Laurie Mallet, 39, is president of WilliWear, a very creative and successful clothing design firm in New York. She recently bought a house in Lower Manhattan and hired SITE, a very creative, successful and mildly eccentric architectural firm, to design the interior. The result of this creative symbiosis is a dwelling that on the outside looks like any other house on the block and on the inside looks unlike any other house in the world.

"We all walked in and fell in love with the place," says SITE president James Wines, 54. "It had something haunting about it." The designers decided to evoke that mystery, as well as play off Mallet's French background in a storytelling process they call "narrative architecture." Using tools as fine as dental scapels, they imbedded clothing, furniture and artifacts into the walls of the house. A pair of ghostly white riding boots emerges from the plastered wall in the front hallway; a Greek statue disappears seamlessly into a stucco wall in the garden; a 19th-century French clock, permanently frozen in time at eight minutes to five, sits partially embedded above the living-room mantelpiece.

Mallet and her children, Clementine, 7, and Arthur, 3, are delighted with their home-cum-work of art. Says Clementine: "This is a really, really, really neat house." Her mother's approach is slightly more philosophical. "Where do you think that door leads?" says Mallet, eyeing a doorway that melts into a wall on the second-floor landing. "I think it leads to nice dreams."