Monday, July 25, 2011


BLACK AND WHITE: A Study of Contrasts

While modern sensibility gravitates towards the neutrals of beige and beige, we seem to have forgotten the neutrals of “the lost generation”: black and white. Gertrude Stein may have had other colors in mind in coining the phrase, but it recalls her zeitgeist and the Cole Porter era. With the burgeoning of photography, images were cast in black and white, suggesting the complexity and uncertainty of the Great War, while alluding to the security of a black and white world. These were the neutrals of that time: black and white. And, of course, we know, that when thrown together, they are anything but. The product of their marriage is color, the grays of reality. Yet, their purity transcends that ambiguity.

There is something very refreshing about black and white. You know where you stand. Black tie or white, the event is formal. The little black dress iconically worn with white pearls is as symbolic as Coco Chanel’s love of combining the contrastingly stark opposites. It is Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers; it is the world of Man Ray and Moholy-Nagy. It is Modernist with roots back to Josef Hoffmann’s passion for opposites. It is starchy and sharp, transparent and clean. It is Ford’s Black car with white-walled tires. It is “Night and Day, Day and Night.”

It is comforting to know that we can return to these neutrals in design - that they present themselves as sharp an image as before, making black and white classic. Always a strong statement, they let the homeowner know exactly where they stand. And, stand they do. As walls, furniture, glass, lights, and in almost every aspect of the home, they carve their niches, making a gesture to the past, yet very modern.

Black and white is effective in making bold statements. These neutrals define functions easily, while creating sharp edges of distinction. For instance, a black sink against a white wall, or visa versa, clarifies for the user a definiteness of purpose. Or a black couch set upon a white floor creates the same strong backdrop. It is dramatic, theatre in the home.

Using black and white tiles on the floor, whether marble or ceramic, create this sense of drama especially in an entry foyer. White tiles placed on a diagonal with black inserts is the quintessential classic, classy floor. Placed as such, it leads the visitor gracefully through the entry, suggesting a sense of purpose and style. In the bathroom, in particular, the powder room, black and white parleys a air of formality, suitable to the half-bath. The more recent water closet by Kohler, the Hatbox, adds to this sense of bathroom drama, both in its shape and color. It sculptural form, that of a ladies hatbox, disguises its true purpose, suggesting perhaps that it transcends its ordinary function. It is elite and elegant, functional and fancy.

Furnishings also create home drama. Black floors are classy, so much so, that when a white couch or rug is set upon it, a special tension is created. It says, in effect, that it knows what it is and what it wants to be. It presents an aesthetic level of comfort. White these neutrals feel perfectly at home in the more public areas, in the more private ones, they are less so. At bit startling in the bedroom, they are sharp to the eye. If one wishes to use black and white in the private areas, the neutrals need to be somewhat tamed. For instance, a mostly white bedroom with splashes of black will fit the bill. It will create a light, bright, airy space that is very chic and modern. Alternatively, a mostly black room will absorb all the light, making for a smaller, cozier space, more appropriate for a man’s study.

In the kitchen, black and white is especially effective as it creates a crisp backdrop to the meals prepared there. White cabinets with black counters and backsplash draw a sharp distinction of purpose which highlight the appliances and cooking utensils. In particular, stark white walls in a kitchen parlay an image of cleanliness.

Whether in the entry foyer or bathroom, black and white create a sense of drama in the home. The contrasts of its opposites make for a formal, yet elegant and classy backdrop, suitable for those who want a classic look of appeal.

What do you think about the classic neutrals, Black and White?

Do you need advice as to how to make your home more "Classic" modern?

Send me any questions you may have regarding this blog post.

Friday, March 25, 2011

On PAINT: "Any Color ... as Long as it's Black"


Paint, one of the most inexpensive and important elements of design, was not one of Henry Ford’s favorite interests. In his reference to all cars being painted black, Ford wanted to maintain an identity, a branding if you will, for the automobile he created.

In addition to the diversity added by paint color are the numerous techniques employed to make it look different. A favorite technique, especially in the kitchen for its easy maintenance and in the living and / or dining room for its elegance is Venetian stucco. This technique, with its many layers of plaster evokes a feeling of depth and movement. It is also wonderful in the way it reflects light, as its sheen bounces light off of its surface. Having recently painted an 18’ ceiling a charcoal silver gray venetian stucco, the clients were amazed that they could see their reflection above. A supremely talented artist and decorative painter, Stephen Pusey, created this ceiling and, for another client, Linda Foa, a library almost completely painted in a cross-hatched pattern. It is so subtle, yet so elegant, with the light being caught between the horizontal and vertical lines, it reflects light throughout. Pusey of Consortium Arts states: “A painted or "special" finish brings a vibrancy to a room and is the perfect compliment to any design, traditional or modern. While the effects that can be achieved are limited only by the artist's imagination and knowledge of materials.”

For a simpler, yet completely elegant look, a striae technique accomplishes the effect. Its consistent, vertical lines does wonder for a low ceilinged room, heightening the space. Ragging, sponging, and other similar techniques also add interest. Some unusual paint applications are as follows: writing or scribing words on walls, drawing pictures on painted surfaces, creating artistic compositions, like those of Sol Lewitt, directly onto the wall creating whimsical, ingenious and imaginative compositions. In effect, the wall becomes a work of art. As art collector Paul Frankel notes, “my Lewitt enhances and gives definition to my dining room, bringing both aesthetics and integrity to the space.”

Paint is a wonderful decorative tool; it enhances, illuminates, and enriches. If, applied and specified professionally, it can bring a room to life. Whether the designer uses many colors to achieve their effect, or one, employed correctly and with purpose,
even black can have a very powerful effect on a wall. Reinhardt and Nevelson are some well-known artists who found truth in the mono-chromatic fields of black paint; they sought a reality within the depth of their vision within a single color, So, Mr. Ford, perhaps you were ahead of your time!

Do you have questions regarding the use of paint in your home? Call to discuss how paint can change the complexion of your room...What have you tried to be successful in painting your home?

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Monday, January 31, 2011

ON PAINT: "Any Long as it's Black" (Part I)


Paint, one of the most inexpensive and important elements of design, was not one of Henry Ford’s favorite interests. In his reference to all cars being painted black, Ford wanted to maintain an identity, a branding if you will, for the automobile he created.

As homeowners, we have a vast array of choices, black among them. In fact, New Yorkers are famous for loving black in their apparel and accessories. But other than on pieces of furniture and the occasional granite counter top, black is not a favorite wall option, albeit it’s strong and powerful design statement in the home.

Color is probably the easiest variable to change. The first thing a new homeowner does, if they are not renovating or building, is to paint. And, while it can be an expensive line item, with skim coating and preparation, it usually fits quite comfortably within the client’s budget, however small. Paint can change the look of a room from formal to casual, from serious to whimsical, from mature to youthful. It is part of the magic that an interior designer manifests in creating a room’s appearance.

Paint can define spaces, create distinct areas without having to build walls. It can also create interest in its placement, moving the observer’s eye from one wall to another. It can create a mood, an ambience, a style. For instance, were all the walls in a room painted stark (decorator’s) white, it would evoke a spare, minimalist feeling. Were the space painted dark green, one would gather it more suitable for a library or club. And, if a room were colored with pink and blue stripes, most probably it would be a nursery. In addition, colors change with the light of day or night, so that a sofa looking periwinkle blue when in the sun, may very well appear lavender in the shade. So, yes, color does define by intention, by subtlety, by design. As the Benjamin Moore company notes: “Paint color is a most powerful decorating tool. What color to choose? What sheen for trims, for ceiling for walls? There are important decisions to make in selecting paint and so its best to confer with a professional designer who has the experience and knows exactly what works best.”

Choosing the right color is oftentimes difficult. The small chip you get at the store parlays into something completely different on the wall at home. Having had a client who chose not to use a professional’s expertise in selecting a color, she chose a pink that, when applied to her dining room wall, ended up looking like a bordello! It all has to do with the amount of reflectivity a color emits. Plus, color expands and deepens from chip to wall. So, if you are choosing a green that has a lot of black in it, it absorbs the light, whereas a lime green might evoke the opposite effect.

What should be taken into account is the finish level. A flat finish will absorb the light, yet show less imperfections. Thus, it is a perfect choice for the ceiling. Walls usually require an eggshell finish, that is more easily cleanable. And, woodwork most commonly requires a satin finish, easy to maintain.

Thursday, December 2, 2010



History proves that trends come and go; what’s trendy one moment becomes passe the next. But, great design transcends the barriers of time and place. The qualities that rise above the shabby-chic or super minimalist modern are those of attention to detail and quality workmanship. These two attributes expressed through the eye of the professional create timeless, classic masterpieces that defy the age into which they were born. This is not to imply that a Deco or 18th Century interior could not be identified as such, but that if placed in a space in any century, it would look as though it perfectly belonged there.

In an age where niche marketing is the song of the brand professional, great design defies any compartmentalization. As Cole Porter writes, “Anything Goes,” that is, whether a room is modern or traditional or both, the Renaissance approach is best. It is, if you will, a more holistic tendency to harmoniously blend all elements into one synesthetic experience. It is a fulfilling composition because the scale, proportion, and ratio of the parts are happily married. Was it not Da Vinci’s perspective that many different points of view encompassed a more humanistic approach, thereby making man, a thinking man, one whose boundaries are endless? Like so with design where, when done to a degree of excellence, the imagination soars and poetry presides.

Robert Adam, the 18th Century Architect, Designer, and Decorator was one such creator, designing houses, furniture, and accessories all in symbiotic relationship to each other. The 19th Century poet, architect, artist, wallpaper designer, etc. William Morris had a similar vision, as did Charles Rene Mackintosh, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Le Corbusier. These visionaries were not compartmentalists. They envisioned their craft as a confluence of harmonious elements. Like a bespoke suit, when one walks into their spaces, all seams disappear and spaces flow.

So, here we are in the 21st century, where specialization reigns. In truth, whether modern or traditional, the elements of great design breaks these barriers. In the pictured traditional room, attention to detail is sublimely subtle and quality craftsmanship is superior in these rooms. It is difficult to tell when one surface material drops off and another begins, all is so effortlessly blended together. It is as though this room was created in one century and stayed at home for several more.

In more moderne spaces, attention to detail is also preeminent. Workmanship is beautifully crafted, no one element takes reign over another. Here, too, the elements are successfully married. In this Renaissance approach, the exterior architecture meets the interior design with an inner calm. The decoration, that is, the furnishings, are also sewn together to create a painted whole. And, while the materials may be stainless steel or cast glass, modern to say the least, they fit into their natural landscape with grace and ease. Even with the use of an historical color palate painted upon flying beams and glass block, the spaces fit, inside and out. It is not niche driven; rather it is all encompassing. An apartment designed thirty years ago, looks new and maintains its integrity.

As Michael Simon, the Designer, so succinctly notes, “Great design does transcend time and style. We are all familiar with famous rooms that have been repeatedly published in books and magazines. These rooms traverse many different tastes and time periods, yet they are always fresh. There's a reason certain rooms resonate and it has nothing to do with the latest fad or what is considered to be fashionable. There isn't a new idea under the sun. Everything has been done at one point or another. Technology changes, but ideas do not. People tire of any expression that reaches the point of saturation. That's why the pendulum always swings. There must be a reaction to a point of view once it trickles down to the most common denominator. Since construction and decorating are so expensive, clients would be better off trusting their instincts and personal taste rather than following the crowd. Those who follow the crowd get lost in it and there's no fun in that!”

“Scale, proportion, line, rhythm and counterpoint are the underpinnings that separate good work from mediocrity,” Michael notes. “Style is almost incidental. Those foundational elements are necessary in any art form, whether it be music, dance, literature, cuisine, or design. In addition, everything has historic precedent. Rooms that are of our time, but draw on the past, last because they have soul. Soulless interiors cannot last, they fade into the forgotten landscape of bad design. “ And, so it goes...”Thank you, Mr. Vonnegut!

Questions: What types of design challenges do you face with your space? What areas of the home most perplex you? What have you tried to make it better? Are there particular areas or topics you would like me to address?

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Saturday, October 2, 2010


If slight of hand is the magicians forte, then slight of imagination is the professional designer’s expertise. What distinguishes the so-called ‘do-it-yourself’ decorator from a real pro is basically the magic they create in sculpting and creating space. No mere pretty pink polka-dots on a wall, but perhaps a floating wall, one which seems to exist in space with no apparent support. Is this magic or professional know-how? It is both one and the same; it is an understanding of how a room can be made to look other than it is, and for a space to be constructed to look as though it’s imperfections were perfectly manicured.

To begin, the narrow passageway is oftentimes an easy problem to solve. The professional knows that by dropping the ceiling, the side walls “seem” to expand it’s breadth, thereby increasing the width of the space. Was the space really widened? Was the neighbor’s apartment encroached upon? Of course not. It is simply a trick of the trade. Another bit of magic in making a floor appear larger than it is, is by tiling or laying the floor on the diagonal, so that it appears that it opens up the space spreading off into some undetermined distance. Put a border around it, the magic is destroyed, the illusion cut short.

When visiting Malmaison outside of Paris last week, I noticed an abundance of antechambers, spaces designed to create the expectation of surprise and a breathing area, like a stop in music, where one waits in wonder as to what comes next. Often, these antechambers have dropped ceilings so as to create a sense of enclosure while simultaneously making the entering space feel even larger and more majestic. This sculpted drama is sensual in its appeal of the unknown. And then, when the individual passes into the major room, it is grander than thought. There is really a type of physics going on here, as one lessens the feel of one area, the conjoining area seems enlarged. Niches do a similar thing; they carve out space, yet make it look larger. They create diversity and a sculpted sense that something lies beyond and within.

Another bit of magic is that created by the half-wall. Instead of building all the way up to the ceiling, and closing off a space, a half or three-quarter wall is created to divide spaces, while maintaining an open, airy feeling. These partial walls, which may be made of glass block, cabinetry, sheet rock, sandblasted glass, metal, basically any material add interest and intrigue. It begs the question of what is beyond....and yet visually it is completely open. This too is magic, as the viewer must now postulate on what lies ahead. Mirrors create magic as well. Basically, they expand space in addition to reflecting light. So, for instance, poised in a narrow hallway, they open up that area at seminal junctures. Also, if cleverly placed, say diagonally across from a window, it opens up the view by reflecting it. In addition, if the wall colors surrounding the mirror are light, this brightness will add to the walls reflectivity. Putting mirrors on every wall, including the ceiling will NOT enhance the room, but make it look ridiculous. A true professional knows how to and how not to use mirrors to their advantage.

As to the magic behind furniture placement, common sense dictates. Too many do-it-yourselfer’s align pieces with the direction of the room, so that a long couch will sit against a long wall, emphasizing the length of the room, instead along its horizontality. Instead, furniture should be placed against the grain, with the couch/s adjacent to the long wall, creating a more harmonious, balanced effect.

Pocket doors create magic by disappearing into walls and economizing space. They are also very elegant, when outfitted with beautiful hardware. Another trick behind enlarging space is to lay wall-to-wall carpeting down throughout the major connected spaces. This makes the room feel larger and more balanced. In rooms, like the kitchen, employing a soffit, which adds light in a consistent, yet focused stream, gives the illusion of light all around. Like cove lighting, it enlightens and enhances the area.

In terms of drapery, it is typical to assume that they will cover the view. While this may very well be the case, if it is done correctly, they will not. Instead, side panels can actually enhance the view by framing it, as opposed to covering the opening. It may not be obvious to some, but built in cabinetry, when designed correctly, will enlarge a space as well. It becomes recessive and disguised as part of the wall, while serving a major storage purpose.

And, finally, the creation of an entry foyer is perhaps the single most aspect of designer magic. By carving out a space, albeit small, it serves as a preface of what is to come. Again, it gives the illusion of grandeur beyond. So as not to enter directly into the living room, it is a transition area for circulation and surprise. What exactly lies beyond this curved wall, or veiled panel?

These are some of the slights of hand, flights of imagination that the professional designer and architect conjure up to create the magic of space.

Sunday, September 5, 2010



It’s an Upside Down Economy; so, why would it make sense for the consumer to spend dollars on renovating, decorating, or building now? In addressing this question to a residential real estate broker, architect, and contractor, I received some very interesting, yet rational answers. When dollars are most precious, does it make sense to spend? Is there an upside, a positive, if you will, to actually renovate now? And, if so, why is it a really intelligent move. The answers are varied and numerous.

To enumerate a few incentives to renovate are the following: labor costs are less expensive, the consumer gets better prices on goods and services, the trades are available, ready, and willing to start work, remodeling and building are executed at a faster pace due to availability of sub-contractors, more attention is paid to the client, more attention is paid to detail with work executed in a more meticulous manner, the consumer gets more for their money because of more rigorous bidding, and the interest rates are at a low point.

William Vilkelis of Barak notes that there are a number of reasons why now is a good time for the consumer to consider buying and renovating. “With historically low interest rates and the availability of tax credits, the market is stable because lenders have tightened their lending requirements and there is the perception that ‘value’ exists in the market right now.” Vilkelis says that in “just a little over six months, the market went from a buyer’s market to one of equilibrium. “ That is, it is now a well-balanced industry that sees buyers and sellers on relatively equal footing. For this Barak broker, for instance, inventory is moving quickly on the Upper West Side, where he can’t get a buyer in quickly enough to see a property because of an already written commitment. Unlike the previous markets which saw a sharp rise in seller’s prices, this one is more stabilized. Buyers are seeing more reasonable prices; that is, they see value in the marketplace and are therefore purchasing fairly priced properties."

For the contractor, similar observations are made. Jeff Streich, of Prime Renovations, Inc. believes that this economy “presents an opportunity to work with the best available labor, which is now ready and willing.” From his perspective, “with a more relaxed economy, building is performed at the highest level of standards with an eye on detail.” In addition, the industry has provided various building materials and energy rebates, along with various tax credits. Streich notes that “Renovating saves the cost of selling and moving. “ He encourages his clients to invest in their current homes or build anew for increased property value.

And, for the architect and designer, this upside down economy actually provides an excellent venue for the client to renovate and redecorate. First and foremost, the best of the best in terms of labor and materials is available. The service element is excellent; vendors are motivated to supply the architect and designer with materials almost on demand. As David Estreich, of David Estreich, Architects notes, “This is a superb time for the consumer to renovate; they get lots of attention from vendors, and the best available pricing from the contractors.” From his perspective, the three most valuable investments for the consumer now are: the kitchen, the bath, and the master plan. Of course, kitchens and baths, while the most expensive rooms in the house to renovate are also the most remunerative investment. They add an enormous value to the apartment or house. A more discrete and less obvious investment, which in theory is the most valuable, is a concept, a Master Plan. Estreich believes that this two-dimensional layout is extremely important to the success of the flow of the house. Before anyone invests in beautiful furniture, they need to invest in a developed scheme, one in which all the pieces fit perfectly in place. He says that “once you have a plan, you can then implement it one piece at a time.” “Invest in a plan, and you invest in the basic foundation of your home, one that will last forever.”

For these three professionals, this economy has an upside. The positives preside for the consumer, as they enable the buyer to get both excellent service and great value.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Attention to Detail: God is in the Details

As Ludwig Mies Van der Rohe exclaimed “God is in the details.” The famous architect knew that what separates the sublime from the mundane is the attention to detail that an artisan expresses in their work. It is refinement of technique, if you will, a stylistic turn of the hand that somehow transcends the mediocre, bringing the work into the realm of the ineffable. As Nelson Algren, the writer says, “it’s all in the wrist.” Of course, we are not talking billiards here, but about the loving care and eye that the master craftsperson creates, when sculpting his work of art, whether that be a painting, a building, or an interior.

Attention to detail goes hand-in-hand with quality workmanship. It is a creative process in two ways: one is the evolvement of a work of art from its inception in the artist’s hands, the other is where the artist leaves off and the work becomes a living entity unto itself. That is, the work that is built, from this creative process, now relates to the world at large, its form having transcended the admixture of material and inspiration. What is the outcome? Sometimes something so beautiful, it is inexpressible; sometimes something so witty, that it transcends humor, sometimes something so subtle, that its refined sensibility, its synesthetic appeal to all the senses is, just “is.”

As an interior designer, attention to detail is expressed in many different ways. Perhaps, it is the result of the unexpected: using materials known to function for one purpose, and used as another. For instance, one generally doesn’t see drapery cornices composed of metal tiles. Doing so, not only greets the viewer as a surprise, it evokes interest and an element of perhaps intelligence in its relationship to its surrounding environment. Another such detail, used mainly in architecture, is the reveal. It is a subtle groove, a void, between elements, whether that be between the floor and the wall perpendicular to it, giving the wall an elevated feeling , or a carving out of part of the baseboard, giving it a lighter, more sculpted look. Reveals are more commonly seen in door frames or cabinetry, where, in effect, it says to the viewer, that it is separating one architectural element from another - in this case, the door from the frame, or one piece of wood from another.

Attention to detail encompasses the materials and finishes used to create a piece of furniture or structure. Something as common as a doorknob can become a work of art if the one chosen is of superior quality and design. For instance, a hand hammered knob by Butler, which takes many hours of careful labor to create is not the same as the typical Baldwin knob produced on an assembly line. A desk hand-made of straw, piece by piece, hour after hour, with a great labor of love, is a tour de force. Costly, yes; worth it, definitely. It sublimely surpasses the ‘sameness’ of most furniture. Other elements of attention to detail like using nail heads on a sofa delineate and distinguish these differences as well. As small an element as the cord or trim on a chair or pillow can speak volumes in separating it from the mass produced. Parchment, woven meshed metals, shagreen, cashmere, cerused woods are all materials and techniques which are different and unusual. Even employing a striae wall technique can alter the appearance of a wall.

Perhaps it is the sheer element of the unexpected, such as a prison-like stainless steel water closet in a very high end bathroom that evokes that illusion. Or, the ironic composition of putting a leather wall tile in a bathroom contiguously poised next to irregularly Erin Adams’ hand-cut tortoise shell tiles, installed bit by bit, that creates a beautiful juxtaposition. On the humorous side, it may be a kitchen bar faucet that looks like a vodka bottle. Or a Jean Cocteau illustration drawn directly upon a wall. Kohler’s new HatBox water closet is a humorous expression of the common day toilet. While perfectly functional and exquisitely designed to look like a hat box , it is, in the end, just a toilet. It’s serendipitous combination of form and function transcends the usual.

And, then, there are the master craftsman, who manifest these masterpieces, who have the vision to create and recreate originals in their own mind’s eye. Artisans like Jean-Paul Viollet’s Atelier sculpt pieces that combine precious and unusual materials into aesthetic and functional forms of furniture. For example, he regularly uses straw, shagreen, horn, and exotic woods like amboyna, with mother of pearl inlay, materials and finishes not commonly seen everyday. Within the fabric arena, one finds Gretchen Bellinger’s pearl and diamond studded silks that are so subtlety woven that, though sounding over the top, are subtle productions of woven goods rendered absolutely gorgeous. Carolyn Ray’s wallpapers are so ingenious and witty; they combine historical and humorous images, like that of a collage, to create interestingly patterned walls. With leather, we have fabricators such as Dualoy, who combine colors, techniques, and designs, making their goods look rich, luxurious, different, and clever. And, lastly, there is ornamental plasterwork, which separates the ordinary from the unusual. Here, the master craftsman like Balmer carve and sculpt beautiful images, whether modern or traditional, for the ceiling, walls, or cabinetry. They add depth, interest, and fascination, when looked upon.

What distinguishes the good from the great, the mundane from the sublime, the slapstick from the witty: it’s all, as MVR says, “Attention to Detail.”