Where Whimsy and Elegance Cohabitate (and they’re drinking margaritas!)

I stopped by my upholsterer’s shop yesterday to sneak a peak at the pieces that he’s making for a current project.  He had collected everything together in one room — barstools, 3 sets of dining chairs, benches, headboards, beds, large upholstered chairs and more than 100 pillows.  Taken together, the colors and patterns formed a visual cacophony that took my breath away!  As I was admiring his handiwork I heard him and his wife giggling.  Clearly over the months that they had been sewing and crafting and constructing with these bright, bodacious fabrics, they had been wondering (and no doubt discussing amongst themselves) one thing “What the hell is she thinking?”

“It’s for a beach house project and we want it to be colorful and whimsical” I offer as explanation.  But then I wonder, “Why am I feeling the need to justify?”

I’ve been working on the design for this large, new construction house for almost a year.  The client and I have spent hundreds of hours sorting through thousands of fabrics and furnishings, starting from scratch and designing spaces that haven’t yet been constructed.  We’ve designed a kitchen, and bathrooms and bedrooms and a bunk room and too many decks and porches to mention.  Our design is absolutely brimming with color.  Aqua blues are threaded throughout the house as a tribute to its ocean and bay views but there are also liberal doses of pinks, corals, oranges, yellows and greens.  Even our often-ignored friend raspberry makes a couple of appearances.  The design is beautifully and unapolagetically colorful.  It is full of warmth and sunshine and the good times to come.

But it is also utterly and undeniably elegant.  Not in a fussy, over-done, “don’t even think about sitting on that sofa” sort of way, but in a “come on in and have a margarita” sort of way.  Now you tell me, which would you prefer?  I’ll take mine on the rocks with just a little salt.

The house is scheduled to be completed in mid-August and I’ll post photos as soon as we complete the installation.

The Houzz Tour!

This week I was fortunate enough to have my own home featured on the Houzz Tour. For those of you unacquainted with Houzz.com, it’s a fabulous resource for lovers of interior design. On its most basic level, it offers tens of thousands (or maybe even more, to be honest, I haven’t counted) of photos of anything and everything interior-desgin related. Are you looking for the perfect purple paint for your powder room? Maybe you need some ideals to reenergize your tired living room. Or perhaps you are planning a gut-job renovation of your kitchen and don’t know where to begin. Houzz photos are a great way to find images that bring your ideas to life. Better yet though, Houzz features blogger-written “ideabooks” where they sort through and gather the images for you. Thinking of painting your front door red? There’s an ideabook for that. Thinking of doing a graphic wall-paper in your entry (in fact, I am!)? There’s an ideabook for that. You can also make your own ideabooks. As an interior designer, I frequently use Houzz’s extensive photo library to communicate my ideas to clients and vice versa. So take a tour of my home and then get started making your own ideabook.

The link to my houzz tour is below:

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Is Pretty Enough?

Don’t get me wrong, I like a pretty room.  In fact, given my northeastern urban locale,  I often feel like I’m the one waving the “pretty” rally towel amidst my clients’ calls for cool, stark modernism.  I think pretty rooms tend to get a bad rap, with people viewing them as old-fashioned, unsophisticated or, even worse, just plain old boring.

I think these pretty naysayers have a point.  As much as I like pretty things (see my earlier post about Gracie wallpaper!), every room needs something a little unexpected, a little jarring, a little (dare I say) ugly to make it truly interesting.  This little extra thing, be it an unexpected paint color, a piece of furniture that doesn’t quite belong,or a piece of art that’s just a little off, can transform a room from pretty nice to spectacular.

Example one:  Bunny Williams’ living room at the 2009 Kips Bay Decorator Show House

4594114923 d49501a148 b Tea With Claudia: Bunny Williams

Photo: Maria Quiroga

The room is classic Bunny Williams, beautifully layered and scaled, with just the right amount of color and texture.  And it is certainly pretty.  But it is the very unexpected red egg chair (unexpected both in terms of color and era) that makes it a truly interesting, tingle-inspiring room.

Example two:

4594115023 cb587dc622 b Tea With Claudia: Bunny Williams

Photo: Fritz von der Schulenburg

Another beautiful Bunny Williams room with lots and lots to consider and marvel.  But to me, it is the painting with its unexpected subject (some type of little gnome-like man??) and its jolt of bright green that transforms this room.  Imagine the difference if this painting were replaced with a more expected landscape.  The room just wouldn’t be as cool.

The moral of today’s story?  Don’t be afraid to put something you love into a room.  That quirky flea market find, the oversized bright pink vase, the funky pillow — go ahead and put them in your perfectly pretty room and watch what happens.

Kitchen Design Secrets 101: In Praise of White Cabinets

When did white cabinets become the dumb blondes of cabinetry?  It seems that the popular take on white cabinets these days is that they are  pretty but shallow while their darker counterparts are considered the more serious, deeper, and brainier option.  I’m currently juggling 4 kitchen renovations and not one of them features white cabinetry.  Why?  Is it the sense that white cabinets are over and done (or perhaps more accurately, “overdone”) and that by their very nature they are only suitable for a traditional kitchen?

Well I am here to raise the (white) rallying flag; a call to arms for white kitchen lovers everywhere.  Yes, white cabinets are pretty, adding lightness and brightness to what can often be a drab and dark space, but their true worth comes from their chameleon-like ability to adapt to any style or design.  They can be sleek and modern, elegant and clean-lined, rich and sophisticated, or breezy and whimsical depending on their setting.

The secret when going with white cabinets?  Accessorize, accessorize, accessorize!  Think colorful backsplash, graphic wall-paper, scene-stealing lighting, and wow window treatments.  Or stay with all-white and neutral accessories and create a beautifully peaceful work space.

The choice is yours, (breathtaking!) traditional


or chic and modern


And best of all, they allow your personal style to come through,

be it with a Buddha

or a fish

scene-stealing wall-paper

 or a great floor and curvy benches


 White cabinets are no dumb blonde!

Design Secrets 101: The Staircase — Making something out of nothing!

Most of us have at least one, some of us have several (including this urban dweller who has three). They came with the house when you bought it and you probably haven’t given them much thought since then.  I’m speaking about that old standby, the staircase.  I loved this photo from the moment I saw it. Why? Because one of my favorite things to do as a designer is to transform a home’s invisible spaces into focal points. Entrance foyers are a perfect example of such often overlooked spaces — they can be so much more than simply an entrance to your home, they can be a beautiful introduction to YOU.  I painted mine Tiffany blue and then added a super contemporary light fixture just to mix it up (those of  you who are familiar with me know that I can never resist the allure of a large lighting fixture or an icy margarita, but I digress.)

Staircases are another example of spaces that are too often forgotten. The photo above provides a lesson in how a staircase can be transformed into a quiet but stunning focal point.  The long adjacent wall serves as an art gallery, while the neutral carpet runner adds graphic interest; both lead the eye upward. Also adding interest and color to the space are the pops of pink on the benches and in the art.  I love it all.  But what really caught my eye, is the way they traded-in the expected wooden banister for this simple but spectacular iron one. Beautiful.

There is another amazing staircase featured on my website. Here too the adjacent wall showcases the artist-owner’s own art as well as pieces from her extraordinary collection. Also adding punch to the space are the bold choices of paint (lavender!) and carpet (orange!), and a beautiful vintage chandelier from a Syrian church. Simply spectacular. Now that’s making something out of nothing!

Kitchen Design Secrets 101: The Banquette

I’m currently in the middle of three kitchen renovations.  Not personally (thank goodness!) but I am vicariously experiencing the pain and inconvenience that goes along with such projects. While function is important to any room, it is especially important when designing a kitchen.  In this case, form should definitely follow function and the design should be well thought out before any work begins.

One piece worth considering when doing a kitchen design is the uber functional banquette.  It’s a space-saver while also adding softness to a room full of hard surfaces and finishes.  Kitchens are often begging for a little pattern and color to break-up the monotony of all those cabinets and appliances.  A banquette can be one-sided, two or even three, depending on your needs and space.

And best of all, the banquette is an equal opportunity seater — it works regardless of your personal style.  Modern, traditional, eclectic, heck it can work with any style de jour — a hollywood regency kitchen anyone?  So, find a corner or a little nook and settle right in, a banquette may be just what you’re looking for.