Good morning from springtime Brooklyn! After a ham and history filled trip to Spain, we're back with a big announcement and a "Before + After" from the archives.
If you follow us on social media, you might have seen the big news: Wayfair, an e-commerce leader in the home space, named us their "Designer of the Month" for April 2016. Think of Wayfair as Amazon for home furnishings and decor: you want it, they've (probably) got it, and it's almost certainly listed at the best price around. Not sure what you want? You can sift through an overwhelming breadth of options with relative speed, thanks to their user-friendly search and filter tools.
We've relied on them as an important source for clients for many years for those reasons and another: their commitment to customer service and transparency. Wayfair shares our philosophy that good design should be accessible to people with all kinds of budgets, but that there's an obligation inherent to advocating for affordable design: the consumer should understand why they're paying less. What trade offs are implied by the price point? To that end, Wayfair's products come with public and plentiful reviews; a detailed breakdown of construction and material quality, eco impact, and country of origin; and, an easy to digest info graphic that they call "Manufacturer Insights," essentially a cheat sheet to where the product falls on the cost vs. quality scale.
In the interview, Wayfair asks us to reflect on our first major project – a project that was published in Rue Magazine, but that we never delved into here on the blog. So, in recognition of our third anniversary, we're sharing a "Before + After" from the archives!
Back in 2013, shortly after Common Bond Design’s founding, we tackled a 1 bedroom / 1 bathroom rental apartment for a young attorney in downtown Manhattan. Recently graduated from law school, our client moved into his apartment – selected on the basis of its location, skyline views, and the convenience the building’s amenities promised – immediately before commencing his professional career.
He had the foresight to purchase barebones furnishings before his start date. He brought with him a bed and coordinating bedroom storage set, a sofa, an armchair, a desk, a coffee table and a media stand.
Though, strictly speaking, these items met his functional needs, as his demanding job ramped up, he developed an acute awareness of his apartment’s failure to meet other needs.
In his precious hours outside the office, the client craved:
- unwinding – eating takeout while catching up on TV, listening to his vintage vinyl collection while nursing a glass of scotch, or sleeping in on Saturday mornings; and,
- entertaining – inviting friends over to mix cocktails, dabble in amateur DJ’ing and watch sports.
The space felt spatially awkward, worn and sterile. The “shotgun” style layout made you feel a bit like Han Solo in a trash compactor; the walls ever inching in. A prior tenant left the bright white paint job marred with scuffs and stains. The naked expanse of parquet floors and inexpensive plastic roller shades felt vaguely institutional. The latter two features struck him as oppressive reminders that he was merely visitor here, not a man at home.
While many clients who hire in an interior designer seek aid in identifying their personal aesthetic, our client really only needed a translator. As a sartorialist and avid collector of photography, he was intimately familiar with the exercise of exploring his own aesthetic proclivities – and accustomed to the pleasure of self-expression that is the exercise’s reward. The home, however, was terra incognita for him.
A contract in hand and an in-depth consultation behind us (i.e. an interrogation along the liens of “walk us through your average weekday morning”, “now your weekend morning,” “how many people do you typically entertain at a time, and how do they currently interact with the space?; how would you like them to?” etc.), we prepared to map the terrain together. Soon after his start date, the pace our client's work intensified and our post-consultation contact was limited to harried emails exchanged during the workday. Our role changed.
Instead of translator and local guide, we redefined ourselves as design sleuths. We hunted for clues to his aesthetic, mining the richest resource available to us: his closet. From it, we derived a textile plan and color palette: grey pinstripes and herringbone, navy blue canvas, chestnut and saddle stained leather. We noted his habit of pairing a starched white shirt with a textured sweater.
Before we could execute our decorative plan, though, we needed to address the apartment’s physical plant. Given that the apartment was a rental, albeit one he intended to occupy for at least 3 years, our mandate was to minimize spending on assets that couldn’t move with him.
The classic NYC rental bathroom required the most assistance. We painted over the yellow walls with bright white paint, replaced the outdated faucet with a $75 chrome plated one from Home Depot (the room’s top expenditure, taking into account the plumber’s fee), changed the door pulls on the undersink cabinet, concealed the bulky glass sliding door with a tension rod and white shower curtain, and replaced the globe bulbs in the vanity with chrome-tipped ones.
Outside the bathroom, we limited our improvements to the following:
- bifold closet doors, which showed the most abuse, received a fresh coat of white paint and inexpensive new hardware – stainless steel t-pulls from Home Depot, priced at $2 ea. (All other scuffs were thoroughly scrubbed with a Mr. Clean Eraser.)
- custom window treatments in the bedroom, to block the 24/7 ambient light emanating from the buildings outside his window.
- a painted half-wall in the bedroom in Farrow & Ball’s Hague Blue, to add architectural interest and create the illusion of a higher ceiling.
Our next objective was to ameliorate the trash compactor effect. We started by rearranging the furniture, carving the living room and bedroom into two distinct zones each. The living room acquired a home office; the bedroom a dressing area. By splitting the space crosswise, we were able to create four individual zones, each with more comfortable proportions.
In the living room, we further diminished the narrow feeling by installing a FLOR rug with stripes running across the width of the room – a visual illusion, but an effective one. The bedroom was outfitted with a viscose rug by Loloi, to lend warmth.
The client needed additional clothing storage, but we were wary of bringing an outsider into the matching bedroom set. (Though generally advocates for non-matching furniture, we suspected that a single misfit would look like an oversight.) Instead of trying to coordinate with the material on the other pieces, we ordered a custom dresser from Wonk NYC, color matched to blend into the wall behind it. A vertical photograph from the client's collection was strategically hung above it, to create a moment of impact where it breaks the consistent line of sight.
To provide small item storage – like cufflinks, belts, etc. – we sourced a vintage valet chair for $50 on eBay and reupholstered the seat (which lifts up to reveal a compartment) in a grey pinstripe cashmere, inspired by the client's suiting collection. The valet chair, in concert with a full-length mirror, also serves to delineate the dressing area.
Our instructions weren’t to scrimp – the total budget was accommodating – but rather to curate a high-low mix, mindful of the temporary nature of a rental. To that end, we reached a strategic decision early on in the project: lighting would be our most significant splurge. Quality lighting, so long as it’s plug-in not hard-wired, is often a wise area in which to invest. It’s less subject to trends, easy to move, and imminently flexible.
In the bedroom, we paid a small surcharge to have David Weeks modify his sculptural two-headed sconce to a plug-in version. On the other side of the bed, to mitigate the “matchiness” of the bedroom set, we purchased a two-tone concrete lamp from Comerford Collection that mirrors the graphic contrast of the photograph, yet playfully reverses the dark-to-light concept in the painted half-wall behind it. In the living room, we invested in an adjustable Workstead floor lamp to provide ambient light (the linen shade taking cues from the client's wardrobe) and a task light by Marset.
Though the living room was largely furnished before we arrived on the scene, we did make a few adjustments to adapt to his lifestyle. We replaced his coffee table, for example, with a warm wood one that flips up to create a sofa-height surface – ideal for dining in front of the television. Auxiliary seating was purchased to accommodate guests, but kept light and easy to move out of the way in the event of a full house or dancing. We specified a pair of navy and walnut armchairs from ABC Home (armchairs tend to be more inviting for lounging) with arms low enough to slide under the desk, so that it could double as his office chair. The armchairs, with a standard dining seat height of 17-19", were designed to have a second life as dining chairs, should he move into an apartment with a dedicated dining space in the future.
We also replaced a chrome and glass occasional table with a bar cart, enhancing practical value (liquor storage) and aesthetic value (warmth, via the walnut.) The set of trays on the coffee table and the red paper collator similarly achieve both practical and aesthetic aims: the trays protect the mango wood coffee table from scratches and stains, while injecting color and geometry into the room; the paper collator turns the client's record storage into a multi-dimensional display of cover art.
Of course, a few items were largely decorative. As a unique aesthetic signature for the client, we commissioned a line of leather and felt accessories (a blanket basket, a set of coasters, a pencil cup, mouse pad and planter sleeves) from leatherworker Sonia Scarr. His sofa, though already abundantly pillowed, picked up two throw pillows for color and textural contrast: a burnt red mohair and an indigo canvas. A drooping philodendron in Steel Life’s Matchstick Planter snuck a small dose of greenery to the urban space. And a Brahms Mount alpaca herringbone throw blanket, again inspired by his suiting, softens the masculine edge of the furnishings.
The end result is a space that supports the client in his solitary recovery from the workweek and in his enthusiasm for sharing his passions with friends. Through strategic furniture placement and some slight of hand with paint, we improved the architectural comfort of a rental property. And most importantly we aimed to imbue the space with an aesthetic stamp that the client could recognize as his own.
THE SOURCE LIST
- Waffle Weave Shower Curtain, Target (No longer available, identical here.)
- STRAPATS Pedal Bin (Matte White), IKEA
- IDEAL Candle Dish, IKEA
- Small Porcelain Mason Jar, Heyday Design
- Teakwood & Tobacco Candle by Pommes Frites, Steven Alan Home
- Chrome-Tipped Light Bulbs
- Glacier Bay Dorset 8in Widespread Faucet (Chrome), Home Depot
- Liberty 3 in. Steel Bar Cabinet Pull, Home Depot
- Flax Line Organics Hand Towel by Morihata, Steven Alan
- Leather Planter, Scarr
- 1960s Valet Chair, via eBay (reupholstered in pinstripe cashmere; and with custom leather pant rail by Scarr)
- Liberty 1-1/2 in Steel Bar Cabinet Knob, Home Depot
- Stonewashed Linen Pillowcases (Graphite), Restoration Hardware
- No. 203 Two Arm Sconce, David Weeks Studio
- Nomade Queen Bed, Structube
- Nomade 6-Drawer Chest, Structube
- Leather Planter, Scarr
- Contemporary Luxe Rug (9’3” x 13’ Grey Mist), Loloi
- Banded Concrete Table Lamp, Comerford Collection (not available online, but similar here.)
- Flat Roman Shades w/ blackout liners (Basket Sheer - Steel), The Shade Store
- Le Feu Bleu Phthalo Candle, Le Feu de L’Eau via Steven Alan Home
- Clermont Console, WONK NYC (custom color matched to Hague Blue, Farrow & Ball)
- Paint color (half-wall): Hague Blue, Farrow & Ball
- Mid-century wall-mounted shelf, Baxter Liebchen (not available online)
- Mira, Organic Modernism
- HAY Kaleido Trays (XS), Design Within Reach
- Bix Bar Cart, Crate & Barrel
- Cotton/Alpaca Herringbone Throw Blanket (Natural/Slate) by Brahms Mount, via Steven Alan Home
- Rustic Storage Coffee Table (50” Raw Mango), West Elm
- Bina Armchair (Navy/Walnut), ABC Home (not available at ABChome.com, but available here.)
- “Made You Look” Carpet Tiles (Navy & Chalk), FLOR
- Leather & Felt Coasters, Scarr
- HAY Kaleido Trays, Design Within Reach
- 24sq Mohair Pillow (Curry), Room & Board
- Indigo Pillow, ABC Home (not available online)
- Accordion Collator, Anthropologie
- Shaded Floor Lamp, Workstead
- Stefan Swivel Armchair, Structube
- Short Matchstick Planter, Nannie Inez
- Tokyo Desk, Structube
- Yellow Potato Basket, ABC Home (not available online)
- Letter Tray by Ferm Living (Citrone), AllModern
- Scantling Table Lamp by Marset, Lumens
- Belize 3-Seater Sofa, Structube
- Marsh (Laugarvatn, Iceland) 2011 by Tommy Kwak via Artsicle
- Large Utility Basket, Scarr
- Mini Stacked Shelving System by Muuto, Design Within Reach
- Photograph by Glenn Bydwell
- Bottleneck Hobnail Vase, Anthropologie
- Custom Leather Pencil Cup, Scarr
- Leather & Felt Mousepad, Scarr