Home Design: Baldwin Park Beauty
Designer John McClain blends earthy elements with gilded glamour to create a couple’s dream home.
The floor plan of the Craftsman-inspired home that Jim Carlsen and Melissa Tountas bought in Baldwin Park just wasn’t working for the couple. They wanted to use the space more efficiently, and to seamlessly blend their individual styles: Carlsen’s earthy, masculine taste with Tountas’ softer feminine flair. And they wanted to kick it up a notch by adding a generous dose of glamour to their home.
The couple had already worked with John McClain Design to freshen up Tountas’ Lake Nona home before putting it on the market. Impressed with principal designer and company owner John McClain’s work, they had no doubt he was the right interior designer to renovate their Baldwin Park home.
“This was a total renovation; we remodeled everything down to the studs,” says McClain, who has offices in Orlando and Los Angeles.
With his team and lead designer Heather Rau, he started by gutting the first floor of the two-story home, removing tray ceilings, archways and some walls. The entire downstairs area opened up, providing a new view of the home as you enter through the front door. Sight lines now stretch from the living and dining area to the kitchen and family room beyond.
All the floors throughout the house were replaced with wide-plank hardwood flooring in dark oak. Working with a palette of neutral tones, various textures and subtle metallic elements, the design team created a refined transitional interior.
“I think for us, having a lot of neutrals is soothing. It allows feature items to stand out more than if you have a lot of color. We wanted certain things like artwork and pieces of furniture to be highlighted throughout the house, without a lot of color distractions in the background,” Carlsen explains.
The retired doctor, a collector of Jamali’s artwork, wanted to showcase select pieces by the artist, who is known for his mystical expressionism. The couple also had several pieces of furniture that deserved attention, including an antique J & C Fischer piano with an exquisite old-world carved case. It has been in Tountas’ family for decades and previously belonged to her mother.
After creating a design plan with the couple, McClain went to work. In the living room, he placed the piano and two eye-catching chairs with unique, graphic hand-bent rattan frames and sides—Auburn Lounge Chairs by Palecek, which he found during a market trip to North Carolina. “The chairs really serve two purposes. We knew there would be a limited amount of seating in the living room, and the chairs are right there where you enter the house. We wanted them to be really sculptural and interesting in their own right. The second thing they do for this space is with the two tones in their wood, they tie in the lighter, redder tones of the piano with the darker tones of Jim’s furniture pieces,” explains McClain, referring to Carlsen’s rustic wood dining room table, which sits adjacent to the living room.
Behind the piano, “The Guardian,” a pigmentation on cork by Jamali, looks over the shoulder of Tountas while she’s playing the piano. The woman’s sunburst-framed primitive face echoes Carlsen’s earthy style. Completing the living area is a shiny chrome-and-glass bar cart reminiscent of 1950s cocktail-hour glamour.
In the adjacent dining area, a niche was created on the wall to specifically house “Kastor,” a fresco tempera painting by Jamali that Carlsen affectionately refers to as the “Mud Lady.” Jamali’s team designed and built a custom wooden frame that floats the artwork and complements the heavy, dark wood of the dining room table.
A curved staircase just off the living/dining space leads to the second-level bedrooms. You won’t find any blinding white walls here. McClain insisted on a charcoal wall covering with a subtle illusion of clouds and stars. The light plays off of it, producing a beautiful sheen. Wrought-iron railings and oak wood steps tie it all together. Carlsen’s 22-year-old twin daughters and Tountas’ adult son and daughter all have bedrooms in the house, encouraging frequent visits and family time together.
Moving farther into the house, the airy open kitchen with its island and white cabinetry provides a welcoming and spacious family hub. Carlsen considers the kitchen a social space, so it was designed to accommodate family members who love to cook—potentially all at the same time.
The island is set 60 inches from the stove, far beyond the traditional 36-inch spread, allowing ample room for more than one cook in the kitchen. Combining function with beauty, the hood over the stove serves as a centerpiece. “The stove’s hood is a custom piece. We wanted to combine all the different metallic accents. We love combining metals, but the way to execute it correctly is through repetition. You want to create a rhythm through the space,” explains the designer.
The stainless steel of the appliances echoes the stainless steel body of the hood. Brushed nickel accents found throughout the house—such as the metal trim around tile and in the breakfast table—are repeated in the band around the hood. And the polished nickel of the kitchen’s hardware repeats in the rivet detail.
When it came to tile placement behind the stove, McClain advised the couple to depart from the conventional 45-degree placement of herringbone tiles. The 90-degree placement of the tiles forms a pattern that adds interest to this predominantly white kitchen. “I think it’s a more modern way to do it. It’s less zigzaggy,” he says.
To maximize space, the cabinets at the very top were designed with glass doors to imitate a shadowbox. Here, McClain positioned pieces from Tountas’ fine china and crystal collections. Vases and bowls are on display year-round instead of being tucked away in boxes and brought out only for holiday and special occasions.
The kitchen chairs that line the island—once Carlsen’s barstools—are a good example of using what you love. McClain’s carpenter cut off the feet to adapt to the height of the kitchen island. The backs were reupholstered with a woven fabric that creates a shimmery illusion. “We love the play of light. We think it’s interesting, and it changes over the day as well,” the designer emphasizes.
A breakfast spot is adjacent to the island. A brushed nickel café table and chairs rest on a cowhide rug. In a nearby corner sits a sleek desk under a large, statement-making metal clock with topsy-turvy Roman numerals.
At the far end of the open floor plan is the family room, a cozy spot where everybody can kick off their shoes and get comfortable. The wall where a 1990s built-in entertainment center once resided is now home to an entertainment wall featuring a television, sound bar and fireplace. “We gained 4 to 5 feet of space by removing it,” McClain points out.
Using porcelain tiles with zero grout lines and matching grout, McClain and his team created a wall that looks like solid natural stone. Here, the television and fireplace fit seamlessly. On both sides of the wall, Carlsen’s rustic bookstands display family treasures. This is a nice blend of the two-family aesthetic: Carlsen’s masculine pieces such as his Ferdinand the Bull sculpture and Tountas’ more feminine Lladró figurines.
“What’s really interesting about this entertainment wall and everything John did is that he bridged the gap between glamorous and earthy/rustic without it looking awkward,” says Carlsen. “This tile to me represents the stoniness of concrete, but it has texture and is more glamorous.”
To accommodate the high traffic of a family area, McClain chose performance fabrics with Crypton coating for the white sofa and blue chairs. “I would never do a white sofa without a Crypton coating,” he says. The fabric is resistant to stains, water and bacteria.
Off the family area, textured wallpaper jazzes up a powder room with an elegant yet subtle metallic tone. The couple framed vintage childhood photos of each of them sitting on a potty—a whimsical touch that always evokes a chuckle from guests.
The whole house is a testament to McClain’s talent for using wall coverings. Throughout the home, he showcased wallpaper with bold textures and reflective properties that dazzle with the light. However, the master bedroom’s statement wall is by far the most noteworthy. Here, McClain used mica-—wall tiles made of stone flakes—in a slate tone. The tiles’ natural stone-adorned texture gives off a rich, warm, luxurious look. Mica easily reflects light around the room, creating a brilliant metallic sheen, while the chips add visual interest and depth to the wall.
Another Jamali artwork adds further interest to the master bedroom walls. “Untitled,” a pigmentation on cork, features a woman’s face in shades of brown and beige, enhanced with touches of the earth’s yellow, rust and blue tones.
Carlsen recalls a story about the artwork. As the room’s renovation neared completion, he announced that he had to run out for a few minutes. “I went over to Jamali’s [Winter Park] gallery. This piece was supposed to go in his New York gallery, which is sort of his museum. It was on the truck to go there, and I fell in love with it,” Carlsen says about the last-minute purchase and finishing touch to the bedroom.
The room’s king-size bed is a custom design, a modern retooling of a wingback chair upholstered in plush mohair. The design of the bed was inspired by a popular chair from John McClain Home, the designer’s home furnishings line.
The adjacent master bathroom was completely reconfigured. McClain describes the private lavatory as “the prettiest water closet you’ll ever find.” Tall white double doors open to a sleek, skirted toilet cocooned by walls covered in an elegant, grassy-textured wallpaper. The tiled floors throughout the master bath feature a porcelain version of white onyx, which McClain says provides the sophisticated look of natural stone, but without any of the maintenance.
A statement wall offsets the glistening white of the bathroom. Patterned tiles with white-and-gray interlocking geometric shapes produce a subtle optical illusion of diamonds and squares. It serves as a backdrop for a white slipper bathtub and a towering floor-to-ceiling glass-
enclosed shower. Shiny chrome hardware pairs nicely with the Caviar light fixture—metal cones tucked inside bubblelike glass—that hangs over the tub.
No matter how stunning the interior, no Florida home is complete without an inviting outdoor space. Doors from the kitchen lead to the lanai and backyard, where a rectangular swimming pool and hot tub with water features is the focal point. Feathery date palms and crepe myrtles line one side, giving the compact space a cozy and intimate feel. An urban gardener, Carlsen has planted lemon and Key lime trees as well as seasonal tomatoes, peppers and herbs in containers. On the lanai, the sofa’s navy cushions with white piping add crispness to the sitting area’s décor, while a picnic table encourages outdoor family gatherings.
As Carlsen walks from the outside to the inside, and from the front of the house to the back, the happy homeowner remarks, “I can’t count how many different views of this house are exactly what you would expect to see in an architectural magazine.” McClain and his team couldn’t ask for a better compliment.