Design Dilemma: The Case of the Bland Bungalow


Architect Mercedes Corbell’s Oakland home proves that color may be the most powerful weapon in a designer’s arsenal.

When Corbell purchased the small 1918-era home in the Dimond District, it was anything but a head-turner. The exterior was white, the interior was neglected and the windows were sad, single-paned aluminum sliders. Using a few simple architectural moves and a lot of vibrant color, Corbell has created what she calls a “tropical modern bungalow.”

With pale avocado siding, cobalt pillars, light yellow and teal trim, this 980-square-foot home is now as attention getting as Lady Gaga—albeit in a different, more tasteful, way. “I was really influenced by the colors of Latin America and Mexico,” says Corbell. “I love the fearless use of colors there.”

Inside, after moving the kitchen to a central location and the dining-family room to the back of the house, Corbell accented walls throughout in strong colors. “Each color defines a space,” says Corbell. “By limiting the colors to single walls, it gives the house a certain sharpness and a modern feel.”

Between the bursts of color, Corbell used a pure white hue. “This acts as a palate cleanser,” she says. “It’s like a cool, refreshing soda on a hot day.”

The architect employed another South-of-the-Border technique for the bedrooms. “In Latin America, they paint a band of color around the base of a home’s exterior,” she says. “I did this inside to add interest in an otherwise uninteresting room.”

She pumped up the appeal by making one wall, the wall behind the bed, an accent wall. “I think that it actually makes the room feel larger,” she says. “And it’s certainly more fun.” 



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