Growing up in the tiny upstate New York town of Montecello, Bonnie Sachs demonstrated an artistic flair with her stylishly decorated bedroom and her success in classes that fell under the "home economics" umbrella. Yet she ignored those early hints and poured her creative talents into acting and singing, performing with traveling theater companies and working in the entertainment industry. Years later, living in Southern California, she experienced a life-changing moment that brought her true calling as an interior designer into focus. "I remember leafing through the catalog for UCLA Extension, and there it was," she says. "I didn't know it was four intense years of hard, staying-up-until-4-o'clock-in-the-morning work, but that's what I did.

Faux marble counters and gold fixtures gave way to rich wood cabinets and the colors of nature.
Faux marble counters and gold fixtures gave way to rich wood cabinets and the colors of nature.

More than two decades on, and design remains a constant source of creative expression. "I really like working one-on-one with clients so that their lives, their home, their ideas and my ideas-those four things-really get approached and taken care of It's really an amalgam of what we all want to see," says Sachs, who takes us inside of the design process.

Tell us about a project where the design presented itself. I did a beachfront condominium in Marina del Rey. We took a unit that was designed in a farmhouse style and redesigned it for a single man who wanted a much more citified, sophisticated look. Architecturally, we were very constrained because it's a condo and you can't move plumbing, and you can't move certain walls. If you made a room that wasn't already there, you weren't going to have windows in it.

How did you work around it? In the kitchen, I switched the peninsula from the other side because the client entertained a lot, and he needed the flow to get in and out of the kitchen. I opened up that wall so that I could steal light from the windows and put it into the hallway. Then I added windows in the hallway that brought even more light into the unit. I changed all of the materials out. We brought in oak and cherry and granite as opposed to white wood and pine. The beam ceiling was dropped to put in recessed lighting. There is now a wine fridge, a full pantry and a good working oven. The space is exactly the same size. We just moved it around so that it worked a lot better.

What changes did you make to the master bathroom? Before, it was mirrored and had faux marble counters and gold fixtures. It was horrendous. Again, we couldn't change the layout or where the plumbing was. I blew out the back wall so the bathroom opened to the bedroom, but the toilet room and the tub were kept behind closed doors. We raised the height of the doors and simplified everything, yet made it more modern. The color was very neutral, subdued and masculine. He chose a lot of really fine art. We built a wardrobe closet rather than a sliding-door closet, which I don't allow in my houses. Those, and medicine cabinets.

Why no medicine cabinets? There are a hundred different ways to store things that would normally be found in a medicine cabinet. In a lot of cases, I'll use organized pullouts below the counter instead of drawers so that you can put things that you would otherwise put in the medicine cabinet.

How does the client influence your design? Everything I do is client driven. I did this wonderful kitchen for a grandmother who absolutely loves to bake.

The condo’s new floor plan better directs the flow of traffic through the kitchen while enhancing its visual interest.
The condo's new floor plan better directs the flow of traffic through the kitchen while enhancing its visual interest.
One of the first things she said to me was, 'When I bake cookies for my grandchildren, they're sitting on the counter next to the mixer, and I don't want to lose that.' These were the hints that she was giving me.

So how did Grandma's hints translate? The old kitchen had no light, no room, no storage. There was a laundry room and a little breakfast room and a patio. We blasted through three rooms to create the new kitchen, and also extended the back of the house to include a breakfast room. We put in CaesarStone counters and custom cabinets that, through the design process, we worked out where everything would go.

She had lived in the home for years and years and, with older people, you have to pay attention to the muscle memory of how they work in a kitchen. You can't change everything or they will never be comfortable there. The dishwasher has to be on the same side or their baking station needs to be adjacent to the window. In this kitchen, the mixer is pretty much in the same place because that's what she was used to.

And you incorporated beams into the design of the ceilings? Ceilings are an important plane that many people forget about. They don't realize that they're just as important as the walls in a lot of cases. Adding something with the intent of pulling the whole room together is important.

Does the design reflect the architecture of the house? Absolutely! This is a classic Georgian 1938 house so is important to reflect the architecture. It doesn't mean that you can't do a modern kitchen, but sleek stainless steel was not our vision for this home. Our vision was to make it look like it had always been there. That is usually the intent when working with older homes while at the same time giving people what they need in today's world.

Bonnie Sachs, ASID, CID
Bonnie Sachs Studio