This article originally appeared in the October 2012 issue of ELLE DECOR. For more stories from our archives, subscribe to ELLE DECOR All Access.
Her father is a Marquis, her mother is a world-famous fashion designer, and her husband is a famous bullfighter from Spain. It is as close to the fairy tale proportions as one gets in the modern world. However, Carolina Herrera de Baez is refreshingly down to earth. “Just today I found 14 chairs in the trash,” she says. “Old metal chairs were perfectly fine. I called my super builder, and he helped me get them home. It took us two trips.”
While her mother, Carolina Herrera, embodies elegance, Herrera de Paez — better known as Carolina Jr. — is equally chic but lives on the more fun and low-key side of chic. An interior design fanatic, she does all her decorating work, mixing colors and patterns with ingenuity without spending a fortune or sacrificing comfort.
In the world of Herrera de Baez, antiques and flea market finds combine with bargains from stores like Zara Home and Habitat. “Carolina makes everything in our home warm, happy, and unexpected,” says her husband, Miguel Paez.
Seven years ago, the couple took the opportunity to buy a historic apartment on the fifth floor of their favorite 19th-century building in the heart of Madrid. Not only was it a short drive from their country home in Cáceres, Spain, but it had a spacious layout that made it an ideal family-friendly residence. Today the Paez family has three children: daughters Olympia, 7, and Atalanta, 4, and son Miguel, 6.
The layout was spacious, but the main attraction was the postcard width. says Herrera de Baez, who works as the creative director of her mother’s fragrance department and is a global ambassador for the brand. “The Prado Museum is nearby. It’s a great little corner of town.”
As I began to remodel it, I noticed that one of the rooms—a study located between the dining and living rooms—was lined with woven jute (“It looked like potato sacks,” Herrera de Baez recalls). Under the faded wall cover was GotiliPlaster plaster was popular in Spain in the 70’s but now looks old and difficult to remove. “Instead of doing three times as much work, I covered the whole thing in a pink cloth,” she says. “And it gives a more relief look because it makes the wall look cushioned.”
She also adapted the formal layout of the apartment to better suit the needs of the young family. The dining room, with its soaring ceiling and French doors, does double duty as a library and home office. The dressing room contains an antique iron bed that allows it to serve as a guest room when Herrera de Paez’s sister, Patricia Lansing, comes to visit. In the meantime, the kitchen has been expanded and transformed into a spacious family room that has become the central hub of the home. “This building has 14 apartments, from one to two floors, and more than half of us are friends,” says Herrera de Paez. “It’s an open house in my house all the time. At any given moment, there could be 10 kids eating in our kitchen.”
Many of the furnishings and artwork in the apartment are pieces she’s owned for years, accumulated when she moved from her single days in New York and Los Angeles to her married life in Seville, Spain, and now Madrid. She’d rather repaint or reupholster an old favorite than start over. “I don’t buy things because they’re trendy,” she says. “I only buy what I love. And I never get tired of the things I own, because they aren’t eye-catching.”
For Herrera de Baez, decorating is an organic process that takes time and evolves, sometimes through trial and error. The living room’s odd shape (it has five walls), for example, proved particularly challenging. “That room has changed nine thousand times,” she says. “At first, I decorated the space with one huge sofa, but no matter where I put it, the room just didn’t come together. So I cut the sofa in two. Thank God Bennison still had the canvas. My friends always say, ‘What?’ Are you changing room again? “
From her mother, Herrera de Baez inherited her passion for textiles. She favors cozy cottons like the black-and-white ticking of the canopy in the master bedroom. For her kids’ rooms, she spotted fantasy fabrics (a cowboy for Miguel, lions and tigers for the girls) for about $15 a yard from Warm Biscuit Bedding Co. , website. Meanwhile, there are clique touches—a double row of blue trim on the cream curtains, a navy bullion skirt on a tufted circular ottoman—finishing each space like the perfect button-up or embroidery on a blouse.
In this lively home, no room is off-limits to the kids, though there are rules about putting toys in their place at the end of the day. For example, Little Atalanta can often be seen riding her scooter out of the apartment (with her parents’ consent). “I love the home that I feel like living in,” says Herrera de Paez. “This has a good vibe, the kids are always playing and eating and hanging out. You feel happy. Best of all, it feels regal.”
Ingrid Abramović, executive editor at ELLE Decor, writes about design, architecture, renovation, and lifestyle, and is the author of several books on design including Restoring a House in the City.