White walls closing in? Splotches of color can brighten your rooms


MIAMI BEACH -- Guests at the Leslie Hotel in the Art Deco District in Miami Beach must think they have been dumped in the middle of a rainbow gone a little haywire.

Beds are dressed in hot pink dust ruffles. Purple and turquoise spreads are accented with huge pink pillows. Headboards may be yellow, orange or purple, but they aren't real -- they're painted on the wall.

Windows sport wide bands of color and are adorned with mini-blinds in different colors; yellow next to orange cozying up to pink.

Walls and ceilings are white, but the light fixture in the middle of the ceiling is highlighted in a circle of color. Doors to adjacent rooms, closet, bath and hall do not match. A turquoise door may be trimmed in pink, an orange door in yellow, a pink door in purple.

The designer of these bold rooms is Barbara Hulanicki, whose work for the Art Deco Hotels Group is another creative step after a long career in fashion, design and art. She wrote "From A to BIBA" (Hutchinson & Co. Ltd., 1983), which chronicles her life and the success of her London fashion boutique, BIBA, in the 1960s and 1970s.

Her color riot in the 43-room Leslie could be an inspiration for homeowners trying to rebuild or remodel who find themselves surrounded by a sea of white drywall.

"With color, you should not lose courage," said Ms. Hulanicki, a soft-spoken woman who wears only black and white. "When you choose one color for a room, go for other colors equally strong. You can always cover your mistakes with another coat of paint.

"And don't listen to your friends until you are finished."

To decorate the Leslie, Ms. Hulanicki had a budget of $21,500 -- $500 a room. This covered paint -- 47 gallons of it -- furniture and upholstery. "It was a very little budget, actually," she said.

But the result proves that color comes cheap and one can make the biggest decorating splash with paint.

Separate from her budget was the general refurbishing of the hotel, which included new windows, beds and linens and updated baths and cost another $100,000.

"I had to stick to just five colors," she said. "A hotel gets hard use and the staff has to touch up the paint from time to time. Imagine the variety of paint we have to have on hand. I catch the housekeepers knocking on doors with their keys, chipping off the paint. I ask them not to do it."

She also had to teach the housekeeping staff not to match pillows to bedspreads, that the orange pillow goes on the purple spread on purpose.

Here are some other ideas from her work in the Leslie:

* Narrow hallways are treated with diamond-shaped splashes of contrasting colors, then partly covered with an unframed, diamond-shaped mirror. This treatment would jazz up a plain foyer at home.

* Ceiling fans in the hallways are painted in hot tropical colors. When the fans are running, the ceiling is a whirl of color.

* The tops and drawer pulls of old wood bureaus are painted different colors.

* The headboards, window bands, door frames and hall "diamonds" are edged with 3-inch-long dabs of color that were formed with masking tape. "It shouldn't look too perfect," said Ms. Hulanicki, pointing out that the feathery edges appear to be painted freehand.

* An inexpensive idea for children's rooms is to paint headboards on the walls. "I hate headboards," she said, "but you've got to have them. We thought painted headboards would be fun as well as less expensive."

The designer also is working on the Cardozo Hotel, which is owned by Gloria and Emilio Estefan. The treatment will be "more formal and more Latin, with lilac one of the main colors," Ms. Hulanicki said.

After studying at the Brighton Art School in Brighton, England (which recently awarded her an honorary doctorate of design), Ms. Hulanicki began her career as a fashion illustrator for magazines and newspapers. She is best known for the BIBA boutique she and her husband, Stephen Fitz-Simon, launched as a small mail-order shop in 1964. It grew until the BIBA look -- "clothes were short and skinny, very rebellious" -- reached near-cult status with young, skinny models. Cher and Twiggy were BIBA customers.

BIBA closed in 1976. In 1987, Ms. Hulanicki and Mr. Fitz-Simon came to Miami Beach and she began to do interior design. Her first project was Woody's, a pink neon nightclub (now defunct) owned by Rolling Stones guitarist Ron Wood.

Ms. Hulanicki is finishing work on a luxury condominium complex that will house 12 apartments and a penthouse suite as well as offices, boutiques and two restaurants. Her next project will be the renovation of the Victor.

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