When the Turkish rug first arrived for the living room, Mia Malave remembers, “I hated it.”
Her designer, Colton Dixon Winger, insisted on coming over to properly unfold the large, low-pile rug. Its expansive size formed a connection between the living and dining rooms. Malave’s vintage sofa needed to shift by four inches. Then, Winger relocated a side table to form a little moment of interest.
“And now I love this rug,” says Malave. “He created a story in the space. Before it was just a couch and a rug.”
Winger has helped clients shift their perspective for years, but mostly with regard to their closets. As cofounder and now owner of the styling agency Cuniform, Winger displays an uncommon ability to grasp his patrons’ essential personas, and a knack for getting their wardrobes to do the same. Cuniform’s signature moves involve finding new ways to style your existing clothes, and favoring sustainable brands or pre-owned garments. In 2020, he expanded this ethos to home design.
Winger’s foray into this world began with what he calls “rearranging services,” taking stock of someone’s existing furniture (and lamps, books, candlesticks, and other decorative items) then rearranging it into something far more cohesive. He once considered architecture school; “I was that kid that constantly rearranged his room.” Now, Cuniform has a proper head of design, Bethanie Jones, and the ability to create 3D renderings, knock out walls, and oversee entire kitchen remodels.
Working with what a client already has—and finding what they don’t via sustainable resources—proved the biggest learning curve, says Winger. “With clothing, it’s a little easier; you can just fold things in a bag, put the bag in your car, and just show up.”
Malave, a longtime styling client, became one of Cuniform’s early home design projects when she upgraded from a tiny West Seattle bungalow to a midcentury modern home closer to the water. Winger asked her the residential version of a question he usually poses to new clients: How do you want to move through this space?
“I want to sit and have dinner and be able to have a conversation with someone across the room,” Malave told him. “I want someone in the living room to be able to talk to someone in the kitchen, in the dining room,” she says.
Unfortunately her kitchen was tucked into a corner, with a door, closet, and pony wall seemingly installed for the sole purpose of separating the space from the living room. Low-hanging cabinets obscured the view even further. Winger brought in local design-build company Casual Surveying Co. to open the space up and fill it with midcentury-
compatible walnut cabinets and an oak island.
Winger relocated a rug, a table, and other items Malave already owned to fill her new guest room, rounding it out with a vintage metal ladder from Epic Antique to hold blankets. Then he got busy sourcing furniture for the rest of the ground floor. Just about every item in these rooms is vintage or recycled.
Local antique magpie Kassie Keith supplied a Parisian desk for Malave’s office. Craigslist isn’t in Winger’s usual repertoire, but in this instance it furnished a massive bamboo dining room table for $100. Refurbished chairs from Germany make unexpected but striking companions. After a few false starts on a properly grand sofa, Bethanie Jones suggested an investment-quality 1970s number by designer Milo Baughman she had in her warehouse. It’s the one that shifted a few inches to make the new rug look at home.
Malave’s still on the hunt for a coffee table. Being intentional can mean long waits for the right piece, rather than racing out to buy something that’s readily available and good enough. “The most difficult thing,” she says, “is not doing everything at the same time.”
Without Winger’s influence, she’s not sure she ever would have embraced the vintage aesthetic. “But I loved the patina of having old stuff that looked and kept really nicely. It looks so timeless and special.” Plus, in a midcentury house, “it would feel weird to have a bunch of new things.”