Having a cool, urban design scheme doesn’t mean your space has to feel “cold.” Layering in textures and accent pieces will warm up any contemporary look

Last week I showed you photos from the model apartment at 680 Ala Moana that I staged for Kamehameha Schools. My goal was a decorating style that was urban and edgy, to reflect the surrounding Kakaako neighborhood. To help you create that same vibe, I gave you tips on using urban colors like charcoals, browns, taupes and creams, going planet-friendly in your material use and making dual-purposing a priority.

Photos: Justin Dotson

What else do you need for a distinctive urban vibe? I’ve got a few more tips for you:

Mixing hard, industrial surfaces with warmer textures

The one-bedroom apartment at 680 had stainless steel surfaces, concrete walls and scraped vinyl flooring. These helped set the foundation for, as well as enhance, the apartment’s urban look.


If your space already has finishes like these, that’s great. If not, try to incorporate hard surfaces like metal, concrete, glass and wood (as opposed to wall-to-wall carpeting, for example, or fully upholstered furniture). If you don’t have these as part of your architecture, you can incorporate some in your furniture pieces and accessories.

But urban loft spaces with lots of hard surfaces can feel cold. The trick — and this is key — is to layer in other textures to add some warmth and give your space more character.

For example, at 680 we had a stainless steel kitchen with very hard, clean lines in the cabinetry.To add earthiness to this side of the room, I put some Indonesian wood carvings above the cabinet. (They also draw your eye up to the high ceiling, increasing the feeling of space in this 600-square-foot apartment.) Then I layered in a couple of stone sculptures in front of the carvings to create dimension and tie in to the cream colors of the walls.

I repeated the warmth of the woods in the kitchen’s cold stainless island by placing there a farmers’ market crate where vegetables are easily accessible. And I repeated the wood in the console table/bookshelf I told you about last week.

As I’ve said again and again, when it comes to using different materials and textures, it’s all about layering or varying them, and repeating those textures throughout the space.

Spell out your point of view


Urban spaces are young, fresh and contemporary. Share your point of view with art, accents or even by spelling it out! Near the kitchen, I created a wine center that also opens up as a table space for entertaining. My touch of whimsy here: wine letters.

In the bedroom, where I didn’t want to be gender-specific, I created a bed that was white and cream and charcoal with just a splash of yellow in the hot modern ikat print.

What ties in with the yellow is also the touch that really makes this room unique and puts a smile on your face: It’s a clue about what you don’t need in a bedroom. I found a large carved picture frame, and instead of putting a picture inside, I had letters cut out that spelled NO TV.

It’s easy to find letters to create your own statement in your own space. You can get vinyl clings online or find cutout letters at almost any craft store.

At 680, my goal was to stage this unit with a cool, eclectic urban vibe. Remember, keep your colors and textures urban, but don’t forget to add a bit of your personality and fun. That’s cool!


Cathy Lee is president and designer of Cathy Lee Style and Cathy’s Marketplace, a furniture and accessories showroom with design services at 1110 University Ave. She recently opened reStyle Hawaii, an affordable, style-conscious consignment warehouse with upholstering and repurposing services at 420 Keawe St. in Kakaako. To find out more, go to www.cathyleestyle.com.