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Dara Waxman moved to L.A. in the late ’80s to continue the film career she’d started in her native New York. She went from being a researcher to doing props, where she made an impressively rapid rise to prop master by age 21. But she hated working with guns, so she moved on to set decorating. “I’ve had every position within the art department,” says Waxman, who’s worked on numerous films big and small. “I think I’ve worked with every current movie star before they were movie stars. Ask Sharon Stone about Scissors

Her decorating skills got the attention of Danny DeVito and Rhea Perlman, who had her do their Beverly Hills home, which led to more of what she calls “reality design situations.” She took a break after 13 years of set decorating and doing interiors as Dara Waxman Design to travel the world for five years; she wound up as an apprentice to a master goldsmith in Dusseldorf and is now a goldsmith herself with a degree from the Gemological Institute of America. While she’s devoting most of her creative energies these days to her jewelry line, DAX, she still manages to get in the odd film job — her last set decorating gig was on The Man From Elysian Fields — as well as reality design situation.

Dara Waxman Design, (310) 994-1764 or www.daxjewelry.com.

Design philosophy: Good interior design integrates the aesthetic with function and content — a space has to meet the needs and purposes of its inhabitants in harmony. It should nurture the senses, be it luxurious or sparse, abstract or utilitarian. At its best, interior design can be transformative. Interior design fails, for instance, when a space looks gorgeous but the furniture is uncomfortable. I tend to work instinctively. I usually walk into a space and feel its sense of direction. Of course I have different ideas for different types of spaces, but for the most part I think and create in layers. My design philosophy is to trust my intuitive response to a space and then create from that feeling, applying learned ideas and experience. And on the practical side, I work in layers — starting, say, with the paint colors that I’ll use and building to the details such as linens or pillows from there.

What did you want to accomplish with your design on this project? My priority was to create a living space which was less crowded so it could function better and give the appearance of larger quarters, as well as meeting the Contrerases’ desire to be able to dine together. I wanted to create the sense of a dining area in the room. There was no storage and little free kitchen counter space. I wanted to provide additional shelving as well as practical ideas for small-space living, such as multiuse furniture — for example, a chest of drawers that could double as the entertainment center for a stereo system. I also wanted to provide Señora Contreras with furniture that she would be proud of. I didn’t want to purchase items I did not think would hold up with time. I found a classic, and very comfortable, sofa at a garage sale. I asked the family about their favorite colors — all concurred on blue — so we chose a light shade that would help open the place up. The family also had an abundance of knickknacks, which tends to make a small place look cluttered. So I asked what they where willing to live with and couldn’t live without. It turned out they weren’t particularly attached to any of the tchotchkes, most of which we ended up putting in the large shelving unit, but the TV and stereo were important. This also shaped my philosophy and approach to their apartment.

What are the questions people should ask themselves before starting to redo a room or a home? The first question should be what can I really afford to do with this space? But keep in mind that even with the most minimal budget, you can create a beautiful new look with something as simple as a new coat of paint. In fact, paint is probably the easiest, cheapest way to transform a room. Also, ask yourself what is the primary goal for the space to be designed? For small spaces especially, you should think about pieces that can do double duty — such as the bed with drawers for storage underneath. Most importantly, ignore trends. Take what you want from a current one, but mix it up with classic elements. Otherwise, you will be sorry as that trend moves on before your paint even dries.

Shopping tips: Explore everywhere. Shop outside your neighborhood. Check out fabrics all over town. Be willing to haggle if you want a deal — cash always works. Most shopkeepers are well informed, so ask a lot of questions about construction and materials.

Other than a few knickknacks, the only items that survived the change were the stereo and the TV, which Dara removed from on top of the fridge and mounted to a wall, where it can now be seen from all parts of the room. In turn, she put the microwave on the fridge, which freed up valuable — and scarce — counter space. A hutch put in the dining area added storage and display space. She replaced the bulky coffee table with three nesting tables, which opened up space in front of the new sofa. Floating shelves added depth to the room, as did the hanging lamp over the dining room table. She brightened up the floor by interspersing various colored tiles, which she obtained free as samples from stores such as Linoleum City, among the original brown tiles. She lightened up the room by replacing the vertical blinds with Roman blinds, sheers and two fabric panels, which also gave more privacy and shade options.

From IKEA:

Four dining table chairs, $125
Four cushions, $7.99 each
Curtain rod, $8.99
Two finials, $3.99 each
Sheers, $12.99
Two Roman blinds, $6.99 each
Blue chest, $59.99
TV mount, $24.99
Hanging lamp, $2
Shade, $4
Sconce, $14.99
Vase, $3.99
Two candlesticks, $1.99 each
Nesting tables, $49.99 for set of three
Two floating shelves, $14.99 each

From Knotty Pine Furniture:

Red hutch and blue shelving unit, $220

From Pier One Imports:

Rug, $64
Four placemats, $4 each
Four napkins, $2 each

Paint and supplies, $109.39 from Home Depot
Sofa, $70 from yard sale
Curtain fabric, $15 from Michael Levine Fabrics

TOTAL: $981.94 (with tax)

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