DESIGNER SECRETS: 5 Kips Bay Designers Reveal How They Face an Empty Room
The moment of truth has arrived. You are staring at a horribly outdated, or otherwise empty room. Where do you begin? Mistakes can be costly.
Given this year's especially rave reviews, I decided to ask 5 designers from the 2016 Kips Bay Show House where they typically start when faced with an empty room.
Here is what they had to say, plus a little insight into the wonderful rooms each created for Kips Bay.
You will be surprised. Not a single one commences their design process with a fabric or color.
1. Alex Papachristidis
Many deem Alex Papachristidis' large multi-layed, formal dining room a decorating triumph. I couldn't agree more. His room is fit for royalty. Simply creating the custom chinoiserie wallpaper (made by Gracie) alone in only 3 months boggles the mind. That's all the time Kips Bay designers get to conjure such fabulousity.
Interestingly, however, he begins his projects by focusing on the most practical aspects:
A room design depends on many things, including the kind of room it is, its location and who it belongs to. What is the purpose of the room and what are the client's expectations.....When faced with an empty room, design depends on the answers to these questions, and is always unique to the client's needs.
Bottom line: begin by thinking hard about how you (or your client) will use the space and the context of where it is located.
As for Alex's marvelous Kips Bay dining room, he also took a cue from design history. The Gracie wallpaper was based on an 18th century document Elsie de Wolfe used for Conde Naste when decorating his ballroom.
2. Phillip Thomas
With his study for the Kips Bay Show House, Phillip Thomas demonstrated that he is a master at mixing up a variety of different periods of furniture and decor. His room includes antique pieces by the venerable French firm, Maison Jansen together with lucite tables and modern art. The walls were adorned with spray paint in a rainbow of colors to mimic graffiti.
Yet, Phillip doesn't start with the furniture or art. He begins by cleaning up the shell of the space:
Essentially, I look to the space in question and analyze the positive and negative aspects. From this analysis, I am able to approach the space from a design standpoint accentuating the positive and turning those negatives into positives through architectural detailing and finish selections.
For his Kips Bay room, for example, this meant that Phillip devised a molding scheme to address the problem of a number of soffits at varying heights. He created the illusion of greater ceiling height by hand-polishing a decorative plaster to a virtual mirror finish.
3. Garrow Kedigian
Garrow Kedigian had fun when he designed his Napoleon-themed room for the Kips Bay Show House. He wanted to showcase the talents of an artist friend whose medium is chalk. Rather than build out architectural details for the completely blank box of a room, he had his friend draw them in chalk. Garrow chose Napoleon as a theme when he discovered that the emperor was a design aficionado of sorts who enjoyed creating temporary rooms. The result is utterly charming.
Of course, in real life no one wants a room that can wash away, but as he did for his Kips Bay space, Garrow begins by studying a room's architecture (or in the case of Kips Bay, the lack thereof) for the beginning cues for his design concepts:
I am trained as an architect, and I guess one could say that I go back to my training in architecture whenever I start a project....The room usually has its own flavor, and personality and I usually like to work with those elements.
4. Eve Robinson
Eve Robinson's rooms embrace traditional elements while imbuing them with a modern aesthetic. Her Kips Bay "artist's library" is no exception with jewel tones, sepia colored flannel walls and clean lined furniture. I am especially taken with the angled desk Eve designed it to allow the reader to easily study large art books in comfort. I would love one.
That desk exemplifies Eve's approach to an empty room. She begins with functionality.
The first thing I start with is devising a concept for the room. What purpose/function does the room have? Then I work on a furniture plan to lay out the space.
It's only after the plan is completed, does Eve considers actual furniture pieces and fabric.
5. Les Ensembliers
Les Ensembliers is a firm that provides one stop shopping. They bring together three entities under one roof: an architectural firm, a design agency and a construction company. They not only want to fill your empty room, they seek to build your entire house.
Not surprisingly, Les Ensembliers start each project with the architecture, but, in their case, they take a very expansive view. The firm looks to the whole structure of the home, in addition to the individual architectural elements of the room.
For instance, the dressing room Les Ensembliers designed for Kips Bay was one of the Show House's smaller spaces, yet it it was inspired by a massive architectural element:
We followed our design philosophy of building meaning into beauty by taking inspiration from the historic simple lines of the building's art deco limestone facade. We used this inspiration to bring an architectural focal point to the room with an ornamental, intricately fabricated ceiling pattern. The fragmented, broken lines of the art deco inspired plaster ceiling make a bold statement, as do the four custom armoires that connect the space vertically and heighten the room.
When faced with an empty room:
think about where it is located (the beach, the country, the city and the like),
evaluate the architecture of both the building which houses the room, and the room itself,
plus, most importantly, consider the room's functionality. How you will use the space?
Begin by cleaning up the shell of the room, and by all means, don't buy a thing until you have a furniture plan.
Photographs by Phillip Ennis, except for the image of the Jansen console and blue mirror which was provided by Phillip Thomas.