The secret to contemporary cultural design is knowing when to pull back on the reins.

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Good design isn’t just about selecting the best elements for a space — it’s also about reflecting the tastes and values of those who inhabit it. This really rang true for me during a project with my clients Kavita, Amrita and Bhavani — three South Asian women with a family room inspired by a 60-year-old man’s passion for golf.

The family room was the real hub of the home, but its drab décor didn’t match its occupants. The Berber carpet, red brick fireplace and golf-motif wallpaper border reflected the masculine preferences of the home’s previous owner.

The women wanted a warm, cozy hangout that referenced their heritage. So, using the principle of contemporary cultural design, I set out to give them a modern space with a spicy Masala flavor.

For inspiration, I visited an Indian fabric shop where I marveled at lovely saris in red, maroon and gold. Traditional Indian design features rich colors, in addition to detailed embroidery, metalwork and dark wood. I wanted to integrate all of these conventions in the space, but do so in a super-fresh way.

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The secret to contemporary cultural design is knowing when to pull back on the reins, and that kind of self-control isn’t easy. You may as well put a plate of brownies in front of me and tell me to eat only one!

Instead of trying to replicate a style in every aspect, you must focus on a few key elements that represent the style. By using small spoonfuls of relevant patterns, colors and textures, you create a culturally inspired space that doesn’t scream “cliché.”

First things first. I did a happy dance as I tore down the golf-inspired wallpaper and put up clean grasscloth with a foil shine. I also installed new laminate flooring in a rustic oak finish. I then divided the room into two areas: a fireplace/TV lounge and a working/eating space.

A fireplace should be a focal point in a space, but the existing one was just an eyesore. I put in a new gas unit and covered up the old brick wall with carved walnut tiles. I then clad the hearth in polished marble tile and flanked it all with scrumptious dark wood cabinetry into which I worked a flat-screen TV.

I really wanted a large, non-standard-size couch for the wall facing the fireplace, but custom couches usually equal big bucks. For a fraction of the price, I created my own custom configuration with existing showroom pieces. I purchased two one-armed love seats and pushed them together. I complemented the new extra-long couch with a cognac-colored armchair and a brass-and-mirror coffee table.

To complete the lounge, I went searching for a traditional carpet with a neutral tone and found a gorgeous muted Persian that looks like it has a lot of history. Near the window, I created a working/eating area with a round wood table, chairs and an antique hutch. On the window (and patio doors), I chose stunning paisley drapes in brandy, orange and white — a juicy twist on a conventional fave.

For ambience, I installed a stunning brass pendant over the table. I also chose to install a mirror above the sofa and flanked it with sconces in a stained silver-leaf finish. I then added a host of accessories, including sumptuous pillows, woven baskets and other delectable artifacts.

Using traditional elements like carved wood and metalwork in a modern way, I created a culturally inspired hangout for Kavita, Amrita and Bhavani that thankfully has absolutely nothing to do with golf.


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