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Sheldon Harte’s Luxurious Yet Livable Spaces

Sheldon Harte was destined for a career in design. He grew up in an iconic Cliff May house in L.A.’s San Fernando Valley, after all. May’s hyper-focus on the indoor-outdoor connection and open ranch-style living gave Harte his first experience with the concept of creating luxurious yet approachable rooms.

Sheldon Harte_portrait_SMALL“I focus on quality, comfort and adding a timeless quality to the interiors I design, so that my work withstands changing trends and styles,” says the HGTV Top 10 designer, who partnered with John Brownlee to create Harte Brownlee & Associates Interior Design in 1984.

Since then, Harte has embraced a deep sense of eclecticism. The evidence is his diverse portfolio, which ranges from estates and villas to family compounds, hilltop homes, beach bungalows and ski homes in numerous locales, from California’s Gold Coast to Indian Wells, Deer Valley, Carmel Valley and Vail. The Laguna Beach-based designer is versed in a variety of styles from traditional to contemporary and formal to casual, and particularly skilled at layering art and antiques. A contemporary art collector himself, Harte is also a member of the board of trustees of the Laguna Art Museum — a fact his sophisticated clients appreciate. We recently asked the Laguna Beach-based designer to give us a look into his beautified and rarified world.

Previews Inside Out Where do you go for design inspiration?

Sheldon Harte I travel. I’m always aware of my surroundings and I find inspiration all around, whether it’s in the landscape or in a museum exhibit. I love Hawaii because of its nature, and New York for the architecture and design. These two places are always stimulating, each in a different way.

Previews Inside Out What do you consider your greatest masterpiece?

Sheldon Harte I don’t have one project in particular that I consider my ultimate masterpiece. It’s really all about the client. Our work is a backdrop for them to live their lives in. As long as we paint the picture down to the last detail, then we’ve created a masterpiece for them that they can call their own. 

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Previews Inside Out What’s the hottest trend you are incorporating into your work right now?

Sheldon Harte Color. People are enjoying bounces of color throughout their homes. I don’t like predictable – I like sophisticated mixes of color and mixing metals. Another hot trend right now is the tension of the old and the new, the smooth and the rough. Lately I’ve been into layering rugs, like placing a Scandinavian rug on top of a larger abaca rug for an interesting contrast of refined and tribal.

Previews Inside Out Can you give us some examples of unpredictable mixes of color you’ve used recently?

Sheldon Harte Charcoal grey, chartreuse and white. I like the offset of the moody and dark grey against the exciting acidity of chartreuse. They have an interesting interchange, and I haven’t really seen it much on the market.

I also recently did black, brown and white together. It’s a sophisticated color combination that can be used in both traditional and modern settings. The white provides the neutral space for the black and brown to bring a fresh, sharp high-contrast. It feels very current. The mixture provides a great backdrop for high-colored art.

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Previews Inside Out You’ve designed a lot of vacation or secondary residences for your clients. Obviously every project is different, but there must be a common theme — like relaxation or a feeling of being taken care of — that unites them. What are some of your favorite ways to create a sense of serenity in a space that may only be enjoyed seasonally?

Sheldon Harte With vacation homes, clients are often braver with their choices. They’re open to experimenting outside of their comfort zone. Because the client isn’t living in the home full time, they’re more open to art and accessories that have humor, fun, or an unusual element. Working on a second home with a client is a great way to build trust, because it stretches boundaries a little further and builds a pathway toward doing even more in the main house.

Previews Inside Out What’s your idea of the ultimate space for relaxation?

Sheldon Harte A room with a wonderful view, whether it’s the mountains or the ocean, where you can sit, relax, and contemplate. The space should encourage conversation and feel approachable. You want to experience a room, not just be in it. 

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Previews Inside Out Travel must be a huge inspiration to your clients as well. What are some of the ways you’ve brought ‘the resort’ into your clients’ vacation homes?

Sheldon Harte It’s important to design the home with its surroundings in mind. When a client falls in love with the location, they want to see it reflected in their home. But making a home look appropriate for its environment doesn’t mean putting seashells and starfish all over beach homes or antlers and pine cones everywhere in a mountain house. What we aim for is to have a vacation home feel and look luxurious, without looking like everyone else’s.

Previews Inside Out Are you seeing a lot overlap between hospitality design and residential design right now?

Sheldon Harte Yes and no. Hospitality design is all about making an impact. My clients will go to a hotel they like, and make references to the color palette, and I can decide to integrate that into their home. Ultimately, it’s my job to expand on the client’s ideas and make sure that all the pieces and outside influences work together. As designers, we are the “glue” of the home.

Previews Inside Out What’s your best advice for someone who is designing or decorating a vacation home?

Sheldon Harte Hire a designer. You’ll save money in the end by not making mistakes. If you’ve worked with a designer on your other houses, they’ll understand how you live and make your vacation home better than you ever expected.

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Previews Inside Out What can we expect to see from you in the next few months?

Sheldon Harte We are working on a sophisticated traditional house in Newport Beach that will be completed in the next few months. We’re also in the midst of designing a contemporary wine country estate in Healdsburg, Calif.


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