It was a wonderful surprise to be asked to photograph a corner downtown penthouse that looks over Washington Square and the City-County Building (Cinderella’s Castle to many of us) with its sculptures and grand clock tower and to discover I had been there before with my camera.

Ten years ago, Newport Beach interior designer, Karen Butera, had just finished designing the home as a part-time residence for a family.


As I walked through the front door into the entry, the daring drama was unmistakably familiar.

downtown penthouse
Photo by Scot Zimmerman


It was my introduction to the Karen Butera’s approach to glamourous living and high-end finishes, as you can see in the coffered ceiling with indirect lighting, richly striped wood finishes, marble, and built-in banquet seating. The floors are dark and lustrous, the ceilings are a rich
chocolate brown, and she daringly uses black for the doors, and black and white on the wall surfaces.

Photo by Scot Zimmerman


The entry leads into an open-planned kitchen and living area with balconies that captures the views in two directions from the corner location.

downtown penthouse
Photo by Scot Zimmerman


The kitchen warrants a second look. Cabinets and counter space are abundant, the range serves a serious cook, and the black door angled to the rear leads to a generous pantry.

Photo by Scot Zimmerman


The design anticipated a dialogue that is going on today about providing more separation in open plans while still keeping the spaces connected. The partially cut-out room with the zebra carpeting initially served as a formal dining area, but the management executive currently living here carved it out as her home office. Elegantly appointed and welcoming for visiting clients and meetings, it separates from most of the activity.

downtown penthouse
Photo by Scot Zimmerman


Bold black and white flowers lead down the hallway on one side, but the other is white and perfect as gallery space for paintings and prints. At the far end of the hallway is the master.

Photo by Scot Zimmerman

The penthouse’s generously sized master’s wall treatment behind the headboard is horizontal slats to lower the scale and a lustrous textured wall covering. Shimmer and playfully reflecting the light is a signature of Karen Butera’s design.

downtown penthouse
Photo by Scot Zimmerman

The master bath is finished with white on white. The small lustrous tiles provide the shimmer.

Photo by Scot Zimmerman

The second bathroom, which doubles as a powder room, brings in the black and white colors of the hallway. The countertop of the cylindrical vanity is marble.

Photo by Scot Zimmerman

The second bedroom has its own balcony (behind the camera) and could easily serve as a den or an office.


Ten years has elapsed since I first photographed the home. The initial part-time residents sold it to another family as a pied-a-terre, and then a young family called it home fulltime, living in it gently and gracefully. The home and the design have passed the text of time very well.


It was my introduction to Karen Butera’s work, and I had the privilege of photographing more of her projects in Southern California and Arizona. The dark reflective surfaces and coffered ceilings offered some technical photo challenges. Holucky I was to have been able to practice ten years before!


You can find more detailed Photo Fridays here.