Meet the Designer: LA’s Christian May on the Small Space Big Style Showhouse


For Maison 21 designer Christian May, packing a punch in the petite powder room of the Small Space Big Style show house is as easy as black and white.

In what way have you stepped out of your comfort zone to design this space?

 Well, my usual comfort zone is having a little bit more time to design and construct a bathroom, so there is that, but aside from the tightly compressed “Small Space Big Style” show house schedule, I really had to focus on how to turn a small, windowless, and somewhat unfriendly space into something dramatic and fun. I’ve also never done such a graphically black and white room before, so it was awesome to stretch a bit, and do something I wouldn’t normally get a chance to do.

Which trends have you referenced in the design?

 Well, a black and white color scheme is a tried and true classique (and something I adore for kitchens and bathrooms) so that is always on-trend. Hopefully I’ve updated it in a uniquely modern way.  Boldly patterned wallpaper is also something I’m loving lately, and a small, less-trafficked room like this bath is the perfect place to just go for it and get a little crazy, so I worked with the amazing Black Crow Studios to design something unforgettable for the room. People are going to either love it or hate it, and I’m totally cool with either. 

What’s the first rule of small-space design?

 I used the same set of rules for small spaces as I would for any other space. Basically, there are no rules when it comes to designjust whatever works and is pretty.  And while I might not have followed any hard and fast rules, I did make some concessions to designing this small space:

 1) I kept the design elements to a minimum—just two colors, black and white, repeated in the tiles, wallpaper, and plumbing fixtures. I used accessories sparingly. Too much stuff in a small space can feel like a junk shop!

 2) There is no natural light, so I added some shine via glossy floor tiles, multiple mirrors, and lacquer elements to bounce light around the space.

 3) Contrary to popular belief, small scale makes a small room seem smaller, hence the big, bold, stripes and chunky detailing to the lacquer pieces.

 4) I continued the wallpaper pattern onto the ceiling which tricks the eye into not reading the edges of the room quite as easily.

Who did you channel to come up with your design and why?

I came of age in the 80’s and the Memphis design movement is one of my favorites of the era, so hopefully I channeled a bit of the movement’s leaders, like Ettore Sottsass and Michele de Lucchi while designing the wallpaper.  And I can’t lie, nothing is new in design, so Andre Putnam’s iconic black-and-white bathrooms designed for the Morgans Hotel in 1984 certainly came to mind once I settled on the wallpaper concept. Ms. Putman’s simple shapes, and graphic black and white interiors have been a huge influence on my work, though admittedly, I usually tend to tart things up with a bit more color.

Fill in the blank: This room could be a set on _____________________ (fill in name of movie or TV show).

Actually, it wouldn’t serve very well as a set for TV or film at all—stripes are notoriously difficult to capture on camera. As a matter of fact, I’m pretty sure that the California Home + Design photographer will be cursing my name on the day he shoots my room!

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