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Photo by Todd Wright
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Photo by Todd Wright
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Photo by Todd Wright
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As long as Wendy Umanoff has a vision, she knows things will work out. As the owner of her own
design company, Wendy Umanoff Designs, this belief applies to all of her creative projects, whether it's lighting design or retail merchandising, and even her search for a new home, a Shockoe Bottom loft she moved into last fall.
While she's careful about using the phrase "meant to be," Umanoff believes she manifested the apartment just by being able to see the image of it. "I had an absolute vision in my mind of what I needed," she says. "It had to be one big, open loft space."
Umanoff started putting the word out about her vision, and then one day, she hopped on Craigslist.com and found exactly what she had imagined. Just like that. Although she wasn't quite ready to move in when the apartment became available, the owner held it for two months while Umanoff waited to close on the sale of her former Forest Hill home.
It was, indeed, meant to be.
The loft on its own is a blank slate — an 1,100-square-foot rectangular shell with pine floors, three walls of exposed brick painted white, and rows and rows of windows that aerate the room. However, with Umanoff's eclectic design aesthetic and her collection of reclaimed pieces infused into the space, it looks as if she's been inhabiting this place for decades. It didn't just happen all at once, though. She had to start from the beginning.
"When I got this space, the first thing I thought about was where am I going to place everything? How am I going to live within this space?" she remembers. She started with the windowless wall, which provided an intimate setting for the bed. From there, she thought it made sense to place the community area — the main living space — right in the middle, a vantage point that affords a direct line of sight both into the kitchen and out the windows. Her workspace flanks the other end of the living area. At the back of the apartment, a kitchen, bath and walk-in closet are tucked under an elevated loft. The loft is used for storage now, but soon will become a guest sleeping area.
"The challenge with loft living," Umanoff explains, "is defining space without walls." She worked within the natural boundaries of the apartment first — the wall of windows, varying ceiling heights, massive floor-to-ceiling timber posts — and then drew boundaries of her own, all of which remain fluid. "I grew up in a midcentury modern home and all of the furniture was built in," she explains of her pre-ference for furniture with wheels.
Umanoff created definition in the living space with color and dimension. A teal leather couch is positioned dead center — a surprising element against the more neutral and weathered appeal of the rest of her décor. The sofa is backed by an orange console table and edged by a massive floor lamp made from an upside-down market umbrella and one of Umanoff's metal shade designs. "What I love about this light fixture is that it can define the edge of the living-room area into the work space, and serves two purposes as a work light and entertainment light," she says.
You recognize the work area, which doubles as her entertainment hub, by the massive desk (which served as a kitchen island in her previous home) and brilliant pink patchwork rug.
Umanoff uses more obvious barriers to shelter her bedroom space: an old door hinged to pocket shutters reclaimed from a building she used to live in divides the sleeping area and a multi-storied rolling cart divides the kitchen from the dressing area.
And then there are the subtle boundaries, including iron stars perched above the windows lining the work space, a tidy pile of blocks Umanoff uses for creative play, and a row of paintings hung below windows of the living area.
Filling in the Lines
With the function for each area of the loft defined, Umanoff could then finalize her design, layering the space with vignettes of her favorite themes — ladders, bird nests, the letter "U" — and others, including a wall grouping of pattern molds from the Reading Railroad paired with a black-and-white lithograph she made in college.
"Creating vignettes within a home not only feels good and is interesting, but when someone walks into your house, it gives them a place to focus, it grounds them," she says. Her pieces come together to create the greater whole and the result is simple comfort. "When people walk in, I just want them to be at ease," she says.