5 Ways Designers Make Statement Decor Fit In and Stand Out
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5 Ways Designers Make Statement Decor Fit In and Stand Out

These design professionals figure out how to incorporate homeowner must-haves.

Fri, Sep 10, 2021 11:27amGrey Clock 6 min

Weeks after Shetal Mehta purchased her “it” couch, she broke the news to her interior designer.

Her request? That the emerald-green velvet sofa become a focal point of the living room. “It was the first big purchase for our home, not an everyday kids-jumping-on-the-couch type of piece,” says Ms. Mehta, who lives in a 270sqm home in Rye, N.Y.

The bold seating choice meant her designer, Crystal Sinclair, needed to tweak her game plan. To play up the couch, Ms. Sinclair created a luxe black-and-white colour scheme around the sofa and a striped ceiling. Sourcing the perfect shade of pillows and making sure the ceiling’s green-and-white stripes looked straight from below took trial and error. “We had to really work with it,” says the designer from Tuxedo Park, N.Y.

Homeowners—never easy clients—seem to be more insistent than ever on having their favourite bold pieces front and centre as they redecorate their homes, thanks, in part, to ever-easier access to ever-increasing choices. That reality has their designers—typically used to having the final say—sharpening one of their least-favourite tools: compromise.

These homeowners are taking a buy-now-think-later approach and leaving it to the experts to work their magic, says Anthony Barzilay Freund, editorial director at 1stdibs, a vintage-furniture and décor site.

Online searches for “statement pieces” increased by 15% since last year, with furniture-style categories such as Japonisme, Rococo, Art Deco and Space Age gaining in popularity, according to 1stdibs data. “People are intrigued by something that has really cool lines or in a color that’s a little bit outrageous,” says Mr. Barzilay Freund. “They want a piece that’s not necessarily pretty or polite, but is sort of a talking point.”

Here is how some designers work to integrate their clients’ must-haves:

Bold Seating

New York interior designer Elena Frampton says she is fielding more requests to add unique and colourful seating, rather than more-common minimal boxy furniture, to main living areas. The larger curved or rounded pieces that now are in demand tend to do better in larger rooms or open-concept living areas alongside a mix of geometric furniture, she says.

Designer Keren Richter integrated Sandra Schpoont’s rare wood-slab George Nakashima coffee table into a paired-down seating area in the Martha’s Vineyard home. PHOTO: THOMAS RICHTER

For a recent project, figuring out where to put a lavender Cloverleaf sofa by Verner Panton in her client’s Manhattan loft took weeks of virtually experimenting with configurations, says Ms. Frampton. The $17,400 modular couch with three distinct curves and seating on either side was too upright for lounging. “It almost feels like something that would be in a hotel lobby,” says Ms. Frampton.

Ultimately, Ms. Frampton decided to add seating near a floor-to-ceiling window bordering a living-room setup in the space. The sofa allows the owner to use it for entertaining but leaves room for a more practical—and comfortable—seating corner surrounding a coffee table. She added a bold mix of shapes, including a spiked coral sculpture, so the piece wouldn’t stick out in the main living areas. “Even on projects where we have a carte blanche there’s always one wild card,” she says.

Statement Heirlooms

Beloved pieces passed down through generations are a delicate subject because of the added sentimental value and the client’s attachment to a particular item, says designer Keren Richter, of White Arrow in New York. When her client loves the style of the heirloom, she often uses it as a starting point and makes sure to highlight the piece within a room rather than “covering it with pillows.” When planning, she includes photos of the item in client inspiration boards along with any other predetermined home features, including mouldings, doorways and floors.

Designer Jhoiey Ramirez added a vintage Hollywood spotlight to a modern bedroom setup in a client’s Los Angeles home. PHOTO: DANIEL DAHLER PHOTOGRAPHY

Recently, Ms. Richter created a room that highlights a rare 60-year-old George Nakashima coffee table. The designer combined the midcentury wood-slab, V-shape table with natural fibers and a hanging branch. “There’s a sense of movement and nature in that space, but it’s also clean and modern,” says Ms. Richter.

Table owner Sandra Schpoont says it was important that the eye goes right to the piece that’s standing at the centre of the room. She still remembers tagging along with her father to purchase the table in 1962 for $225. Similar ones now sell for more than $30,000.

“I wanted it to stand out,” says the attorney, who worked with Ms. Richter to design her vacation home in Martha’s Vineyard. “It’s the most important piece of furniture I have.”

One-Of-A-Kind Lighting

Integrating a vintage Hollywood spotlight and tripod into her client’s home without feeling overly theatrical took some fiddling, says Los Angeles-based designer Jhoiey Ramirez. The 1930s Mole Richardson Type 210 light, which her client purchased tarnished and broken, took months to restore and cost $5,500. Once it was done, he asked Ms. Ramirez to find a spot that highlights the glamour.

“He ordered it and is like, ‘Make this work,’ ” she says.

Designer Anne Grandinetti worked with homeowner Rod Meagher to incorporate more than 30 deer head mounts into his Texas home’s decor. PHOTOS: CLAY GRIER (2)

Originally, the light was intended for the living area, but the fireplace and other items made it feel cluttered, she says. “It was going to get lost in the living room, there were too many artifacts,” she says, referring to his collection of vintage items.

Instead, the light wows from a corner of the bedroom and stands out among more organic materials, including a wood platform bed and built-in shelving. “When you open the door, you see it right away; there’s nothing distracting your eye,” she says.

Curating Collections

When working on what she calls “a sophisticated hunting lodge” outside of Cotulla, Texas, designer Anne Grandinetti wasn’t prepared for the sheer number of deer-head mounts that showed up on site. In total, Ms. Grandinetti, a designer at Mark Ashby Design in Austin, incorporated more than 30 deer head mounts while leaving wall space for the collection to grow. (The collection cost $30,000, or roughly $1,000 per mount.)

To keep the deer from overwhelming the space, she added the mounts to the wide hallway with a 14-foot ceiling that runs the entirely of the 1021sqm home, while placing a few select pieces in other rooms. She kept the hallway walls and floor area sparse, while adding copper custom lighting made by local artisans.

Miami designer Brittany Farinas used darker accents to integrate photographer Terry O’Neill’s striking shot of actress Raquel Welch into a client’s main bedroom. PHOTO: BRITTANY FARINAS

“We tried to sprinkle them in and spread them out, so it doesn’t feel like a taxidermy showroom,” says Ms. Grandinetti.

Homeowner Rod Meagher, 64, a retired real estate appraiser, says his goal was to showcase both white-tailed and exotic species of deer without turning to dark traditional ranch décor.

“I wanted it to be clean cut,” says Mr. Meagher of his weekend eight-bedroom, 10-bathroom home that was completed in 2019.

Dramatic Wall Art

After Miami designer Brittany Farinas saw an art piece her client asked her to incorporate into his home, she wasn’t sure where it would fit. The oversize photography still, signed by photographer Terry O’Neill, of actress Raquel Welch posing partially clothed on a cross would be the centrepiece of any room.

“It’s different and very particular,” Ms. Farinas says of the image, which was originally shot as part of a series of publicity photos for the 1966 film “One Million Years B.C.” but wasn’t used.

Ultimately, Ms. Farinas found a spot for the $10,500 photograph on a bedroom wall, adding black accents and dark granite throughout the room. “I wanted to bounce off what that art piece is, which is dark and moody,” she says of the room’s décor. Adding a bold art piece helped visually separate the bed from a seating area and dry bar nook at the far end of the room, she adds.

The iconic photography still of actress Raquel Welch was taken to publicize her 1966 adventure film ‘One Million Years B.C.’ PHOTO: TERRY O’NEILL / ICONIC IMAGES

Not all designers are eager to accommodate requests. Recently, Ms. Sinclair, of Tuxedo Park, N.Y., turned down a client with a statement art piece that didn’t appeal to her. She said she felt it was loud. Instead of taking on the project, she referred the person to a design colleague that would better appreciate the style. “Sometimes it’s telltale of how we’re going to mesh,” she says.


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But as house prices increase across the country, the conversation has started to shift from size for the sake of it towards more flexible, well-designed spaces better suited to contemporary living.

For the owners of this 1920s weatherboard workers’ cottage in Fremantle, the emphasis was less on having an abundance of room and more about creating cohesive environments that could still maintain their own distinct moods. Key to achieving this was manipulating the floorplan in such a way that it could draw in light, giving the impression at least of a larger footprint. 

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Positioned on a site that fell three metres from street level, the humble four-room residence had been added to over the years. First order of business for local architect Philip Stejskal was to strip the house back to its original state.

“In this case, they were not quality additions,” Stejskal says. “Sometimes it is important to make sure later additions are not lean-tos.”

The decision to demolish was not taken lightly. 

“Sometimes they can be as historically significant as the original building and need to be considered — I wouldn’t want people to demolish our addition in 50 years’ time.”

Northern light hits the site diagonally, so the design solution was to open up the side of the house via a spacious courtyard to maximise opportunities to draw natural light in. However, this had a knock-on effect.

A central courtyard captures northern light. Image: Bo Wong

“We had to make space in the middle of the site to get light in,” Stejskal says. “That was one of the first moves, but that created another issue because we would be looking onto the back of the neighbouring building at less appealing things, like their aircon unit.”

To draw attention away from the undesirable view, Stejskal designed a modern-day ‘folly’.

“It’s a chimney and lookout and it was created to give us something nice to look at in the living space and in the kitchen,” Stejskal says. 

“With a growing family, the idea was to create a space where people could find a bit of solitude. It does have views to the wider locality but you can also see the port and you can connect to the street as well.”

A garden tap has also been installed to allow for a herb garden at the top of the steps.

“That’s the plan anyway,”  he says. 

A modern day ‘folly’ provides an unexpected breakout space with room for a rooftop herb garden. Image: Bo Wong

Conjuring up space has been at the core of this project, from the basement-style garaging to the use of the central courtyard to create a pavilion-like addition.

The original cottage now consists of two bedrooms, with a central hallway leading onto a spacious reception and living area. Here, the large kitchen and dining spaces wrap around the courtyard, offering easy access to outdoor spaces via large sliding doors.

Moments of solitude and privacy have been secreted throughout the floorplan, with clever placement of built-in window seats and the crow’s nest lookout on the roof, ideal for morning coffee and sunset drinks.

The house has three bedrooms, including a spacious master suite with walk-in robe and ensuite overlooking the back garden. Adjustable blades on the bedroom windows allow for the control of light, as well as privacy. Although the house was designed pre COVID, it offers the sensibility so many sought through that time — sanctuary, comfort and retreat.

Adjustable blades allow the owners to control light on the upper floor. Image: Bo Wong

“When the clients came to us, they wanted a house that was flexible enough to cater for the unknown and changes in the family into the future,” Stejskal says. “We gave the owners a series of spaces and a certain variety or moods, regardless of the occasion. We wanted it to be a space that would support that.”

Mood has also been manipulated through the choice of materials. Stejskal has used common materials such as timber and brick, but in unexpected ways to create spaces that are at once sumptuous but also in keeping with the origins of the existing building.

Externally, the brickwork has been finished in beaded pointing, a style of bricklaying that has a softening effect on the varied colours of bricks. For the flooring, crazy paving in the courtyard contrasts with the controlled lines of tiles laid in a stack bond pattern. Close attention has also been paid to the use of veneer on select joinery in the house, championing the beauty of Australian timbers with a lustrous finish. 

“The joinery is finished in spotted gum veneer that has been rotary cut,” says Stejskal. “It is peeled off the log like you peel an apple to give you this different grain.”

Rotary cut timber reveals the beauty of the natural grain in the kitchen joinery. Image: Bo Wong

Even the laundry has been carefully considered.

“The laundry is like a zen space with bare stone,” he says. “We wanted these different moods and the landscape of rooms. We wanted to create a rich tapestry in this house.”

The owners now each experience the house differently, highlighting separate aspects of the building as their favourite parts. It’s quite an achievement when the site is not enormous. Maybe it’s not size that matters so much after all.


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