and steal your heart, mind and soul.” It is a fulfilling part of her role as a gallery owner. She praises the client’s newfound aptitude, noting “It takes years to develop mental and emotional intelligence about art. Now she is a pro.”
Architect: Jim Moffatt, J. Moffatt + Associates. Builder: Tim Larson, La Casa Builders. Interior Designer: Cathy Stark, C. Stark Design Inc.
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