Designing Spaces: Our Expert Panel Talks Trends

Eight award-winning interior designers discuss everything from business (good) to buying American-made (also good) to the value of a unique showcase piece.

American Society of Interior Designers Panel
First row, from left: Karla Trincanello, Jana Manning, Suzan Santiago and Wendy Cruz-Gonzalez. Second row, from left: Diane Durocher, Anthony Passanante, Lori Margolis and Diane Boyer.
Photo by Joe Polillio.

No one knows design trends like the members of the American Society of Interior Designers. Each year, New Jersey Monthly convenes a panel of Gold Award-winning members of ASID’s New Jersey chapter to get their perspective on what’s new and hot in home design.

This year’s roundtable at the Grain House restaurant at the Olde Mill Inn in Basking Ridge brought together Diane Boyer, Diane Boyer Interiors; Wendy Cruz-Gonzalez, Studio Urban Architecture & Design; Diane Durocher, Diane Durocher Interiors; Jana Manning, Manning Design Group; Lori Margolis, Commercial Design Group; Anthony Albert Passanante, Anthony Albert Studios; Suzan Lucas Santiago, Santiago Design Group; and Karla Trincanello, Interior Decisions.

Here are highlights of the conversation:

NJM: The last time we met, most of you reported that business was in a slump. How are things going now?

Anthony Passanante: Over the past four or five years, it’s mostly been renovation work. I found that people were staying in their homes and reinvesting. But this past year, a lot more people are doing big construction. It’s a good sign.

Diane Durocher: Absolutely. This has been one of the busiest [seasons] we’ve ever had. I’m doing renovations and new construction. And people aren’t afraid to put their homes on the market and move up.

Wendy Cruz-Gonzalez: We are doing bigger projects. Clients are taking risks. People are getting excited and want to start fresh.

NJM: What kind of projects make the most sense in this economy?

Karla Trincanello: Everyone wants a new kitchen, a new bathroom. Nothing has changed with renovations. But other rooms, like the family room, are also very important. Everyone wants to feel fresh, to update. You don’t wear the same clothes forever. And baby boomers are adding bedrooms on the first floor. They want a first-floor master suite.

NJM: It’s clear that’s for convenience as they age. Is there concern about compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act?

Suzan Santiago: We, as design professionals, understand the important part of ADA compliancy. Lever hardware. Available space in front of switches and controls. No area rugs that can cause you to trip. Roll-in showers, grab bars, wider hallways.

Diane Boyer: Every house I’ve done in the last several years has had an elevator. Mid- to high-end projects. It’s about $30,000 for a standard elevator. As for universal design, ADA-compliant design, it’s come a long way, and now it’s incorporated into good-looking design.

NJM: What about green design?

DD: Our younger consumers are very interested in green design…at this point it’s common-sense design.

Jana Manning: My current projects are all green.

Lori Margolis: All of my corporate projects are green. They use it as a marketing tool.

SS: It’s hard to find products that aren’t green, whether the client asks for it or not.

KT: I bring it up in my initial consultation. How much do they know, how much do they care? I give them literature. It’s an important factor to the overall design.

NJM: Is there any resistance to going green?

KT: Some things are a bit more expensive. Reclaimed wood over natural wood, for example.

DB: I can’t even remember the last time I had a client who brought up green. I’m the one who has to bring up the subject.

WC: I see green design as a professional responsibility. You won’t leave your house in the morning with your faucet running all day long. That’s how I see it. Often the consumer doesn’t know how to decipher the information, and some of the manufacturers don’t make it very clear. Often the client waits until the end and asks. “How green is our project?” I document it all along so I can answer the question.

NJM: Is there a growing interest in U.S.-made products?

DD: I will absolutely point out that [a product] is made in the U.S. I am so not political, but this is so important. It’s sad that there are so many empty buildings, empty factories. There are so many products here that we should support.

KT: The fabric mills are coming back. The furniture companies are saying, “This is made in North Carolina.” It’s an important feature that people love to hear.

NJM: How about Jersey-made products? Are we developing any specialties?

AP: I have a metal specialist who works out of his barn in Hackettstown, and we’ve come up with these really cool, interesting hoods—copper, bronze, all kinds of things. It’s an hour’s drive; we collaborate, we sketch together.

JM: I’ve got a metal specialist in Asbury Park. We work together and he fabricates our ideas. There are also a lot of muralists in Asbury Park and furniture designers. They make hand-crafted concrete-and-metal tables that are one-of-a kind. We also have a glass blower in Asbury Park who makes specialized light fixtures.

KT: New Jersey has a wealth of artisans. You don’t really need to go outside of the state unless something is really, really specialized.

JM: I’m finding people are more interested in antiques, not necessarily traditional antiques but things that are a little more modern. Maybe they were mass-produced back then, but now it’s a rare find. They want their spaces to be unique and different from everyone else. That’s the value of creativity.

NJM: So when is it worth looking overseas for products?

WC: There are [imported] drapery fabrics that are so beautifully crafted.

JM: Statement pieces. You might pick out a beautiful fabric from France or an Italian tile.

DD: Spectacular terra cotta tile, old world, from France. It was reclaimed from underneath a terra cotta tile roof, so it was green, but it was shipped over from France, so that’s a bit contradictory.

NJM: Is there one product that has really wowed you this past year?

AP: [Displays a sample piece of glass with a painted design on one side.] The possibilities for this are endless: a bar area, a backsplash, a shelf or in front of a wall. It could even be used as a ceiling. We can apply gold leaf, silver leaf, paint it any way. I collaborate with an artisan. I’ll sketch something before presenting it to a client and show him to make sure it’s possible. We did a ceiling with one piece of glass, suspended, and trimmed it in high-polish stainless. This is an accent piece, a showcase piece. I also like different products for cabinetry. There’s a walnut burl where the grain comes into each other. It’s very special as an accent piece in a butler’s pantry for instance. It’s fabulous.

LM: I’m finding felt carpets. They have incredible designs taken from bits and pieces of leftover felt. They’re very durable and they look good.

KT: I like the fabrics that are stain resistant but also green. They’re fabulous. Families with children, they think they need to wait and redo things when the children are older, but you don’t. There are stain- and mildew-resistant fabrics, and they’re durable and beautiful.

DD: I have found wonderful vinyls. They are textural, contemporary, and beautiful. They can be used in any high-use area. There are even vinyls that look like grass cloth.

KT: We’re also seeing bamboo and wood in between glass panes. Light gets through and it looks great.

LM: Or crushed foil in between the panels. These panels are used as dividers, or even as countertops. They’re not inexpensive, but they’re wonderful. They are polycarbon, like resin; very durable and scratch resistant.

SS: I’m seeing a lot of metal flooring. It looks like a woven metal, in different patterns. It’s mostly used in commercial applications; it’s a very fresh look for a lobby, and it’s not terribly noisy because of the woven aspect. I’ve also seen beaded fabrics that are very beautiful. They shimmer and are very fluid. They look great on a window treatment.

WC: Nostalgia has made its way into technology. I love Edison-style light bulbs. They are incandescent bulbs, but are halogen. You don’t have to switch anything out; they fit any standard socket. They come in frosted and in clear. The light color is quite clear, and it meets all new codes. They’re brighter and energy efficient. Consumers are able to make greener decisions because the product details are right on the box. I got mine at Target and Home Depot. They cost about $8, which is definitely more, but they’ll last longer and use less energy.

DB: I’m finding religious spaces are being designed into homes. [In Indian homes they are called] pooja rooms. I did a chapel for two Catholic clients. I’ve done Judaica rooms. I’ve had a number of clients requesting religious spaces in their houses: a meditation area in their garden, a praying space in their private home.

JM: The wow thing for me is something made by a local artisan. It elevates the home. It can be a piece of art, a metal sculpture, just something that has been hand-made locally. It really adds to the project.

NJM: Is it the designers’ job to help the customer find the best deals?

DB: My job is to find the best quality and the best design. We are not discount driven.

DD: There’s a value that we bring to the table. It’s the value of interior design and what a real interior designer can do. And we do save them money because we do things correctly.
No matter how high-end you’re designing, everyone has a budget, and it’s very important that we’re respectful of it.

AP: I’ll direct my client where to spend their money wisely. For instance, in kitchens, cabinets are important. If they cook a lot, appliances are important. Countertops, they can be found at any price.

JM: I don’t think clients are coming to us to get the best deal, they’re coming to get the best design.

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