About to plant 250 white begonias in one of three outdoor gardens at her home in Hillcrest, Robin Campbell asked the friend who had just stopped by, "What am I doing? I don't want to do this anymore. I feel chained." And so she put her house on the market; within the week it sold at the asking price. "It was blind faith," says Campbell. "After that it was like, ‘Now you're pregnant and you have to deliver.' "
The condo she chose in Mooreland Commons because of its location, attached garage, hardwood floors, fireplace and good bones, was not love at first sight. As a renovation-design consultant, however, she could envision what it might be — a service she offers to her clients as well.
"I love taking ugly ducklings and turning them into swans," says Campbell, who undertook the gutting and design of her 1,500-square-foot West End condo in a very different way than the renovation of her 3,000-square-foot home in Hillcrest.
"The living room of my old house looked like a salon belonging to Gertrude Stein and Elsie de Wolf. It was grandiose. Everything was colorful, continental and over the top. As they get older, people want simple and tranquil," she says, "but they rarely give themselves permission. We don't even know why we're holding onto things — we just feel compelled to. In my case, I sold almost everything except for a few pieces and started fresh."
When working with a client, Campbell's top priority is determining the lifestyle and needs of the family, followed by the importance of natural light and the placement of artificial light. She then figures out what needs to be done overall in order to achieve the first two things. "What I really like to do," says Campbell, "is help a client visualize how they would like to live and then interpret or translate that for the architect or builder."
Taking the lead role of general contractor during the renovations of her condo, Campbell completed what should have been a six-month renovation in half that time, with the drywall, painting and carpentry assistance of Corbin Cash, whom she alternately calls her "best man" and "knight in shining armor." Without the need for a formal dining room, Campbell designed an open floor plan to make her home a continuous living space.
She ripped out the wall-to-wall carpeting, and where she didn't find hardwood floors underneath, she had them installed. After gutting the Formica-and-linoleum kitchen and donating everything she tore out to Habitat for Humanity, she installed white Carrara marble counters, appliances with white floating glass fronts, glass-fronted lighted white cabinets and a stainless-steel backsplash. She replaced the Pepto-Bismol pink tile in the master bath and guest bath with white marble showers, and she used furniture instead of built-ins.
"I like to say I just let nature have her way with me. I had to tear down walls to open it up," she says. "I used to have so much art, and now I really only have one piece — the rest are the windows. I painted all the mullions black because they truly articulate the view, like an artist uses a black frame around their painting."
Interior decorator Janie Molster of Janie Molster Designs played a pivotal role in helping Campbell acquire fabrics and furnishings that were both luxurious and practical: white-vinyl, ostrich-stamped dining room chairs with gray velvet backs; linen velvet slipcovers that can be washed; white sheepskins and white cowhides that add warmth to the bleached hardwood floors. "She wanted it restful and calming," Molster says. "The palette was all about the different textures as opposed to different colors and patterns." Seven to eight different shades of white on the walls and furnishings, mixed with the organic element of wood, also keep the eye from becoming stagnant. "Janie's very talented," says Campbell. "She understood immediately what I wanted and respected that by totally going with it."
Campbell's condo — immaculate, spacious and entirely without clutter — conveys the impression of a tiny part of heaven carefully transplanted to a pocket of the West End. Every detail is accounted for, from the screen that shields the trash in the living room-like garage to the collection of rare books covered in white acid-free artist's paper.
"I love it," says Campbell. "It's all I need and more. We can truly live with less and feel good about it. Now, granted this is for big girls. Families can't do this, but big girls can. This is my big girl house."