Cinque Cerra-Saunders Brings New Life to Old Spaces

What do you get when you merge post-modern, mid-century, and Victorian aesthetics? Cinque Cerra-Saunders’ mod, quirky, and undeniably fun condo redesign. 

Moving to Pittsburgh

The former creative director and current host of A&E’s Living Smaller recently moved from his hometown of New York City to Pittsburgh. Here, he found he could invest in “brownstone-like homes at a fraction of the cost,” and redesign them to his exact specifications. “What I really look to create as a developer and investor is the moment. I’m about the moment.” And there are plenty to be experienced in this vibrant creation. 

An interior shot of a bedroom with dark navy sheets, dark walls, and a splash of gold around the window.

On the left is an image of a bathroom sink and mirror with a black tile wall and speckled black and white wall. On the right is an image on a dining table with light coming through the window and brick walls.

Top: Cerra-Saunders uses dark paint on the walls and dark sheets to match, while a Chrome Plump Stool from Weisshouse sits to the left of the bed. Bottom Left: Black tile covers the upper half of the bathroom walls. Bottom Right: Eames Molded Fiberglass Side Chairs and Upholstered Eames Fiberglass Side Chair by Herman Miller from Weisshouse furnish the kitchen. Splatter bowls from Weisshouse accessorize the table.

Rather than flipping spaces and stripping them of character, Cinque-Cerra focuses on enhancing what’s right under the surface. “My point of view is, ‘How can I find the soul of the space and make it more of what it is through today’s lens?’” he says. “I feel like old spaces should feel like old spaces, but for how we live today.” 

Creating a New Space Out of Old

The two-story Shadyside home is situated on the top floor of a Victorian-era mansion and was previously updated in the late 1980s or early ‘90s: think baby blues, ditzy florals, oak-casing baseboards, stained-glass panels, and carpeted steps.  

A picture of a kitchen counter with a dish washer built into the side and a side window above it.

Splatter Bowls from Weisshouse sit on the white countertop above a black cabinet.

But with its geometric, architectural elements, including angular walls and bulkheads, “the bones of the place really spoke for themselves,” says Cerra-Saunders. “Modernism is all about clean, impactful shapes [so] it was [about] making those details shine, eliminating the traditional, natural elements, and allowing the modern elements to take center stage.” 

For example, black paint transforms the vaulted, knotty pine, tongue-in-groove ceilings into something very of-the-moment. 

Sticking to Organic

Conversely, Cinque Cerra-Saunders opted to keep the original floating staircase’s natural oak finish. He describes the staircase as “the most dramatic moment, the coolest moment, the moment that made me fall in love with the space.”  

A brick wall sits behind a wooden staircase with a metallic silver sculpture on the wall and on the stair. On the left is an image of a kitchen interior with a black counter with white top. On the right is a picture of a snack mix set up on a table in different bowls featuring beverages as well.

Top: A chrome Tulsa Mirror and two Walnut Eames Turned Stools from Weisshouse decorate the oak staircase that Cerra-Saunders left as it was. Bottom Left: Black paint transforms the cabinets of an otherwise white kitchen into something sultry. Bottom right: A snack table. 

In a fully post-modern design, “You’d expect something like that in steel, in glass, but here it is in oak. Because the oak was so prominent, I wanted to find a way to make it all make sense. That’s where the mid-century modern moments come into play.” 

Cerra-Saunders drew upon the Eames‘ philosophies — “organic materials interpreted through a very modern sort of lens” — to tie it all together. You can spot this in the kitchen, where stained oak panels and a wood backsplash mingle with sleek, matte black cabinets and glass and chrome shelves.  

Adding in More Modern Flair

He also incorporated “gentlemen’s club, Mad Mentype references into the home. For example, the existing Malm-inspired woodburning fireplace is a standout nod to the past, and primary yellow Sherwin-Williams high-heat paint gives it bold new life.
 A yellow fireplace sits in a living room with a bright teal chair in the corner and decorations all around.

Cerra-Saunders uses a primary yellow paint to give the fireplace a Mad Men feel as a teal blue Grande Papilio Chair by B&B Italia from Weisshouse decorates the corner.

Neon and neutrals coexist in harmony. La Cienega, an original painting by Deborah Sussman, art director for Charles and Ray Eames, centers the living room. It’s juxtaposed with a modern, Campaign-style sofa and newly installed “old, iron-style” doors featuring frosted panes and crossheads. “The doors speak to something that’s about to happen. When you see a grand door, that means you’re going into a grand space.” 

Step into the primary suite, where a touch of magic balances the off-center window. By placing a mirror to one side of the bed, the designer created an optical illusion of symmetry. 

A living room holds a minimalist white couch with pillows and a blanket as an orange painting sits above it. To the left Cinque Cerra-Saunders walks through a doorway, blurred. On the left is an image of a wooden dresser with a black top, on it sits a grey ball, a metallic lamp and two framed photos. On the right is a kitchen interior by Cinque Cerra-Saunders with two cacti decorations sitting on the counter top.

Top: La Cienega, a painting by artist Deborah Sussman sits above a white sofa as designer and real estate investor Cerra-Saunders walks through the doorway. Bottom left: A chrome Callicoon Table Lamp from Weisshouse sits on a vintage wooden dresser with a black top. Bottom Right: Two Cactus Vases from Weisshouse sit on the countertop in the kitchen.

Decorated with Weisshouse

Objects from Weisshouse round out the design, including mismatched Herman Miller dining room chairs, whimsical cacti-shaped vessels, and sculptural chrome pieces. “Variation is really the name of the game: layers of color, layers of texture, without feeling fussy.” 

The finished product is inviting and innovative, an effortless presentation that’s timeless in its creativity. “In my mind, I’m always designing spaces that are Parisian apartments,” he says. “It’s about the way Parisians look at design and eclecticism and all those sorts of things: an amalgamation, a pastiche of different times, and aesthetics that are unified with color and shape and texture — but always referencing something in the past.” 

Featured Products from Weisshouse

Grande Papilio Chair by B&B Italia
Chrome Plump Stool
Callicoon Table Lamp
Eames Molded Fiberglass Side Chair by Herman Miller
Eames Molded Plastic Side Chair by Herman Miller
Upholstered Eames Fiberglass Side Chair by Herman Miller
Splatter Bowls
Walnut Eames Turned Stool
Tulsa Mirror
Cactus Vase

Story by Nicole Barley / Styling by Cinque Cerra-Saunders and Keith Recker / Furniture and Accessories courtesy of Weisshouse / Photography by Dave Bryce

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