Talking Style

When ten of the Garden State’s leading interior designers get together to dish, the conversation serves up some surprising design topics and trends.

When ten of the Garden State’s leading interior designers get together to dish, the conversation serves up some surprising design topics and trends.

Energy efficiency. Environmental concerns. Technology. Space utilization. Universal design. Sound like a university debate on global issues? Not quite. It’s the table talk at the annual meeting of New Jersey Monthly’s Design Advisory Council. As New Jersey Monthly learned over a recent lunch at Morristown’s Ora restaurant, the ability of these women to stay at the top of their profession is as much about their skill in handling the many issues affecting today’s design market as it is about their creative talent and expertise.

Space—and the desire for more of it—continues to drive New Jersey’s robust home market, with large-scale home construction and space-related renovation proceeding at a healthy pace. The way we use and view our space, however, seems to be changing dramatically.

“We’re going through this major change,” says Tere Bresin. “There are so many issues that are going to be hitting us shortly—such as ‘aging in place.’” The designers have noticed clients’ giving unprecedented consideration to universal design, design that makes a home safe and comfortable for people of all ages. As a result, designers are emphasizing accessibility and ease of use throughout the home, not only in the bathroom and shower. “More and more, when I’m working with these very large homes, I just automatically plan for a built-in elevator,” says Diane Boyer.

This longer-term view also considers changes in the family unit. As children grow up and move away, for example, home­owners want the flexibility to close off rarely used rooms in order to conserve fuel and energy yet still have room to handle visits from family.

Green design is another topic increasingly in the spotlight. Design customers, concerned about our nation’s dependency on foreign oil, are acknowledging the need for energy-efficient homes that do not deplete or harm the environment.
Interest in sustainability is driving sales of eco-friendly products from solar units to cleaning solutions, furnishings, water systems, and building materials.

“As we get closer to 2008,” says Rona Spiegel, “I think green design will become a bigger issue. The Olympics will be held in Beijing that year, and I understand that all the buildings being constructed there for those events are green—environmentally friendly structures.”

Any discussion of today’s design trends has to include technology, which now encompasses home security, monitoring, and management in addition to its traditional application to news, information, and entertainment.

TV, of course, was the word on everyone’s lips—and the item appearing in every room. The screen, whether built into the kitchen, fading in through a bathroom mirror, or serving as a large entertainment source, will be even more ubiquitous in the future.

The designers’ challenge, however, is to present technology in a manner that enhances lifestyle without overwhelming atmosphere. Think carefully, for example, before placing a computer station in your master bedroom. “You do not want to have a [potential] workspace in the bedroom,” advises Robin Schultz, the council’s newest member and 2005 winner of the magazine’s Designers’ Choice Awards.
Space redefinition seems to be a trend of its own, with decades-old room perceptions in a state of flux. Barbara Kagan Littman notes the importance of “taking the rooms—all of them—and really evaluating with the clients whether they are necessary. Sometimes,” she says, “the label of a living room is [unnecessary] for a particular client. They don’t ‘live’ there. They live somewhere else in the house.

“We’re teaching clients today to make better use of their space…to have rooms for different things,” Littman says. The new move is toward activity-focused rooms, such as music rooms, craft rooms, wine cellars, and media rooms.
With a state known for its relatively mature—and expensive—housing stock, it’s no surprise that renovation was a big topic. “People will stay, because to buy a home in the same area will be more expensive for them,” Camille Waldron says, and other designers agree. “People are…adding on, in order to get the space they want,” adds Bresin.

Renovation, however, presents challenges in bringing older construction up to code. Committing to an entire project at once, rather than piecemeal, can offer benefits. “It’s much more expensive in the long run,” comments Debra A. Ryan, “to do a property in phases.”

It’s also important to keep furnishings in mind—and in the budget—when planning to build or renovate. If not, homeowners may find themselves with a wealth of new space and no money left to fill it. Diane Boyer suggests a “preconstruction budget for home furnishings. We do a furniture plan with estimated cost, medium value, high-end, or antique end. It’s all laid out before the construction begins.”

As the conversation touched on the traditional design topics of fabrics, art, and accessories, personalization became a focus. Karen Topjian mentioned the way that a carefully selected fabric or rug can bring a room alive for a client. An increasingly popular topic within the design world, environmental psychology, recognizes the importance of the way we relate to our home or office. Several members described special touches that they incorporated into their design that related, sometimes in a whimsical way, to a client’s personal interest or history. Suzan Lucas Santiago spoke of a corporate project that her firm did for a large toolmaker. “We took their favorite-selling tool out of their catalog and actually designed a carpet pattern with it, using it very subtlely in the pattern. You’d never know it, but it was an impact wrench.…To [the client], it was something playful with their business, something that relates back to who they are, in an unexpected way.”

With so much to consider, what do these leading designers believe is essential to successful interior design collaboration? Relationship. “Two designers can have very similar ideas, but how they relate to the client can be very different,” says Schultz. “There has to be a personal level there,” agrees Bresin. “They have to be comfortable being with you every day.”

The relationship factor is especially critical on large-scale projects. Ria E. Gulian recalled a successful project she completed in Burlington County. “I said to the client that, once you make a decision, I’d love to have a meeting with everyone—the architect, the builder, the electronics integrator…. The homeowner pulled us all together to meet. We had a fabulous relationship, everyone respected each other, and no one fell short. It worked out beautifully.”

As the luncheon came to a close, Topjian offered one last suggestion. “Maybe we should all design a house together.” No doubt, it would be a fascinating project.

New Jersey Monthly Design Advisory Council

New Jersey Monthly is pleased to acknowledge the support of its Design Advisory Council. Serving a two-year term, each participating designer is a gold-level winner in the New Jersey chapter of the American Society of Interior Designers’ biannual Design of Excellence Awards competition. Schultz was the lead winner in New Jersey Monthly’s 2005 Designers’ Choice Awards. For more information on these talented designers, we encourage you to visit

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