A Conservatory for Today

Hello lovely readers!

So very exciting… I’ve been commissioned to design a conservatory for the back of a Brooklyn brownstone.  My client has quite the green thumb and is looking to get rid of the current exterior wall and replace it her very own indoor garden.

In case you don’t know what a conservatory is, it’s a glass house that was traditionally used by English aristocrats for growing exotic plants that were brought from around the world but couldn’t hack it in the English climate.  They usually have metal-framed glass and black & white tile flooring.  Here’s some historic images to give you an idea:

british conservatory - Google Search

English gent reads morning paper next to an exotic palm tree.

british conservatory - Google Search

A traditional conservatory with imported palms from India and black and white ceramic floor.

conservatory semi-circle - Google Search

The extraordinary cupola at the Tangelwood Conservatory.

I’m obsessed with cupolas and hope that there is some way to work the idea into my design — if not this scale! 🙂

Now, the question is, how does one make a conservatory for 2015?  I’ve been hunting for inspiration images.

Predictably, most modern designers are simply taking away all of the details and just slimming the conservatory down to a very rectilinear box.  This is very clean and modern looking, but we’ve been seeing these kind of glass boxes for the past 100 years and I am frankly over it.  Case in point:

contemporary conservatory design - Google Search

Typical rectilinear modern conservatory.

It is very sleek and modern but I don’t believe that for 2015 this is at all design-forward or pushing any boundaries.  Where is the creativity?  Where is the energy?

So my goal for this project is to create a new sort of updated conservatory… one that brings in the design language of today.  I feel that what’s missing from the rectilinear glass box is the… (I don’t know how else to put it)… ornament.  The decoration.  The ornamentalism of the traditional English conservatory.  So my challenge is this.  How can I take this traditional ornament like the one pictured here and make it updated for today?

british conservatory - Google Search

The ornamentalism of a traditional glass-paned conservatory.

I’m gathering some inspiration images.  Of course for a long time we have been obsessed with creating new shapes with glass… very faceted and angular, like this:

faceted angular greenhouse - Google Search

Angular glass “gemitecture”… the Crystalline Shopping Center in Kuala Lumpur.

Often called “gemitecture,” this is building up the glass panes into angled facets much like cut gems.

Building these sorts of shapes onto a private residence is daunting, but it has been done:

window detail of Striking House Featuring Faceted Glass Wall Facade

The Flip House in San Francisco by Fougeron Architecture.

Trombé :: Contemporary Modern Conservatories and Conservatory Design London :: Structural Glazing

An angular dining area from Trombe Architecture.

I do love these angular shapes, but I feel like we’ve seen a LOT of it recently, from architecture to lighting to home accessories, and I can’t decide whether it’s a phase on its way out?  What do you think?

The other thing is, that this does not really play with the design of the panes themselves.  They are still just large panels of glass, they’re just arranged in an angular fashion.

I guess what I’m more interested in is designing a new language within the panes… a new ornamentalism.  Something that sits with the contemporary palette.  I do prefer smaller panes of glass rather than such large pieces and am curious to see what I can do to revise the window pane.

I can’t really seem to find a lot of images showing what I mean, but this art deco window-paning comes close:

faceted glass window

Art deco… interesting angular window-paning.

I’m also incredibly inspired by this modern conservatory at London’s Hyde Park, recently completed by Andy Martin architects:


Arced metal-framed doors with an undulating roof… so creative that I’m jealous.

The interior of the Martin design… WOW.

Wow.  The fabrication of those arced panels in the ceiling is absolutely extraordinary.

So, there’s my starting point… I’ll let you know how it progresses.

Guidelines For Gender Neutral Nurseries

1.  What to do with the walls?
When confronted with a gender neutral nursery, the kneejerk reaction often is to simply paint the room one of the two traditionally gender-neutral colors, yellow or green.  However, painting the entire room a single pastel color tends to be a mistake–regardless of the color.  I call it the “Easter Egg  Syndrome,” where you feel like you’re living in a giant Easter Egg.  Simply put, using a single pastel tone throughout the room is just not a visually interesting approach.  Instead, try one of my three recommended options below.

a.  Use a neutral base such as a pale grey or beige and an accent wall.  My go-to gender-neutral accent color that I’m loving right now is a pale teal.  The teal can go either way, great for a boy but also reminiscent of a Tiffany box so imminently girly.  I recently used Benjamin Moore At Sea (#666) as the accent wall in a coed nursery for a twin girl & boy.  This wall was an excellent backdrop to the twins’ white cribs and was not overpowering, even in a small space.  The remaining walls were painted Benjamin Moore Pale Oak, a beautiful warm pale grey and another go-to (#OC-20).  The effect was modern and adorable, and the parents were able to use other gender-neutral accent colors throughout the space, like orange, red, and kelly green as their color pops.



b.  I am obsessed with stripes in nurseries and kids’ rooms.  Stripes have such great energy and allow for a lot of creativity.  You can have one stripe going around the whole room, emulating a chair rail, or you could have an accent wall of stripes, using the neutral tones on the remaining walls.  The accent wall of stripes could be done either regularly, e.g. alternating every 12 inches (grey and white stripes are an amazing backdrop for bright, fun artwork), or in a random pattern (alternating narrow stripes in with the wider stripes).  There are just so many different directions you can take it!  If you are going to use my second-favorite gender neutral color, yellow, as an accent, a good way to use it is in a stripe, so as not to be overwhelming.  Grey and yellow is a very trendy color combination right now, but some other “new neutrals,” like navy or olive green, also pair well with yellow.  Yellow is a good option in a variety of tones, from pale to bright, but should not be used as more than an accent color as all-yellow nurseries are associated with anxiety in babies.  Here I show Benjamin Moore Sundance (2022-50) with Simply White (OC-117) and Titanium (2141-60).



c.  Wallpaper and decals.  Wallpaper is back, and the new patterns are absolutely wonderful in nurseries.  I recently used the Tiny Train paper from Ferm Living in another coed nursery I designed.  It’s perfect!  Teal, yellow, and absolutely adorable.


For those who do not want to use permanent wallpaper, the solution is either a decal or temporary wallpaper, which is basically a giant decal in a roll which can be used on an accent wall but removed easily.  I’ve put some down below.


Adorable Modern Safari Decals


French Bull Monster Mashup Removable Wallpaper

The rule of thumb when wallpapering is not to overdo it.  You can either use it on one accent wall or use it on a half wall (put in a chair rail and wallpaper only above).  You can also use wood trim to create one or more “frames” on the wall and install the wallpaper only within those frames.When matching with a paint color to use on the remaining walls, you want to take the wallpaper sample to the paint store and make sure that the paint color you’re using elsewhere in the room is pulled directly from the wallpaper sample– don’t leave it to guesswork!  It’s important to make sure that the accent walls match well and the only way to do that is to hold the actual wallpaper sample up against the paint chips.

2.  Furniture colors.
My only advice here is to avoid dark colors in furniture, which can read overly masculine.  Stick with light wood, white wood, or distressed tones or greys.

3.  Accents.
Bright color pops are the key to a fun nursery!  Many times mothers err on the side of using very soft, delicate shades.  The problem is that babies’ eyes are not developed well enough to actually see subtle colors.  Experienced moms know that when faced with a toy in a soft pastel shade and a brightly colored toy, the baby will choose the bright, poppy color every time.  So why shouldn’t their nursery use bright, fun colors as well?  With my teal/grey nursery, I love using pops of red or orange, both of which are gender-neutral, bright, and fun.  These can be incorporated into accents throughout the room… certainly objects like mobiles, that babies are actually interacting with, but also in the room decor accents, like rugs, throw pillows, window treatments, decorative objects like piggy banks, and bright, fun artwork, like these:



Fun bright colors can also be used as paint colors that are used in accent pieces throughout the nursery, like on a bookcase, stool, or wood trim.  Just remember, the brighter the color, the less of it should be used.  That one bright red pillow and a red trim on a curtain can be just enough in a room of neutrals.


About the Author:

Susie Kurkowski, ASID is an interior designer working in New York City.  She owns a full-service interior design firm, DesignCorp, as well as Brooklyn home goods boutique, Items of Interest.  She is a graduate of the New York School of Interior Design.

21st Century Architecture: Where are we right now?

OK, prepare for me to get supernerdy. (Again.)

A while back I posted about “modern” design and noted that it’s a bit confusing because the architecture that’s really at the cutting edge today is not really in the Modern style. So, the question is, if it’s not modern, what is happening in architecture today and what is it called?

Basically, we have three trends happening. The first (and most significant), sculptural architecture or archisculpture, is personified by Frank Gehry so much so that Vanity Fair simply referred to the architectural period today as “The Age of Gehry.” Sculptural architecture is just that: treatment of architecture as a sculpture, and typically depends upon computer-aided design to achieve its design. Just check out Gehry’s Bilbao Museum or Zaha Hadid’s MAXXI Museum.


Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao


Zaha Hadid’s MAAXI Museum

There’s no way these swooping designs, at one time exclusively in the conceptual realm because it was too difficult to execute, or Gehry’s “double” or “compound” curves (where the surface is curving in two directions at once), could be created without a computer algorithm. These buildings don’t tend to have a lot of other design elements besides the sculptural pieces. It is as if archisculpture renders ornament irrelevant; or further, that it would distract from the sculptural quality of the building.

The second contemporary architectural trend is called surface architecture. Here, architects create a nonbearing “skin” outside of the load-bearing structure, or even “clothes” rather than skin, because the surface is really independent of the structure. We’re bored of the glass box, so why not dress it up?

Once the outer layer has been removed from its structural burden, you can carve it, slice it, paint it, treat it as a textile (we now have the term “architextile”)… the possibilities are limitless.  Check out how the outer layer of the Cooper Union building was sliced & diced:



Cooper Union in NYC as example of surface architecture.


Light glows through the skin of the Polish Pavilion at the Shanghai Expo.

The third trend is kinetic architecture, or mobile, transformable architecture that is capable of adapting.  For example, the Institut du Monde Arabe building in Paris designed by Jean Nouvel has glass panes with lenses that open and close to provide the necessary amount of light into the building.


Institut du Monde Arabe.


Closeup of the oculus of the facade.

The Quadracci Pavilion at the Milwaukee Art Museum is built in the shape of a minimalist bird whose wings collapse and extend every few hours.

Quadracci Pavilion

Quadracci Pavilion, Milwaukee Art Museum

Design is going even further in this direction: the upcoming Brisbane Car Park will possibly be the world’s coolest garage.  Its surface will be made of 250,000 aluminum panels that will blow with the wind to create awesome, constantly changing ripple effects.

Brisbane Car Park

A rendering of the new Brisbane car park.

The unbuilt but promised Dynamic Tower of Dubai gives a new meaning to the panoramic view by rotating slowly in various patterns:

Dynamic Tower Dubai

So there you have it, 21st century architecture broken down!  Which style is your favorite?

Reader poll: To ply, or not to ply?

More and more in design magazines I’ve been seeing designs that incorporate the look of unpainted plywood.  I think this started mostly as a low-budget wall covering, but now it’s become a trend.  I’ve seen it in kitchens, like these:


Scandinavian cottage like kitchen with plywood

Like how this one makes it look more upscale with the metal strips between the planks.

Have also seen it in living areas:




And in an office or home office setting….



And of course there are some great-looking plywood shelves:



So…. what do you think?  Do you like this look?  Vote now!

[BTW if you are looking at this on your mobile device and can’t see the poll, it’s because you need to download the PollDaddy app which you can do for free in your app store!]

Reader poll: Exposed beams… what do you prefer?

I am just obsessed with exposed beams!  So beautiful.  There is something about seeing the structure of a building that is so appealing to me, whether it be beams, columns, trusses… even pipes and ductwork can look great if handled correctly. It’s like the watches with clear glass faces that expose the mechanisms inside… all those cogs and working parts are almost an art form.

Other advantages of exposed beam ceilings are:
1) height!  depending on how low the ceiling is dropped, exposing the beams could provide you with an additional foot or more.
2) regular geometry.  Our brains are wired to love repetition and rhythm.  Ceiling beams are a regular line that recedes into the distance and enhances a viewer’s sense of perspective.  Can be a great juxtaposition to a more motley assortment of furnishings below.
3) beauty of material.  Ceiling beams of reclaimed wood come to mind here…

but other materials, such as metals, can look great as well.
steel beam

While on the subject, I should note that there are some great new products on the market!  If you don’t have beams exposed, and don’t want to pay to demo your ceiling, you can fake it with faux beams.  These are essentially hollow structures, so they are lightweight and easy to attach, and much, much more cost-effective than the real thing.  They come in all sorts of finishes, like this:

See FauxWoodBeams for this and more options.

If you google “faux wood beams,” a ton of options come up in terms of colors, finishes, and materials. (Of course I recommend never using PVC in your home, this is an extremely toxic product!)

NOW, the part where I need your input…. I’m having a little debate with myself and am hoping my readers can help me settle it.  I always thought that an entirely white ceiling was best… a white ceiling with beams painted white.  I think it is just a fantastic look, light and airy but visually interesting.  It is the most subtle option because the wood beams don’t have as much contrast, but there are still interesting angles and shadows.

A friend of mine prefers to keep the wood beams in their natural state or just a coat of polyurethane.  Here, the beams become much more accentuated and might even be the first thing you notice in the room, especially if they are contrasted against a white ceiling.  If you want to really call attention to your beams, or just love the look of natural wood, this option might appeal more to you.

Then we have the gorgeous metal options shown above.

Tell me, which look do you prefer?  I’ve put a bunch of images for you to review before making your final choice!

From Atlanta Home.

From Elle Decor


Awesome backgammon table! My family are backgammon lovers, this would definitely have a place in our house. From oomph.

Gorgeous throw blankets from Lands Down Under.

Pillows made from rugs at Dash & Albert.

Love this bedding from Masouk.

A tweed/leather sofa! Love the menswear inspiration.

It was PACKED today– the economy is on the up and up if the gift fair is any indication! I’m absolutely tuckered out– more tomorrow.


NYIGF Afternoon Day 1

Awesome stereo console from Philadelphia-based Lostine.

Brightly colored lacquered boxes and trays from Pacific Connections.

For some reason I am fascinated by these molecular-looking metal pieces at Gold Leaf Designs.

Beautiful and eco-friendly: organic cotton throws from inGreen.

Chain link light from DK Designs… One of the best lights I saw all day.

Love this set of modern prints from Wendover Arts.

More tomorrow!

NYIGF Morning Day 1!

Gorgeous silver-leafed cowhide from Saddlemans.

For some reason I became completed obsessed with this needlepoint stool from French Market.

Cute stool is actually made from recycled plastic and is UV and mold resistant– perfect for an outdoor deck! From Fab Habitat.

Yes I am still obsessed with malachite. Gorgeous pillows from Callisto Home.

New York International Gift Fair!!!

Ok, I know it’s been awhile, and I have a LOT to update you on! 2013 is gonna be a big year! But first big design event of the year is upon us, so I’m going to get started with that. I’m rolling up to Pier 94 right now, can’t wait to see all the new products and trends coming up the pipeline. The last NYIGF was AMAZING, let’s see if this year’s can top it!

High Point Day 4

Last but not least!

Fun drawer interiors at Mr. Brown by Julian Chicester.

An extremely comfy chair at Regina Andrews– and very well-proportioned for the city.

Also from Regina Andrews, this gorgeous reclaimed desk.

For my sister, the doctor… A truly creative chair back at Go Home.

VW pillows!

Love these contemporary prints from New Century Art.

Tray tables were a huge trend this market! They were everywhere. They make serving easy, are very mobile, can be stowed away when not needed, and are very well-priced. I like this wood and white contrast at Interlude.

Phew! That’s all I got. Was a great show! The bottom line… I need a store so I can bring all this fun stuff to NYC!