designing women, clockwise from top left: Rona
J. Spiegel, Camille Waldron, Diane Boyer, Barbara Kagan Littman, Tere
Bresin, Karen Topjian, Ria E. Gulian, Robin Schultz, Suzan Lucas Santiago, and Debra A. Ryan.
Photo: Pete Byron
When ten of the Garden State's leading interior
designers get together to dish, the conversation serves up some surprising design topics and trends.
By Nancy Brannigan Painter
Energy efficiency. Environmental concerns.
Technology. Space utilization. Universal design. Sound like a university
debate on global issues? Not quite. It's the table talk at the annual
meeting of New Jersey Monthly's Design Advisory Council. As New Jersey Monthly learned over a recent lunch at Morristown's Ora
restaurant, the ability of these women to stay at the top of their profession
is as much about their skill in handling the many issues affecting today's
design market as it is about their creative talent and expertise.
Space—and the desire for more of it—continues to drive New
Jersey's robust home market, with large-scale home construction and space-related
renovation proceeding at a healthy pace. The way we use and view our space,
however, seems to be changing dramatically.
"We're going through this major change," says Tere Bresin. "There are
so many issues that are going to be hitting us shortly—such as 'aging
in place.'" The designers have noticed clients' giving unprecedented consideration
to universal design, design that makes a home safe and comfortable for
people of all ages. As a result, designers are emphasizing accessibility
and ease of use throughout the home, not only in the bathroom and shower.
"More and more, when I'm working with these very large homes, I just automatically
plan for a built-in elevator," says Diane Boyer.
This longer-term view also considers changes in the family unit. As children
grow up and move away, for example, homeowners want the flexibility to
close off rarely used rooms in order to conserve fuel and energy yet still
have room to handle visits from family.
Green design is another topic increasingly in the spotlight. Design customers,
concerned about our nation's dependency on foreign oil, are acknowledging
the need for energy-efficient homes that do not deplete or harm the environment. Interest in sustainability is driving sales of eco-friendly products from solar units to cleaning solutions, furnishings, water systems, and building
"As we get closer to 2008," says Rona Spiegel, "I think green design will
become a bigger issue. The Olympics will be held in Beijing that year,
and I understand that all the buildings being constructed there for those
events are green—environmentally friendly structures."
Any discussion of today's design trends has to include technology, which
now encompasses home security, monitoring, and management in addition
to its traditional application to news, information, and entertainment.
TV, of course, was the word on everyone's lips—and the item appearing
in every room. The screen, whether built into the kitchen, fading in through
a bathroom mirror, or serving as a large entertainment source, will be
even more ubiquitous in the future.
The designers' challenge, however, is to present technology in a manner
that enhances lifestyle without overwhelming atmosphere. Think carefully,
for example, before placing a computer station in your master bedroom.
"You do not want to have a [potential] workspace in the bedroom," advises
Robin Schultz, the council's newest member and 2005 winner of the magazine's
Designers' Choice Awards. Space redefinition seems to be a trend of its own, with decades-old room
perceptions in a state of flux. Barbara Kagan Littman notes the importance
of "taking the rooms—all of them—and really evaluating with
the clients whether they are necessary. Sometimes," she says, "the label
of a living room is [unnecessary] for a particular client. They don't
'live' there. They live somewhere else in the house.
"We're teaching clients today to make better use of their space…to
have rooms for different things," Littman says. The new move is toward
activity-focused rooms, such as music rooms, craft rooms, wine cellars,
and media rooms. With a state known for its relatively mature—and expensive—housing
stock, it's no surprise that renovation was a big topic. "People will
stay, because to buy a home in the same area will be more expensive for
them," Camille Waldron says, and other designers agree. "People are…adding
on, in order to get the space they want," adds Bresin.
Renovation, however, presents challenges in bringing older construction
up to code. Committing to an entire project at once, rather than piecemeal,
can offer benefits. "It's much more expensive in the long run," comments
Debra A. Ryan, "to do a property in phases."
It's also important to keep furnishings in mind—and in the budget—when
planning to build or renovate. If not, homeowners may find themselves
with a wealth of new space and no money left to fill it. Diane Boyer suggests
a "preconstruction budget for home furnishings. We do a furniture plan
with estimated cost, medium value, high-end, or antique end. It's all
laid out before the construction begins."
As the conversation touched on the traditional design topics of fabrics,
art, and accessories, personalization became a focus. Karen Topjian
mentioned the way that a carefully selected fabric or rug can bring a
room alive for a client. An increasingly popular topic within the design
world, environmental psychology, recognizes the importance of the way
we relate to our home or office. Several members described special touches
that they incorporated into their design that related, sometimes in a
whimsical way, to a client's personal interest or history. Suzan Lucas
Santiago spoke of a corporate project that her firm did for a large toolmaker.
"We took their favorite-selling tool out of their catalog and actually
designed a carpet pattern with it, using it very subtlely in the pattern.
You'd never know it, but it was an impact wrench.…To [the client],
it was something playful with their business, something that relates back
to who they are, in an unexpected way."
With so much to consider, what do these leading designers believe is essential
to successful interior design collaboration? Relationship. "Two designers
can have very similar ideas, but how they relate to the client can be
very different," says Schultz. "There has to be a personal level there,"
agrees Bresin. "They have to be comfortable being with you every day."
The relationship factor is especially critical on large-scale projects.
Ria E. Gulian recalled a successful project she completed in Burlington
County. "I said to the client that, once you make a decision, I'd love
to have a meeting with everyone—the architect, the builder, the
electronics integrator…. The homeowner pulled us all together to
meet. We had a fabulous relationship, everyone respected each other, and
no one fell short. It worked out beautifully."
As the luncheon came to a close, Topjian offered one last suggestion. "Maybe we should all design a house together."
No doubt, it would be a fascinating project.
NEW JERSEY MONTYLY DESIGN ADVISORY COUNCIL
New Jersey Monthly is pleased to acknowledge
the support of its Design Advisory Council. Serving a two-year term, each
participating designer is a gold-level winner in the New Jersey chapter
of the American Society of Interior Designers' biannual Design of Excellence
Awards competition. Schultz was the lead winner in New Jersey Monthly's
2005 Designers' Choice Awards. For more information on these talented
designers, we encourage you to visit www.njasid.org.