Friday, November 2, 2012

...about Holiday House 2012, Part 2: Five big designs, in not-so-big packages

Bigger spaces in a show house are both blessing and curse. So much space to flex creative muscle! SO MUCH SPACE TO FILL. Holiday House, in its ample footprint, has a handful of rooms that are big on space. But to this studio-dweller and frequent designer of small spaces, I’m much more interested in rooms of a more manageable size. I love to see how fellow designers coax the most style and function out of rooms that, to many in Manhattan, still seem ample, but by high-end designer/client standards, are mere shoeboxes. But like the high-end shoeboxes in Carrie Bradshaw’s closets, there are some well-heeled and sexy designs lurking under the lids.

Dineen Architecture + Design
Last year, the lovely ladies behind Dineen Architecture + Design showed considerable small-space prowess in what otherwise could have been a throw-away space, and the moment they created was one of the prettiest, smartest pictures painted in the house last year. 

This year, Joan Dineen and Alyson Liss got an upgrade and a lot more legroom, then ran with it. With their architect’s eye, they focused first on the envelope of the room, adding tailored, graphite gray grasscloth and a buttoned-up bleached-wood wall that gave the fireplace elevation a 40’s French and shipshape streamlined makeover (lurking beneath, a wild mosaic surround from years past).

In a room full of such individually high-personality pieces, the net result is surprisingly quiet. But a whisper is often much more intriguing than a shout, even if whispering is a show house risk, when trying to grab a little ink and vying for press and publicity.

The portrait of this lady is intriguing, too. There are lovely storytelling details in the styling, which these architects so humbly said is not their particular strong suit (coulda fooled me). Speaking of suiting, Chanel-suiting-inspired window treatments (look close! There’s a little glitz in that warp and weft!), curvy art furniture (the wood piece, fireside, by RISD alum Sean O’Hara, from A.Rudin), and a beveled wall mirror that’s pure jewelry all bring to life a fictional grand dame of confident style. 

And while all about her, the room tempers the girly with elements of harder edge... an angular Dineen-custom daybed (that some manufacturer needs to start producing asap), the floral but not flowery area carpet from Fort Street Studiothe spiky Vestal firescreen by gentleman designer John Lyle, and a gender-bending Marcus Leatherdale photo, one of several pieces of art I wanted to smuggle out under my coat.  
I also love that this collection of items, decisions and art looks like it came together over a life's time, so hard to do in a room that apparates in a matter of weeks, usually from a designer’s familiar, go-to and signature sources. And bonus, of growing import: many of the room's main pieces were locally produced, including the Brooklyn-crafted overhead light fixture.

Interesting to note, and a great by-product of the show house taking place in the same venue each year: this was the space given a Halloween take in 2011. The deep-dark walls from Suzanne Eason’s haunting design made this room seem far larger, living proof of the adage many still disbelieve: dark rooms seem bigger. But here, bigger wasn't necessarily better, and size seemed no obstacle to style.

Donald Schermerhorn
Never has second place seemed so appealing. Donald Schermerhorn’s take on President’s Day tells the story of an also-ran, licking his post Election Day wounds in a cozy octagon of a room that I’d gladly take as runner-up consolation. Donald's show house narrative kicks off with a copy of "Almost President: The Men Who Lost the Race But Changed the Nation," and the unnamed oil portrait with decidedly near-presidential airs.

Driven by spectacular textiles, and above wall-to-wall muted leopard spots, Donald conjures up Federal style in a most capital way. This patriot’s palette steers clear of cliché, but the effect is still full-tilt Blair House, with Chinese export pots, deep woods and traditional upholstered silhouettes. Modern oils over the mineral blue sofa shake the dust off the place.

The ceiling-raking and show-stopping screen (not pictured), put in place to balance out an oddly-placed door seems perfection, but is also a runner up: Donald chuckled about the call he received, days before install, that his first choice screen had been sold out from under him. Plan B, it was. A+.

Full disclosure: I am an unabashed Donald Schermerhorn fan, since seeing a past show house room of his where a queen bed was floated, mid-room, to inventive and heavenly effect. But this room won me over on its own merits, not the designer bromance I have with this gent’s gent who always solidly delivers, under the radar of far too many shelter magazines.

Robyn Karp Design
A bedazzled door getting all the attention of wanna-be-teens wandering in opens on to a candy-colored room of lilac Venetian plaster, an all-out girl's room by Robyn Karp Design. Part Willy Wonka, a lot of Violet (Beauregarde), and most definitely all Veruca Salt.
There is always risk with uppercase-t Themed rooms... but just when you think this lavender confection is headed to sugar overload, it reaches the end of the cul-de-sac and spins right ‘round, baby. What steers it back in the clear? A shot of coral (an amped up version of Tobi Fairley’s shell pink), most notably in a pair of Bergeres, fireside, some funky art and graphic pattern, confidently mixed.
Then there’s the room’s real star, the constellation overhead. My delightful tour companion Jill and I joked that this would be one lucky 16 year old for the light fixture alone, a starburst that stopped Robyn in her tracks when she first spotted it in a store window from a moving car. This going-on-Seventeen Magazine inhabitant better be getting straight As. Or be Selena Gomez. Hard to believe, too, that last year this was the scene and setting of Charles Farruggio’s dark and handsome engagement party.

Suzanne Eason
To paraphrase a hot topic, “Life begins at decoration.” At least that’s what happens in the apt hands and glowing almost-cube of a room of Suzanne Eason. A jewelbox of lapis blues and malachite greens starts at the walls, with Trove’s Double Helix DNA-inspired "Chroma" wall covering. It evokes joy as much as it does science: it’s every bit happy birthday ribbons and confetti as it is genetically encoded protein strands. The room is arranged on a symmetrical plan, but enlivened with bright, unapologetic colors and simplified, tailored shapes. 

The room is a sly, witty and elegant face-off of Science vs. Creationism (more than one serpentine and Eden-esque reference lurks and slithers) that stands on the merits of beauty alone, even if you take away the high concept. 

Photographed at press preview before the sculptures found their final home on a pair of pedestals, the lovely (and pretty genetically-perfect herself) Suzanne brought me up and into the back halls of the house to see the pair of plaster statues by Daniel Williams, of the New York Academy of Art, waiting in the wings. The sculptures were commissioned by Suzanne, who has a patron-ly track record of highlighting and engaging artists to bring life to her room, and her rooms to life.

Like any polished woman knows, sometimes all it takes is a dash of cosmetics and a bit of jewelry before making a new appearance. That’s how Suzanne chose to address the adjoining bath, with its existing mother-of-pearl border and soaking tub: add a deep blue ceiling, a rock crystal fixture, and oil painting (one of two by Kathy Buist)... done. It’s a simple lesson in how a few definitive details transform a room without ever having to dial up a contractor.

Javaras Kennally Associates
First-time Holiday Housers Javaras Kennally Associates made a grand and glowing entrance in a small room with big givens. An existing wall of built-in bookcases throws the little alley of a room out of balance, but their choices of strong art and an all-over golden glow threw it right back in.

The collaged photo portrait felt old and new, downtown and tribal, and settled back into the hand-applied squares of gold leaf, torn edges marrying the two. That gold-leafing also blurs the edges and pushes out the walls. This is a tough little room, where some have struggled in years past, but perfectly scaled pieces made this gilded box hardworking and highly inhabitable.

Like I said before, I miss some of the outright holiday references, house-wide. But there’s still plenty to love in Holiday House. Even in small doses.

NEXT: The smallest spaces and details that show big creativity! See how designers chose to take on their challenges here. PREVIOUS: The biggest rooms, and the three ways designers address show house design, here.

Holiday House 2012, to benefit Breast Cancer Research Foundationis open to the public from October 25th and has been extended through November 25th, 2012 at 2 East 63rd Street, in New York City.

Get Social! Find Holiday House and Javaras Kennally Associates on Facebook.
All photos: Patrick J. Hamilton

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