Originally published in STIR®

An African getaway laid the groundwork for a new residential hideaway.


We all know the feeling. You return from a wonderful vacation, energized and renewed. You look around your home and wish you could snap your fingers to surround yourself with the spirit of the environments you just visited.

Interior designer Tanna Barnecut did that “finger snap” for a client in Yakima, Wash. The client had recently returned from an African safari and was enchanted with the experience. He wanted to relive the magic of his adventures there each day in his own home. Steering away from the primal trophy room, Barnecut chose instead a more subtle, sophisticated approach — drawing inspiration for color choices from trip mementos. STIR sat down with Barnecut to learn more about the project.

STIR: How did this project come about?

Barnecut: The client saw my work for the Home Builders’ Association in Central Washington and contacted me about his project. He knew he wanted to follow an African theme for an entertainment space in the lower level of his home. I love working with clients who have a vision and a passion, but need help expressing it. That makes for the best collaborations and the most joyful results!

STIR: What about his travel stories inspired your approach?

Barnecut: We talked a lot about the African wildlife and about the landscape and vegetation and the layers of texture. And one thing that really intrigued both of us was a rather odd memento he carried back — a discarded piece of metal he found in the wild. It was aged and weathered with a coloration that spoke to him. He felt there must be a story behind it. Of course, he never discovered what the story was, but we gave it one: The muse for his surroundings.

STIR: Tell us more about that.

Barnecut: I used the metal as a jumping-off point for the backsplash in the bar area. I chose steel with a natural patina to recall the distressed appearance of the found piece. The original African chunk of metal is enshrined on a shelf in the new poker room, where it can inspire storytelling and conjecture for years to come.

STIR: Give us a personal tour of the space.

Barnecut: Like a vacation, walking into this remodeled area of the home provides an instant escape. Whether entertaining others or enjoying time alone, the client loves coming here to relax and recharge. We carefully incorporated all his favorite pastimes and toys: a pool table, a humidor and cigar corner, a card-playing room, wine storage, audio equipment and a big-screen TV. It’s his comfort zone: calm, soothing, warm, welcoming, friendly.

STIR: What other travel mementos did you incorporate?

Barnecut: The client collected a variety of animal horns and they’re either mounted or displayed on shelves. He also brought back rugs and throws, which I draped over leather club chairs and ottomans to add a bit of softness. To expand on the African influence, I commissioned end tables that replicate the look of elephant tusks. I incorporated woven African baskets to add color and texture, as well as to coordinate with the doors on the custom mahogany cabinets, which are woven to suggest basketry. I positioned custom benches with African-inspired upholstery throughout the space; they double as cocktail tables during pool games. And lastly, we framed a world map so guests can locate exactly where the client has traveled when sharing his tales of adventure.

STIR: Let’s get specific, starting with the wall color.

Barnecut: Polished Mahogany (SW 2838) by Sherwin-Williams, one of my favorites. It’s where the metal piece led me. The paint provides a deep richness and acts as a strategic neutral for the backdrop. I believe a neutral is any color that showcases the furniture, accents and accessories. I like to surround my designs with a neutral that enables unique interior items to shine. Polished Mahogany actually enhances the richness of the cabinetry. And the ceiling is painted to complement it — Sherwin-Williams Tawny Tan (SW 7713).

STIR: And in the poker room?

Barnecut: We wanted this to be cozy and playful. I proposed evoking the textures of a traditional grass hut as a twist on a tribal gathering spot. I used a grasscloth wallcover pattern (488-344)* out of a book called "Decorator Grasscloth," which the Sherwin-Williams store gets from Patton Wallcoverings. It did the job beautifully.

STIR: What was the client’s reaction to the finished space?

Barnecut: Complete delight! It’s everything he hoped for and much more than what he envisioned on his own. That’s the true payoff for me as a designer. When a client has that “wow” response, it’s worth every minute of working to bring it all together.

*Please note: The collection from which wallcovering pattern 488-344 originated was retired in June 2012. However, a similar pattern — 461-7251, with a book name of “Come Home to People’s Choice: Grasscloth” — is available.