How a La Jolla Decorator Brightens an Urban Apartment in Spain

Successful La Jolla-based decorator Jeanine Naviaux recently completed an eye-opening makeover of a vintage apartment in the heart of Barcelona’s L’Eixample District. The before and after images show the third-story unit’s complete transformation from a dated look to a vivid contemporary style that dovetails with the new owner’s exuberant lifestyle.

The homeowner inherited the unit, located in a classic old world neighborhood across from a cozy public park. The nine-story building is characteristically European in that the ground floor tenants in that next door is the bank, grocery store, and a bar/restaurant for your morning croissant and cortado (espresso). The metro is located directly across the street.

“My client uses the apartment as a primary residence, but units like this are available all throughout Barcelona and can be excellent pied-a-terre’s for anyone traveling to Europe on regular basis for business or pleasure,” Naviaux says.

On this particular project, Naviaux’s client was a single man who wanted to move into the residence quickly. That was a perfect arrangement for a decorator like Naviaux, who does not get into wall removals or general contracting.

“He wanted a bold contemporary look. I was able to do quite a bit of flash with hot colors, sleeker furnishings and accessories to complete the package. I was in and out in three weeks over a four month period and everyone was happy.”

How does a San Diego decorator land an international client?

“Working with a client in Spain happened through family contacts in Barcelona,” Naviaux explains. “My father is Catalan and our U.S. family is always returning home on visits.”

But before she arrived in Barcelona, Naviaux called friends and family and asked for references of trades people, painters, plumbers and electricians. She had two requirements: they must be able to start right after she arrived in late November and each subcontractor must have worked with family or friends for at least two generations. That way their reputations were on the line, which as the saying goes, “the Catalans never forget.”

“We began in November when the painter and I removed framed pictures that had been on the walls for at least 30 years. It was amazing to see how black the walls were once we took them down.

“Soon after, I ordered furniture from a company that belongs to my Spanish cousin who offered me a generous 15 percent discount. In addition, he hauled away the old furnishings and delivered the new.” With two workers, it took five hours to empty the apartment. The non-antique armoire had to be cut in pieces and removed via three flights of stairs and a tiny elevator that could barely fit two people. With an empty apartment, Naviaux discovered that the original parquet floor needed to be re-sanded. Also, one of the two bathrooms in the unit had dated 1970’s tile and had to be replaced with local tile.

Fixture-wise, everything went downhill from there. Everything that could have broken did. Because the client’s building is near the Mediterranean, all of the lighting fixtures had oxidized and needed to be replaced.

“I also had to replace the heater, two of the burners of the stove, the dishwasher and one of the electrical vertical blinds,” Jeanine explains. “When I arrived back in January, the furniture had been delivered and one wall had been painted grey in the living room to bring out the color of the white built-ins. Also, I brought a red lamp to hang over the dining room table from Cost Plus in San Diego.”

In dealing with a European client, Jeanine was faced with the declining strength of the U.S. Dollar versus the Euro. “A lot of the accessories like pillows, blankets, and vases were bought in San Diego because, even with luggage fees, it actually worked out cheaper than shopping in Spain.” Everything was three times more expensive than they had been on Jeanine’s previous trip to Spain four years ago. “My client and crew found it entertaining for me to show up at the airport with four huge suitcases. It all worked out because the client was thrilled to be such a trend-setter with an American contemporary look. We never told where the accessories came from. We left his family and friends guessing.”

Not everything was replaced when Jeanine transformed the apartment. “I did keep some of the old charm in the room with such classic articles as the silver-brown bedding and the bedside lamp, an original silver piece from the 1940’s,” she pointed out. She also kept some of the accessories from the owner’s own global adventures.

The job was completed by the end of February and Jeanine’s Spanish client is now the envy of the neighborhood. “It was a fascinating and rewarding experience, one that I’d like to repeat,” she says.

At present, she is on her way to becoming a licensed interior designer. “I have an MBA in Finance so I understand how to run a business. When I was in college, I paid my bills by being an interior decorator. I realized I was pretty good at it and figured out a way to launch a career.”

Back home, Naviaux is busy with her long list of clients ranging from the San Diego, Newport Beach, Arizona and Europe.

“Lately, towards the end of the day, I find myself missing Barcelona. I miss being able to run downstairs to have an espresso in that small restaurant overlooking the park.”

She plans to return to Europe some day, but for now she’s planning for her next shopping adventures in the bazaar-oriented cities of Chiang Mai, Thailand and Siam Reap, Cambodia

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