Did you know Lenny Kravitz is an interior decorator? What are the best tips for value increasing makeovers?
by Tim Broadway
Lenny Kravitz is a house musician in more ways than one. While popularly known as a multi-award winning pop star who scored four Grammy awards in 2001, the late 1990s and into the last decade, the composer of hit songs like Fly Away and Dig It is also something of a real estate mogul with a history of buying and flipping big-ticket residential properties he fixes up himself under the banner of his New York-based Kravitz Design, Inc. Last year, he sold a 6,000 square foot SoHO duplex he renovated with the addition of a two suspended glass staircases and terrace with wood-burning fireplace to singer Alicia Keys and then fiancé Swizz Beatz for a reported $12.750-million (US), a price that was considerably more than the estimated $7-million he paid for it in 2001. Today he lives in Paris in a townhouse he decorated in his signature sexy style. He also owns properties in New Orleans, the Bahamas and Brazil. When not creating a star-studded real estate portfolio, the multifaceted rock artist with Hollywood blood in his veins — his late parents were the producer Seymour Kravitz and the actress Roxie Roker (The Jeffersons) — is these days appearing in such high-profile films as Precious, the Oprah Winfrey project in which he played a male nurse, and the upcoming and hotly anticipated The Hunger Games, in which he plays a stylist, a role that likely wasn’t a stretch for him given his design-savvy background. After overseeing the design of downtown Miami’s Paramount Bay condo project among other interior design assignments, Kravitz’s next gig is Bisha, a new condo-hotel in Toronto. It is partly owned by Charles Khabouth, a local restaurant and night club owner, who commissioned Kravitz to create a specialty floor for the building, currently in the pre-building stages of development.
The Globe’s DEIRDRE KELLY lately caught up with Kravitz to ask him how he does it all, and with flair.
Q: As a multifaceted artist playing writing and producing all your own songs you have said that when creating music you are writing for yourself. As founder and head of Kravitz Design Inc., your New York-based residential and commercial interior design firm, is the same true: do you also design for yourself, no matter who the client?
A: My first priority is to understand my client and their vision. Then I create my world within that concept. It’s like producing someone else’s music. It is my job to bring out what they are looking for in a new and exciting way that they might not have realized.
Q: You seem to have a thing for Canadians: scoring a Top 50 hit out of your remake of The Guess Who classic, American Woman, collaborating with Canadian rapper Drake on your latest release, Black and White in America, and now joining forces with Toronto entrepreneur Charles Khabouth to create a specialty floor for his new BISHA Hotel and Condo project. How did you meet each other and what made you decide to work together? Do you have a shared vision for the specialty floor?
A: Charles and I met through a mutual friend. He had heard about Kravitz Design and was curious enough to take a meeting. After speaking for a few minutes I saw that we had a lot of the same tastes in art, fashion, and design. He is an interesting gentleman and I saw that he really wanted to create something very special with Bisha. After this meeting I think we both walked away knowing that it would be a pleasure to work together and began to move forward. Our sensibilities for the specialty floor are vey much in line with each others thinking.
Q: You have homes around the world — the Bahamas, Brazil, and Paris, the latter where you’ve lived for the past few years after relocating from New York; how do your environments influence your design aesthetic? How will Toronto inspire you?
A: I am inspired by everywhere that I go. My repertoire is built on my travels and experiences. I can draw inspiration from the Opera in Paris to a shack in a favela in Rio. Style is style. I’ve obviously been to Toronto many times but I will be observing it with new eyes for this project.
Q: If Kravitz Design Inc. has a signature style what is it, and how will it translate to the BISHA project?
A: Kravitz Design doesn’t have a signature style in the sense that you can look at different projects that we’ve done and it might not look like the same firm did them, which I think is one of our strengths. But there is definitely a sensibility that runs through them all that gives each project the Kravitz Design feel. BISHA will be a unique project that will evolve from the collective desires of myself, Charles, and the other Bisha partners.
Q: Condos are more than apartments these days; they are lifestyle statements combining residential living with the boutique hotel experience as BISHA is planning. How might buying a condo with a hotel attached intrigue you?
A: Well, I live in hotels for a living and I become accustomed to the services that I get from fine hotels. But then of course I want to go home. Mixing home with the services and amenities of a hotel is a fabulous lifestyle. This you don’t get from a traditional condo.
He may be a self-described narcissist who came late to interior design, but Jeff Lewis, the diva-ish L.A.-based star of Flipping Out on HGTV, can make over a home like no one else. Indeed, the man behind House Beautiful’s 2010 Kitchen of the Year is doing more high-end design work than house flipping these days. During a recent visit to Elte in Toronto, the California native sat down to discuss his roots in real estate, his shift into the decorating world and his new TV
My dad is a real estate investor so I picked up the real estate bug kind of by osmosis.
I bought my first property, which I resold at a loss, when I was 18. It took me a few years to recoup my investment and then I started again at around 25. I wasn’t even aware of the idea of flipping homes until a friend started making a pretty good living at it. For four months I followed him around and watched what he did. Then I bought my first single-family home in Los Angeles. Six months later I had turned it at a profit.
How many properties would you say that you’ve flipped?
Probably more than 50.
How has your design aesthetic changed over that time?
It has evolved substantially in the last 20 years. When I started, I knew very little about design. I have always had a natural gift for what looks good and what feels good but I think with design there’s also some learned gifts. I have become more trained and educated about design.
When my business partner and I split, it was like a crash course in design. I had been more involved in the business decisions and the actual remodelling, but not so much the decorating part.
Do you like focusing on decor?
I had never thought I would like it, but I am so into that now. It’s amazing how you can transform a space with just colour, furniture, accessories, art and mirrors – all the finishing details that I didn’t spend a lot of time on before.
When the real estate market changed in L.A., you stopped flipping and started designing for clients. How did that change your approach?
Before, I always designed spaces that would appeal to a very broad audience because I wanted to appeal to a very large amount of buyers, not just one. But now it’s almost the opposite – you really want the clients to connect personally to their spaces. So I find myself using colours that I would never use before, using furniture that I wouldn’t necessarily use before. And while I used to be ultra contemporary, I’m finding that my design aesthetic is leaning a little warmer, mixing traditional pieces in with modern pieces. It’s a fine line because you don’t want it to feel old; you want it to feel youthful and current.
You’re exploring this more on your new show, Interior Therapy.
It’s kind of the antithesis of extreme home makeovers. Between the two shows I get to present both sides of the design business: the remodelling side with Flipping Out and the decorating side with Interior Therapy. So it really shows all of my talents.
JEFF LEWIS’S TOP TIPS FOR STRESS-FREE MAKEOVERS
Measure twice, tape out once
“When people buy furniture, they go into a store, see a sofa, fall in love with it and buy it without even measuring,” Lewis says, suggesting instead that shoppers measure the piece in-store, go home, measure the space to ensure it’ll fit and even outline its dimensions on the floor with tape.
Don’t chase too many trends
“A sofa and a bed, for most people, are huge investments,” Lewis says.
“I try not to make the design too trendy.” He suggests opting for neutral fabrics and subtle patterns that homeowners won’t tire of in a year or two. Sticking to more neutral tones for larger furniture items also allows homeowners to rotate pieces once in a while but still keep decor schemes coordinated.
Splurge on the little things
Lewis points to pillows, rugs, window coverings and other accessories as the pieces to experiment with. “That’s where you can bring in the punches of colour, the punches of pattern,” he says. “That’s something that can be inexpensively switched out.”
Go bold with produce
Think of flowers, a plant, even fresh fruit and vegetables as decor items, Lewis says. “It really brings life and texture to a space and it’s an inexpensive way of accessorizing. I’ll take a bowl of oranges and put it on a coffee table and all of a sudden you get that punch of colour you need.”