Real Estate

Decorating for one

When it no longer takes two to tangle, er ... tango

No more over-sized crossed wooden fork and spoon over the dining-room table. No more atrocious family "heirlooms" on the mantel. No more veto power for the ex-spouse.

After a divorce, when the dust finally settles, it's time to recreate a home -- this time without the give-and-take of maintaining a harmonious relationship.

Now the harmony comes from within.

That's what Janine Bisharat discovered working with interior designer Carol Lippert on her home in the Downtown North neighborhood of Palo Alto. Bisharat had lived there for 12 years, since early in the marriage. She now shares it with her 11-year-old son, after the divorce four years ago. His father moved just a few blocks away.

In the settlement, she bought the house from her ex, but he bought most of the furnishings. That left her with a lovely 1925 shell, but few resources to redefine, furnish and accessorize the spaces.

But Bisharat is taking a long view. Working with Lippert, she's furnishing a couple of rooms at a time.

"When dealing with someone newly divorced and feeling raw, it's much more important to be sensitive to how they feel about themselves," Lippert said, adding that spaces aren't being used the same way and money is often a completely different issue than before.

While her ex-husband opted to keep the more traditional living room sofa and most of their artwork, Bisharat wanted a cleaner look.

"When you get divorced, you split your furniture; it left me with a mishmash. I needed a chandelier, a new couch ...

"I want to walk in, feel calm, want my home to reflect me," Bisharat said, adding, "I come home and look at these two rooms and feel so happy."

Bisharat chose to keep the Barbara Berry coffee table and round side table but opted for a new couch (with Lippert's help), rug, chairs and lighting.

Lippert, who has a master's degree in psychology, says that couples often begin to understand through the divorce process how different they were. "They wanted to express that in their residences," she said, noting she's been working with more divorced women than men.

She points to Bisharat's home as a prime example. "The color palette is completely different. It had been olive and golden brown; now it's black, white, gray, silver, glass and crystal, a cooler and sharper color palette that reflects more who she is and colors she likes to wear. She's surrounded by colors she likes to wear."

Next they looked at the space itself and how she intended to use it. As an accountant, Bisharat often works from home; her office used to be a tailor's shop and is easily seen from the living room. And she loves to entertain, so she wanted spaces that flowed well.

But she didn't have the resources to do everything at once. Although she'd like to tear out the old bathroom, she's content to nickel-plate the brass shower rod. And someday the 1970 kitchen tiles will be history, a bathroom will be added and a wall will be pushed out to create a family room. Eventually she'd like to turn the three-car garage into a hangout for her son.

Bisharat said many people think of interior decorators as people who come in and change the house, intimidating the homeowner along the way. "(Carol) can come in and work with what I had, within a budget, in phases. It could take a couple of years."

They weren't always in total agreement. When Lippert suggested a lighter color for the sofa, Bisharat hung tough for the dark gray, better for living with a dog and young son.

"We had to pace what she purchased so it fit her lifestyle. I got a sense of what appealed with one trip to showrooms at the Design Center in San Francisco," Lippert said.

Her biggest coup was finding a great Buddha at a sale. "It turned out to be an antique piece they were selling at a great price. I bought it sight unseen, stuck it on the piano and it's been there ever since," she added.

Creating a healing space is another of Bisharat's goals. She was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis soon after her marriage and cites her chronic illness as one of the reasons for her divorce.

Lippert's interpretation of that healing space "was to make an environment, which was not jarring, something that had peaceful, horizontal lines, and a somewhat Eastern feeling. That's one reason I used the Maguire furniture, the soft gray tones and the antique Buddha."

Through her work as a forensic account, who documents and tracks assets in high-profile divorces, Bisharat met a number of high-power, professional women going through divorce. They've begun meeting regularly, first as a sort of informal divorce support group, then on a project: building a website. Called HerEncore, the site will be both a resource and social community for women going through transitions -- divorce, career changes, medical crises. The site is in the "alpha" stage, but plans include local resources ranging from divorce attorneys to interior-designer recommendations.

Hildy Shandell, a venture partner at Opus Capital in Menlo Park, whose divorce was finalized last June, is part of the planning group.

Although she was married for 27 years and lived in her Atherton home since December 2001, she acknowledged that she and her ex-husband didn't really do much to their 1960-ish house while they shared it.

Shandell is busy rebuilding a home for her two sons, who are 20 and 17.

Her contemporary style has evolved to minimalist.

"As there's been more and more chaos in my life, I find I need the space around me simpler, sparer. I love art, am passionate about art, find great peace in it," Shandell said. Today she serves on the board of the San Jose Museum of Art and finds walking through the galleries a source of peace.

Her home changes are still in the early thinking stages, but she knows she'd like to simplify her kitchen and make it more functional for cooking and entertaining. "I don't want any appliance showing. I want it to be a room ," she said.

The laundry room will likely move closer to the bedroom wing and that space used as a butler's pantry.

And ideally, she'll open up the wall between the kitchen and dining/family room.

"I won't have a lot of furniture. He would have had a lot more; I keep trying to reduce -- it makes me feel more peaceful. ...

"When I redo my bedroom I know I only want art by women artists. It's a sanctuary, beautiful, peaceful. My kids always end up with me in the bedroom, plopping on the bed, even when their friends come over. It's a welcoming place," she added.

That sanctuary will include a modern four-poster, closets, artwork, plus chaises to read on and a TV, she said.

As she went through the divorce process, Shandell acknowledged how important a home is, as a place "for our family, my sons and myself."

"Even if I redo the house, there will always be space for the kids," she said, noting that her older son doesn't want her to sell -- ever. Ultimately, she said, she will have to buy out her ex or sell the house, but that's some years down the line.

For now, she involves her sons in house decisions. "Both have ideas, some not practical," she said, such as hanging a glass roof over the living room.

Who would clean the glass? she asked.

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