In many ways, the condominium was like a box: a rectangle of concrete punctuated by large, plate-glass windows.
With a concrete ceiling above, there was no way to run wiring for recessed lighting and chandeliers. With concrete underfoot, there was no proper foundation for hardwood floors.
“Very plain Jane—and dated, dated, dated,” says owner Biff Bartron Buda.
But he was smitten by what lay just beyond the box.
“The view of the city skyline is spectacular,” he says. “I knew immediately that I had to come up with a way to make this space work.”
So Buda thought outside the box to come up with ways to improve what was inside it. His solution was to create a box within the box, dropping the ceiling to accommodate wiring and lighting and installing a custom wood floor that floats above the concrete slab.
Before he bought the condo, Buda and his husband lived in a 10,000-square-foot contemporary house in Chadds Ford that he designed himself. But with a farm in upstate New York and another home in Boston to maintain, the couple opted for a smaller space in Wilmington where Buda’s business, BW Design Group, is based.
“I work in Wilmington three days a week, and I need a place that is comfortable, yet manageable,” he says.
The condo, a 1,400-square-foot, two-bedroom, two-bath unit in Park Plaza “is just perfect.”
The black leather and chrome combination extends throughout, including the master bedroom.
For aesthetic inspiration, Buda mined memories of his many trips to Europe.
“I just got back from Croatia, and I thought a lot about that, as well as time in France and Italy,” he says. “I wanted my place to feel like all my travels.”
Oversized round knobs on doors are mounted in the center, as they might be in a Paris apartment. The raised, scrolled detailing on bathroom walls and a tray ceiling in the kitchen was created with crushed crystals, a hip, luxurious twist on Roman mosaics. Six-inch, white, painted baseboards are capped with stainless steel, evoking the feel of sleek German engineering.
Throughout the condo, the palette plays with various shades of gray. A large sectional sofa upholstered in a woven charcoal fabric is positioned to take advantage of the view from the living room. Pale dove-gray walls in a guest bath inspired by the 1920s form a backdrop for a vintage black-and-white portrait of an ascendant Bette Davis. Wallpaper in the master bedroom is deep slate with shimmering silver streaks.
“Consistency in color makes things look larger because there’s no speed bump to stop the eye,” Buda says. “The walls are darker than I would ordinarily do because I wanted the emphasis to be on the view.”
Stainless steel appliances, a stainless range hood and quartz countertops add to the sleek, contemporary vibe.
Large windows usher abundant natural light into the living area during the day. At night, recessed lighting provides ambiance. Buda found the glamorous chandelier of crystal pendants that hangs above the dining table at Colonial Lighting in Wilmington. It is mounted flush against the ceiling so it does not obscure the view.
To create space for the mechanical elements of lighting, Buda dropped the ceiling a scant inch and a half, “just enough for furring strips and drywall.” Mounting the molding directly on the ceiling rather than at the juncture of the walls and ceiling creates an illusion of height.
Maple floors are custom engineered with a factory-applied polyurethane finish that stands up to spills and foot traffic.
“We had to do a floating floor because you can’t glue down wood to the concrete in the building,” he says.
The perimeter walls in the kitchen are covered in tiles striated to replicate linen. “I wanted it to look like wallpaper, but with the durability you need in a kitchen,” he says.
A contrasting expanse of glass mosaic tiles on the back wall provides a focal point. It also makes the kitchen appear wider. Glossy gray-lacquered cabinets are spare and sophisticated.
“The depth and reflection of the lacquered finish also make the space feel larger,” Buda says.
Stainless steel appliances, a freestanding stainless range hood, a beverage chiller and quartz countertops—“They require so much less care than granite”—add to the sleek, contemporary vibe.
The kitchen is not as large and there aren’t as many bells and whistles as the professional-style space in the Chadds Ford property. But Buda enjoys the efficiency.
“It’s one of the best kitchens I’ve ever had to cook in because everything is just a step away,” he says. “I find myself cooking more, dishes like lobster mac and cheese or lasagna roll ups with chicken, spinach and goat cheese.”
In the dining area, a modern, industrial-chic table is topped with dark ceramic glass that doesn’t scratch or show smudges.
The house in Chadds Ford was filled with enough custom pieces to furnish half a dozen condos. Yet Buda brought only a few select pieces from the house: his favorite paintings, a streamlined buffet and an étagère.
“Taking furniture from a large space and putting it in a small space just doesn’t work because the proportions are different,” he says.
Eliminating wires and clutter also helps to expand the space. The TV is hidden inside a custom cabinet and pops up for viewing. Flush-mounted doors in the entryway are covered with wallpaper that fades seamlessly into the wall.
In the dining area, a modern, industrial-chic table is topped with dark ceramic glass. The surface doesn’t scratch or show smudges “and you can put hot things on it.” The table is surrounded by six black leather chairs with chrome frames. The table expands to seat 12 for large dinner parties.
The black leather and chrome combination is continued in the sumptuous master bedroom, which houses a contemporary bed with a leather headboard and four-post chrome frame. Moldings above create the ambiance of a coffered ceiling. A fluffy fur throw on the bed and a white fur pillow on a black leather chaise provide contrast and comfort.
“I love fur because it adds texture and elegance to a room,” Buda says.
He removed a walk-through closet between the bedroom and bath, repurposing the dark, cramped space into an airy dressing room with highly functional built-in storage behind sliding doors.
The master bath is awash in luxury, such as a steam shower for two. Intricate floral designs are hand-painted on the walls, mimicking wallpaper. A white lacquered vanity is mounted on the wall and floats above the floor.
“I love taking a traditional idea and modernizing it,” he says.
The tiles on the walls and floors are an artful combination of finishes. Hand-glazed, polished porcelain tiles with decorative insets define the walls. The tiles on the floors feature the same colors and the same intensity, but in a matte finish.
“You don’t realize how hard it is to find exactly what you need until you start shopping,” Buda says. “But in the end, when you see how all the subtle elements, all the details, work together, you know that it is absolutely worth it.”
Draw inspiration from travel. The Buda condo incorporates decorative elements inspired by many trips to Europe. Maximize glamour. An Italian mosaic marble floor in the guest bathroom is jaw-dropping—and stunningly expensive. But because there is little floor space, it’s an affordable splurge. Create a cohesive palette. Shades of gray from soft charcoal to shimmering silver enhance visual flow throughout the condo. Choose pieces that do double duty. Chairs from the guest room are brought into the dining room during dinner parties. The living room sofa converts to a bed. An armoire that accommodates a copier and other equipment serves as a mini-office. Create optical illusions. Moldings applied to the perimeter of the ceiling in the gathering area make the space appear taller. A feature wall of mosaic glass visually widens a narrow kitchen. Lacquered cabinetry reflects light.