How Interior Designers Work Their Magic

Local professionals share ways that they’ve sidestepped physical and financial constraints in some of their favorite spaces.

Nothing is more satisfying to the team at Michalsky Kitchens than bringing a client’s kitchen design dreams to life—in a way that balances form and function with just the right amount of bells and whistles—all within budget. 

After establishing a client’s cooking persona, the next step is to pinpoint the best spot to create a functional triangular workspace between food prep and cleanup areas. Next, says, owner Mark Michalsky, come lighting, appliances and storage. Once the essentials have been taken care of, then it’s time to have some fun. 

“Everybody has a budget,” Michalsky says. “So I always tell my clients to make a list of their non-negotiables, then compare that with our list of recommendations,” whether for the practical side of the design or the “wow” factor. His personal must-have is a gorgeous piece of granite.

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“It’s the first thing people notice when they walk into your kitchen, and it truly is the best way to personalize the room and to add that pop all of our clients want.” 

For the project shown in the photo above, the family wanted an island with seating for five—a tall order in a kitchen of that size. The design incorporates “tons of countertop working space” and a repurposed bar. Now the space provides a better cooking layout and ample space for homework, relaxing or catching up. Because of the open floor plan, the client installed new hardwood floors and baseboard throughout the lower level and refreshed the paint in the family room and foyer to unify the look. 

Urbane planning

When Ellet Kidd left her Manhattan design firm to spread out in the country with her husband and three young sons, she knew she’d have to find a way to incorporate her city slicker sensibilities—and her favorite trends—into her more-traditional-than-not suburban home. 

She also wanted a space that would be simultaneously stimulating and soothing to keep her creative—and parenting—juices flowing. While her well appointed, unstuffy family room fulfills both needs, Kidd craved a space that she could claim as her own and that she could have fun decorating. 

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Though some reworking of floor plans was necessary, each of her two favorite spaces—the family room and den—were transformed through color, texture and light. 

To bring out the architectural details in the family room, such as the antique mantel she repurposed from her mother’s home and a window seat that overlooks the terrace, she opted for neutral walls, then invested in high-quality upholstered furnishings, such as two club chairs.

In the den, she wanted to create a slicker look, which was easily accomplished by painting all four walls a very bold red with a lacquer-finish paint that is impossible to ignore. 

“My approach is both practical and whimsical, with emphasis on creating a statement and focal points with pops of color, not a ton of it all in one space,” Kidd says. “If you base a room on a few things that you really love, then everything else will fall into place.”

Trust yourself

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Like many professionals, Nile Johnson lives a busy life. He has little time to care for a large home and yard, so when it came time to move, settling on a townhome was a no-brainer. Having few rooms meant he could spend more on furnishings and accessories and that he could choose bold pieces that would ensure his townhouse would reflect his design sensibilities, despite having the same floor plan as many of his neighbors. 

Knowing that he and his friends would spend 90 percent of their time in his kitchen, dining room and living room—all part of an open floor plan—Johnson spent a few months testing the perfect combination of decorative rugs, dining table and chairs, then arranging the comfortable, but chic sitting area visible from every angle of a modified great room—the first room guests would see when they entered the townhouse. 

Getting his hands on the perfect table was imperative. “I knew right away what kind of table I wanted as soon as I saw the space,” Johnspn says. “Figuring out the rug was a little harder. I made some mistakes with purchases, but I was also open to moving things around, including the rug and a few pieces of artwork. When you buy pieces you love, there is always a way to make them work. Like I always tell my clients, design is a process that requires a lot of trust in yourself—even more than your designer.” 

Know your patterns

Not every designer’s favorite room is in her own home, of course. Such is the case for Valle Rogers and Lucy Findlay, owners of Partners in Design, who experience far more enjoyment in transforming clients’ everyday residences than they do working in their own homes. 

“Lucy and I enjoy collaborating with our clients to solve their particular design needs and wishes and truly becoming partners in design with them,” Rogers says. “Although we do the research and leg work finding just the right fabrics, wallpapers, window coverings, furniture and accessories, we don’t necessarily put our stamp on the room.”

In this case the client requested an update for the living room, foyer and dining room. Because the husband sprawls on the sofa to read and plays the piano, and because the couple enjoys company, the new sofa needed to be comfortable and child friendly. The couple settled on a durable, cleanable fabric with a nice hand, then punched things up with a lively patterned fabric for the wing chairs. A custom rug was made to complement the room. The drapes added another punch of contemporary color and texture.

“We design with a nod to what is currently in fashion, but not so trendy that in five years everything looks dated,” says Findlay. “Most often we are working with our client’s treasured pieces of furniture, artwork and accessories, so the room has truly evolved over time. Our own homes are exactly that, too, created with love over time, reflecting our families.”

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