Design Challenge: A Comfy Room Built Around a Snake Habitat

By Becky Harris

Looking at this luxe and comfortable room, I cannot help but think, "Hmmm ... Professor Plum, in the library, with the ... snake?" The most important, challenging and educational part of tackling this room for the designers at Laura U was providing a proper habitat for Princess, the homeowners' beloved pet snake.

The second part of the challenge was integrating said habitat into a cohesive design in the Craftsman home in Houston Heights, Texas. In terms of non-reptilian functionality, the couple wanted to incorporate a chic way to display their favorite objects and provide comfy seating for guests.

Spaces by Houston Interior Designers & DecoratorsLaura U, Inc.

Just in case the snake wasn't enough of a design statement, they also wanted to incorporate one of their favorite colors, aubergine. I'm not sure how comfortable we ophiophobics would be in here, but the furniture and fabrics are sumptuous and inviting, and we could rest easy knowing there is a lock on Princess' habitat, just in case.

Challenge 1: A proper snake habitat. The biggest challenge was designing the snake habitat. "We had to learn quickly the equipment that would need to be included in the millwork design, such as proper heating lamps and space for ventilation," says Laura Umansky, principal designer. "Also, the habitat had to be easy for the homeowners to manage -- it needed to have an easy-to-open top for cleaning and for feeding the snake ... it also needed locks in certain places, just in case."

Transitional Living Room by Houston Interior Designers & DecoratorsLaura U, Inc.

Working with Aquarium Design Group, the designers received an education in the proper size and elements required for a good habitat, and were able to create a wonderful warm environment where Princess could spread out and relax. It is fully integrated into the custom shelves. A lockable grille is secured atop the snake enclosure. Overhead there is a custom-designed ventilation grille for the heat lamps; it is easy to open for access to the habitat.

Challenge 2: Public and private comfort. As for the people habitat, the room connects to the foyer, has large pocket doors that connect to the great room and has access to the front porch. All of this means that the room needed to be able to transform from an intimate space for curling up with the latest issue of Snake Fancy magazine to an inviting spot for entertaining guests.

The room is also one of the first people see as they enter the house, and the luscious color palette makes a powerful first impression. "We took the aubergine up a notch by selecting a medium chinchilla color for the walls and a deep eggplant for the cabinetry," Umansky says.

Transitional Living Room by Houston Interior Designers & DecoratorsLaura U, Inc.

Challenge 3: Integrating the cabinetry in a pleasing, functional way. The custom cabinetry and millwork were key parts of the design. Umansky kept the original Craftsman style of the home in mind, nestling the cabinets in beneath the crown molding and wrapping them in matching molding. In addition to creating glass-front cabinets that provide room for displaying books, family treasures, collectibles and, of course, Princess, the designers also created a niche between them that fits the sofa to a T and lets in the light from the windows.

Challenge 4: Making the space elegant and comfortable. With the millwork complete, they added layers of sumptuous textures, including velvet, dark wood and hides. A rug that incorporates plum-frost hues defines the seating area and lightens up the space; a copper side table adds some shine. The window treatments include custom linen Roman shades and drapes composed of tone-on-tone embroidered linen fabric with custom linen banding.

Spaces by Houston Interior Designers & DecoratorsLaura U, Inc.

Challenge 5: Balancing light and saturated hues. While the paint colors are deep and the furniture legs are dark wood, most of the seating and window treatments are light colored. The chinchilla wall color navigates the middle between light and dark. "We wanted to create a room that was rich in depth and details, and creating a contrasting color scheme was the key to making this room special," Umansky explains.

"Since these are natural hide ottomans, they are very easy to keep clean," she says. It's a good thing, because in addition to Princess, the animal-loving homeowners have two dogs, a cat and a guinea pig.

"The room was a blast to design, because we were able to incorporate the custom snake habitat into the space; this was a first for us," Umansky says.

Designers: What interesting firsts can you tell us about?

Also see: More Rooms of the Day