A gravel drive offers a warm welcome to a modern Turks and Caicos home. Elizabeth Lavin

Interior Design

How to Create Your Own Personal Retreat

No matter the size of your home, Paul Duesing says that, with a few tweaks, it can be transformed into an escape from the world.

Dallas designer Paul Duesing has worked on 5-star luxury resorts around the world. It was after staying at two of his resorts, one in Zambia and one in Mexico, that Maria Shriver gave Duesing a call and asked him to design a house for her that had the same escapist qualities as her favorite getaways. Duesing obliged, and he quickly developed a secondary niche designing personal retreats for a well-heeled clientele.

This notion of turning a house into a functional sanctuary has never been more timely, as people are using their homes for everything from work to socializing to physical fitness. And although he’s more than happy to go big with his designs, Duesing says that by focusing on six simple elements, even a modest home can be transformed into a restorative haven.

1. The Approach:

“I like to use gravel a lot because as soon as the car wheels hit gravel, you immediately start relaxing. There’s a sound change to the vehicle, and the crushing of the gravel to me is very romantic. It comes from all those stately English homes, like Downton Abbey, that are completely surrounded by gravel.”

2. The View:

“Everybody seems to landscape so that the neighbors across the street have a beautiful view. But from your window, you can’t see anything. So landscape for you, so you’re looking at something beautiful out the window. And consequently, it will still be pretty for the neighbors. We did Jan Miller’s house over on Beverly, and there’s a big green hedge in front of her house that encompasses her landscape. So when she looks out of her windows, she doesn’t see Beverly Drive. She sees the beautiful landscaping. It’s like creating an outdoor room that you’re looking into from your house.”

Paul Duesing Cabo San Lucas designs
Room divisions help define the purpose of a space.

3. The Floor Plan:

“I don’t like these kitchen-den areas because if the kitchen looks really dirty and you’re sitting in the den, you have to look at the dirty kitchen all the time. If you do want it to be open, then let’s put in big pocket doors or big barn doors so that it can open but also give you the flexibility to close it off if you want. If you’re having a party, open everything up; if it’s just you and your husband, then close it and make it a little bit cozier. But the whole point is that it doesn’t have to be a 28,000-square-foot house. It can be a 2,000-square-foot house. The same thing applies.”

4. The Light:

“Have lots of windows, lots of natural light, lots of views to your own garden. If you can turn it on, put a dimmer switch on it. Create a romantic environment in the evening with mood lighting.”

5. The Finishes:

“I’ve got this theory that when you’re at a resort, there really shouldn’t be more than six different finishes so that it’s not mentally challenging to walk around the property. Everything should just flow very softly, quietly, and work with the landscape and the architecture. To me, the fewer the finishes, and the nicer the finishes, the more relaxed you become subliminally. Many people can go into their rooms and say, ‘I love this room,’ but they couldn’t exactly tell you why. It’s really the combination of all the elements that makes it such a wonderful space.”

Paul Duesing Mukul resort in Nicaragua
Bigger is better when it comes to this bathroom at the former Mukul resort in Nicaragua.

6. The Bathroom:

“Bathrooms are important to me because you spend so much time in the bathroom. It’s always very important to me to have good natural light and for the room to be spacious. All of my clients really love our big bathrooms because, you know, not all of them are very young. And if one or the other can’t sleep, they go into the bathroom and sleep on the chaise lounge.”

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