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Austin-based architect and interior designer Melanie Raines is used to keeping tabs on a project long after she’s completed it. She worked in the boutique-hotel industry for five-plus years—first at Soho House as an architectural designer and eventually at New Waterloo as the director of design—so she was not only answering to the developers but the staff who use the space every day. “You’re curating an experience,” says Raines. “So if the bar doesn’t work, you know about it, and you’re probably in charge of fixing it.”

Although Raines founded her own firm in 2019 and took on more residential projects, her hospitality foundation has come in handy again and again—especially when she met a couple living in Miami who wanted to downsize from their 10,000-square-foot home to a 3,000-square-foot townhouse, bringing their impressive art collection (including works by Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat) with them. “When you’re doing a boutique hotel, it has to look good and hold up to really high foot traffic,” shares Raines. “These clients wanted exactly that; they were form-meets-function. They wanted to sit in every chair.” 

Dining Table, Fern NYC.

But before they could plop down in any seat, Raines had to figure out how to make the house feel less like a typical builder-grade condo. Step one was to wrap all of the plain white walls in the entry and living area in honey-toned oak panels she had milled in Texas and finished with a clear sealant. “A coat of paint wasn’t going to do it,” she says. It was a strategic decision to not continue the treatment all the way up to the ceiling—the idea was to have a line that draws your eye around the small room. 

Dining Table, Fern NYC.

While her clients have accumulated a white-glove collection (the husband, a hematologist oncologist with an art history degree, has been collecting pieces since he was 18), they weren’t all that precious about how and where they hung things. Many of the pieces, like the large anatomical Basquiat print on the flush side of the dining room bookcase, are mounted directly into the wood wall treatment. They even hung smaller pieces directly on the frames of the shelving units, that way they stand out more. “I see a lot of people hanging art so that they’re looking at it, but they’re not really living with it,” says Raines. “These clients really taught me to see it in a different way and not take things too seriously.” Lately, the designer has been into hanging art in bathrooms (you can always move it after a year if you’re afraid the humidity will damage it). 

Sofa, Vladimir Kagan; Rugs, CB2; Vintage Coffee Table, Nakashima.

The big conversation when it came to deciding where to place furniture was about exactly that: conversations. Raines didn’t want to confine the couple (and their kids when they come to visit) to a L-shaped sectional that would require everyone to crane their necks to meet one another’s gaze. “And we also didn’t want two sofas facing each other,” she says—too formal. Instead Raines set a free-flowing tone with a handful of different armchairs and a serpentine-shaped Vladimir Kagan sofa. She had a console table designed so that it fits seamlessly against it, making use of otherwise wasted space.

Lamp, Gubi.

For even more seating, the designer also asked for the greenlight to put a bench in front of the sliding glass door overlooking the patio. Underfoot, she covered the stone with two CB2 rugs, really the only big-box-store finds you’ll see in the place (the couple loves to adopt dogs, and dirty paws take their toll after a while).

Pendant Lamp, Noguchi.

Situating a built-in bookcase in the middle of the space delineates a proper dining area, but more important, it contributes to the nestlike feel of the living room. “After we installed everything, my team and I were talking in the kitchen, wrapping up, and we came around the corner and realized the homeowner had been sitting there for over an hour,” says Raines with a laugh. “He was just in his brown leather chair looking at his art.” Meanwhile, his wife’s zen spot is her bright green office (they each have their own designated workspace upstairs). “He has his books and art, and I’ve got my fax machine, scanner, and filing cabinets,” she says, laughing. “He wants a cocoon, and I want as much light as I can get.” 

The Goods