Design for the Senses
My philosophy of design is simple. I believe in creating functional, beautiful spaces that enhance the way people live and work. The classic, modern elements I use are timeless—like the comfort of cashmere paired with a hand-crafted Hermes belt. I’m obsessed with the sensual pleasure of good design—the fine “hand” of a rich fabric, the glow of exotic woods, the heft and solidity of stone.
Translating these attributes into spaces that bring ease and effortless style to my clients’ lives is a process that involves all the senses.
I design working and living spaces that highlight elements people want to touch. Touch is the most basic of all the senses and is closely related to a sense of well-being. Remember that favorite soft blanket you had as a child? Or the silken folds of your mother’s skirts? Or the crispness of cool sheets in the midst of a hot summer?
One of my favorite textures to work with is stone. By juxtaposing rough and smooth surfaces, as I did at the CityView Raquet Club in Long Island City, stone can be used make a stylistic statement that dovetails with the client’s personality or brand message. (One of the key benefits I bring to clients, especially ones with high image quotients is an awareness of brand perception – how the client looks from outside in.) An important aspect of my brief for CityView was to echo attributes of the city—the club was to both have a stunning city view and to be a paradigm of the city itself.
Expressing the contrasting architecture of New York, I used black volcanic Pompeii stone with a distressed finish for the floors. Walls were Courtaud limestone, honed to a sleek surface with a sensually alluring texture. The result was a contrast that mimicked the juxtaposition of building materials in the city’s skyline—an internal as well as external city view.
Another texture I love is the sheer translucency of glass which can be used to create a sense of elegance and luminosity.
Wood and tile are also two of my favorite tactile elements. In work spaces where cavernous cast-iron ceilings and cement abound, a polished amber-hued wooden floor adds warmth and intimacy. Tile makes you want to reach out and stroke its cool surface. Think of Portugal with its famed blue and white tiled coastal cities. Tile can be used to personalize an environment on walls as well as floors and conveys an artful, aristocratic ambiance.
I don’t believe in designing places that make people edgy, upset or out of balance. Tranquility is one of the key components of my aesthetic. In functional work space, a major aspect of this tranquility is soundproofing. I engineer acoustics that work organically with the design—enveloping inhabitants with easeful islands of quiet as well as communal areas that won’t carry sound into private space.
One solution for a showroom space in a cavernous loft originally built as a garment factory in the 1930’s, was a privacy “pod” within the office itself. With stand-alone walls it was a building within a building. Office workers found themselves inherently drawn to the space. There was a cozy, almost womblike feeling inside.
Tranquility can also be conveyed by the judicious use of hidden sources of light. Just as in nature where sun is filtered through tree leaves or clouds--indirect, unobtrusive sources of soft, natural-spectrum light can humanize a work space and create balance and proportion in private residences.
The showroom space I designed for United Legwear is one example. Here, I used a combination of diffuse back lighting as well as rectangular Zen-inspired boxed ceiling fixtures to create a harmonizing, natural light that amplified the amber glow of the polished hardwood floor.
If there’s one aspect of the trend to minimalism in design that I detest it’s discomfort. Those low-slung, miserly couches that have been all the rage this decade are not built for sitting in comfortably. When designers dictate style which doesn’t address the issue of comfort, that isn’t good design.
I believe you don’t have to sacrifice style for comfort. William Morris, Charles Eames and other great designers have always made comfort one of their most important criteria for good reason—it places primacy on the client.
Comfort is an essential component of my work in both residential and work environments. That often translates into sofas, chairs, beds, tables, desks and other furniture that I design myself and have custom-built to my specifications. For me, form and function are equally important.
The painter Pierre Bonnard said, “Color does not add a pleasant quality to design, it reinforces it.” I agree with that. Color is one of the primary elements of personalization in design—it’s something I don’t dictate. Instead, I work closely with the client to evoke what they love and want to live with. I often find that the color-sense of a CEO ends up translating into the cornerstone shade of the entire space. For example, if green is his or her favorite color, I’ll use judiciously applied shades to support the energy, movement and shape of the space. If the corporate color palate of a client is bright red, I’ll put it in places where its vibrancy and zing will do the most good.
I also rely on color to create a sense of space, to enhance “dead zones” in industrial areas and to work with, rather than against, florescent lighting and other challenges.
Spaces and Shapes
Curves, angles and shapes piercing and reacting with each other give me a frisson of happiness—an indwelling sense of well-being. It might be from my days as a child watching the “Jetsons,” but there’s something I love about spheres, rhomboids, whiplash lines and figure 8s.
Translating this into good industrial and residential design means creating sexy and logical space plans that move organically around these enticing shapes. The sweep of a spiral staircase, a half-moon-shaped reception desk, a coffee table punctuated by painted brass bocce balls—there’s something playful and inherently interactive about these shapes.
At ABG Accessories, for example, I played with the bubble-like shape of hats on manikin heads within a back lighted rectangle display case. The display case is echoed in the wood and Plexiglas reception to its right and the desk and the conical lights above it re-mirror the hats. Chairs designed as a series of right angles punctuates the sphere-centric design.
Movement is a cornerstone of my design. Movement is essential for work and for life. Stagnancy--in the form of repetitious shapes, heavy furniture or leaden color-sense--can translate into a palpable mood shift downward in people. Conversely, an open sense of movement creates a feeling of freedom and possibility—space for life .
In industrial design I use friendly, residential elements that make one want to work and interact. In both home and office, I look for original ways for spaces to connect to create a cheerful environment.
Just as in that old graphic where you can choose to see the hour glass or the profiles, empty space defines design as much as objects do. Both the Zen-peacefulness of a Japanese rock garden and the energetic sweep of Eero Saarinen’s TWA Terminal rely on a masterful use of space and movement.
I prefer environments with lots of clean space that encourages movement. In office environments, I often design islands of communal attraction: areas in which people like to meet, interact and linger.
In residential design, this translates into space that makes sense for the user. Working closely with my client to determine their lifestyle, I build in space—empty or defined—that gives breathing room for the things that are most important to them.
It is often said that the most underused sense of all is common sense. In my work, common sense means putting the client’s needs first. It means letting the client’s taste, style and desires engineer the design. It also means that I will try to help guide that taste and edit it when necessary to achieve optimum results. Lastly, common sense dictates that I will bring the project in at or under budget.
I have worked with budgets great and small. It’s wonderful to have carte blanche, but restrictions can be the muse of creativity as well.
In the end, common sense means putting the client first and letting good design grow organically from there.