Designer Sandy LaMendola has transformed a lot of spaces. But one recent project called for extreme measures: a sex-change operation -- style wise.

The client, a man who collects cars and likes casual living, was trapped in a home fit for Marie Antoinette: French, formal and very feminine, filled with crystals and cupids, swirls and pretty pastels.

"It was not styled well for a gentleman's home," LaMendola said diplomatically.

The homeowner, Brad Hoyt, was more blunt: "It was just awful," he said. The living room, in particular, made him uncomfortable. "It looked like the waiting room in a French whorehouse."

How had Hoyt ended up in a home so far removed from his tastes? His house near Lake Minnetonka was newly built, for him, but during construction he became preoccupied with something much more important: his daughter, then age 2, who was battling cancer.

"I was planning to be really involved [with the house]," he said. "Then my little girl was diagnosed, and I had bigger things to deal with."

A family friend offered to help with the design. Somehow, Hoyt's request for a French chateau-style floorplan with a courtyard was interpreted as a fondness for wall-to-wall Country French decor.

"Everything had roosters," Hoyt said. "It was pretty much diametrically opposed to what I was looking for." He was reluctant to redo brand-new decor, so he tried, unsuccessfully, to get used to it. "But I couldn't live with it," he said. "I'd wake up crabby."

So he called LaMendola, owner/principal of Twist Interior Design, whom he'd worked with on a previous project.

LaMendola agreed to perform triage on his interiors. "We worked with him to figure out what to keep and what to change," she said.

The biggest design challenge was making a dramatic style shift without clashing with elements that remained, she said. "Unifying things was very tricky. We tried not to alienate the things we weren't going to be able to change."

Those included carpeting, chandeliers and wallcoverings, such as the peachy-pink damask-pattern wallpaper in the front entry. "I never would have selected it for a man's house," she said. "But what we put around it tempered its femininity."

Hoyt, who shares the home with his two young children, now loves living there. "It's a wonderful family home," he said. "Sandy, the home therapist, fixed it for me."

And his former living room, the room he hated most, is now his favorite, a TV room with a giant couch. "It's just so warm and cozy," he said. "Everybody hangs out there."

Kim Palmer • 612-673-4784

Purpose: The rarely used formal living room got the most dramatic makeover. “It was very French, very feminine,” LaMendola said. “We needed to do something pretty bold.” She transformed it into “a totally tricked-out man room,” complete with TV and the leather recliner the homeowner wanted.
Furniture: Before the makeover, “It [the room] had a kidney-shaped sofa in pink and blue damask and a mirrored table — like your Grandma’s house,” LaMendola said. “It would be lovely in another house, but not here.” She replaced it with a pair of portable paisley ottomans, a cocktail table “with wheels to scoot it out of the way for playing Wii,” and a 13-foot sofa, upholstered in wool flannel, that filled almost an entire wall.
Surfaces: Crown molding was added, and the walls and ceiling got a coppery Venetian-plaster treatment. Panels, filled with grasscloth, were added for both acoustics and aesthetics. The trim was painted charcoal, and the carpet was replaced, adding a bold geometric pattern.
Feedback: Even the delivery guys were impressed with the makeover, LaMendola said. “We pulled out the furnishings, and when they brought stuff back, they said, ‘Wow! Even we can tell the difference.’” But the best compliment came from the homeowner, she said. “I got a text saying, ‘This is awesome!’”


Walls: Floral-patterned wallpaper in green and white was replaced with grasscloth in a neutral color. "Grasscloth is a masculine element and tempers the feminine damask wallpaper in the hall," LaMendola said.

Ceiling: The original crystal chandelier remained in place, but the plain-white ceiling was repainted in a dark, multi-layer faux finish. "It glows and shimmers when the chandelier is on," LaMendola said.

Furniture: LaMendola kept the tufted, rounded chairs but added a pair of host/hostess chairs with square frames, upholstered in a geometric pattern. "It was very intentional to balance the room, so it's comfortable for both men and women," she said. A too-small table was replaced with a larger one, with two pedestal bases, for "visual strength."


Walls and ceiling: Baby-blue painted walls were replaced by a Venetian-plaster finish, while the white ceiling was painted charcoal.

Lighting: "There was a tiny French fixture about 18 inches in diameter, very delicate," LaMendola said. She replaced it with a hefty 51-inch fixture featuring an iron frame and linen shades.

Furniture: A bed, with matching dresser, was relegated to the guest room. LaMendola replaced it with an upholstered headboard in chenille. "The padding is thick, and the fabric is soft and luscious, so it's comfortable to bare skin," she said.

Art: The bedroom is large with high ceilings, so LaMendola filled the space with a 16-foot Chinese screen with multiple panels. "He [the homeowner] loves Chinese art, and it's very strong when you walk in," she said.

Window treatments: Before the makeover, the pillows, table skirt and drapes all matched. The fabric was lovely, LaMendola said, but too feminine and there was too much of it. She designed a new window treatment with shades for privacy and light control, and valances and side panels in a silk-like blend, pairing two strong colors, slate and charcoal.