Bellissimo: Home Interiors

Two PDX Interior Designers Making The  World More Beautiful With Each Room

Bella Casa owner and interior designer Richard Codanti.

Richard Codanti

Germans have come to be known for their austerity, but apparently no one ever told Richard Codanti that.

Codanti was born in Germany, but you’d never know it by walking into his store Bella Casa. The décor and furnishings there are ornate, following a traditional, old world aesthetic. The showroom is strategically arranged with rich leather, elaborate statuettes and jeweled picture frames.

In fact, the only thing austere about Codanti is his presence. His icy blue stare and soft voice turn the stereotype of the flamboyant gay designer on its head (For the record, Codanti says he didn’t even know he was gay until he was 21 – when a coworker insinuated he might be).
He also gives the impression of being strictly disciplined. To wit: At 13, he sold his bedroom furniture because he wanted to buy a living room set. At 18, he would charge a few extra dollars while babysitting to rearrange furniture – essentially his first in-home consultations. At 21, he owned his first home.

“I was always older than my age, as far as what I wanted,”

he says. He’s 44, by the way.

Codanti’s Bella Casa in Portland’s Pearl District

Now Codanti travels around the world searching for merchandise for Bella Casa, which is now fifteen years old. Codanti buys from 228 vendors, offering furniture, accessories, lighting, Italian ceramics and more that can be purchased and taken home on the same day.

“I actually have a harder time designing my house than anyone else’s,” he says. “I like so many pieces that when I go to market I can’t commit.”

Codanti lives in a waterfront condo with his nine-year-old Cavalier King Charles Spaniel named Redford – the dog appears in all of Bella Casa’s advertisements and is usually curled up in a bed in the back of the store. Codanti’s style is old meets new; he likes the juxtaposition of traditional and contemporary.

His taste has evolved a lot. He admits his taste as a teenager was rather “gay.”

“I had more crystal than some would have,”

he says.

At 13, he had a vast collection of decanters. Yes, at 13.

“Hey, it was Europe, let’s just say,”

he laughs.

Codanti’s own style may be a work in progress, but he’s much more comfortable helping others cement their visions. He does professional in-house consultations now, his babysitting days long behind him. He’s found that the TV show “Designing for the Sexes” is based in reality. Women tend to ask for the consultation, but their spouses will often have input that is quite different. One wants contemporary and one wants traditional. They can’t decide on art or color. The trick is getting them to compromise.

“You have to almost play therapist with the client,” he says.

Gay clients, he says, are a little easier.

“With gay couples, there’s usually one inside person and one outside person,” he says. “One person is in charge of manicured, perfect yard and garden, and the other does the interior. But gay couples usually enjoy making their home beautiful.”

When Codanti isn’t working, he’s out in his kayak or visiting friends at a dinner party – where he usually ends up working.

“I’m always getting invited over for dinner, and I think ‘I hope it really is just for dinner,’” he says. “But then I get there and realize the hosts have an ulterior motive – they ask, ‘Can you look at this room and this room?’ It happens a lot, but it comes with the territory.”

As far as Codanti’s love life goes, he’s an eligible bachelor, but his disciplined ways are keeping him hard at work. He intends to “put [himself] out there,” though, he says. Just not at a bar.

Condati’s 4 Tips

  • Prioritize. For a lot of Portlanders, the home comes last. The Pacific Northwest is more about the outdoors. A lot of people would rather be outside than inside, so their homes end up looking sparse.
  • It’s all about placement. When I go to someone’s house I ask if they have things in their house they want to use. Then I find the right way to place those things. For example, in a narrow family room, placing a rug at an angle creates interest and the impression of a larger space. Placement like that changes a room without costing anything,
  • Use color. People have been stuck on one color or no color, but now multiple colors are being used. It all comes from European fashions, which set the trend for interior design.
  • Mix your styles. There’s nothing better than having a Louis XV chest of drawers in a hallway with a beautiful abstract painting above it. If you mix your styles, you look like you’re well traveled and you’ve gone out and found pieces that you love.

Chuck Arbuckle didn’t start off doing interior design – his first partner was a dog groomer, so Arbuckle opened a grooming salon and shop. But it wasn’t long before Arbuckle realized he’d rather be using his talents on parlors instead of pooches.

Chuck Arbuckle

He gave Just Out some decorating advice.

  • DO be sure that your rooms will function as needed. For example, if the front door enters into the living room, don’t clutter the entry with bookcases because you feel it is unused space. This is a greeting place, not a storage place. Likewise, if the main living space is used also as a pathway to other rooms, make sure one can walk through unobstructed.
  • DO pay attention to where your electrical outlets are located. Good lighting is required for serviceability from reading a book to setting the tone for a romantic evening.
  • DO stay away from trends. Trends — as in what you see in stores today — are short lived and can be a waste of money in the long term. You can follow trends in a small way, like with pillows, funky artwork or paint colors, which can always be changed.
  • DO remember if others live in the home, the decor is not just for you. When decorating, always take others into consideration. We often think of that when we look at durability of fabric, especially with children and pets, but there is more to consider. I once worked on a home for an older couple. I asked the husband if he had any color preferences. He said “no pink or blue.” His wife replied, “Honey, we’ve lived with those colors for 25 years. Why didn’t you tell me”? He said, “You never asked.” So always ask.
  • DO spend the most money on items you keep the longest. Quality and durability go hand in hand. A rickety, cheap bed will always be a rickety, cheap bed. Once the newness wears off, in two months, you will begin to hate it and you will do so until you replace it. Buy wisely.
  • Don’t be matchy matchy. There is one place where the drapes should match the carpet, and it’s not in your home.
  • Don’t over spend in areas of your home that remain when you leave. Even if you think you’re living in your forever home, overspending on something you can’t take with you is a waste of money.
  • Don’t duplicate a trend if you didn’t live through it. I have seen so many efforts by younger people to recreate the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s, and they are always incomplete. A trend doesn’t say who you really are, anyway; it’s just fantasy.
  • Don’t forget to plan for the future. If you are a single home owner and expect to find true love, don’t use up all of the space. Remember, love comes with baggage.
  • Don’t buy on impulse. Don’t let your immediate needs, emotions, convenience or even budget be the sole deciding factor when buying anything for your living environment. Feel who you are, where you want to be in five years, and then ask yourself, “Will this still satisfy my requirements then?”
Aaron Spencer

About Aaron Spencer

Aaron Spencer is a regular contributor to Just Out. He is a professional writer and editor.

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