While some may love the clean, modern lines and sleek finishes of a contemporary new build apartment, there are a few things these so-called "white box" spaces often lack: One, a sense of personality and two, ample storage for books, object, and any other knickknacks the non-minimalist among us might treasure.
That was the issue presented to designer Marissa Bero when she signed on to renovate an apartment on Fulton Street in Manhattan for a design-loving couple. While the duo initially tapped Bero to renovate their kitchen, it soon became apparent that the builder-grade apartment wasn't working with their lifestyle-which includes a love of books, music, travel, and entertaining.
"Their biggest issue was not having enough storage for the things that were important to them," says Bero. So, instead of starting with the kitchen, "the first order of business was to design a built-in bookshelf," explains the designer. The resulting full-wall shelf system (inspired by one at the Soho House) set the tone for the rest of the house: collected yet elegant, eclectic yet orderly, and somewhere between modern and traditional.
"It’s an interesting relationship because one of the homeowners leans more traditional and the other is more modern," Bero explains. "They wanted to hire a designer to sort of help them bring those two styles together-and that’s my MO. I love an eclectic mix."
Merging those two styles became the jumping-off point for Bero to create a design that transformed the white box into a welcoming, personal home. Here's how she did it.
While the wall-to-wall shelving was initially conceived as a method of dealing with the apartment's lack of storage, it ended up becoming more of a design statement in itself. "It was a fun way to display a lot of their collectibles," which otherwise might be stashed away, says Bero. The couple are avid travelers and have a lot of "tchotchkes picked up around the world," explains the designer. Here, those objects take pride of place alongside an extensive book collection, assortment of records, and mix of art.
Bero designed a custom sectional for the space to allow for plenty of flexible seating, making the room as comfortable for a house full of guests as it is for the couple and their dogs.
Clients coming into a project with a baby grand piano is a major consideration in a not-huge apartment. But instead of stashing the instrument away, Bero decided to make it a focal point. "It was fun to figure out how to create a more defined dining area with the piano," she says. Plus, with it out in the open, it's more likely to get used-especially during dinner parties.
The couple's traditional-modern balance might best be on display in the kitchen, where counters and a backsplash in classic Carrara marble are juxtaposed with sleek white cabinets. To add sone visual interest alongside the minimal hardware, Bero swathed a row of shelves in architectural mesh. Floating shelves in marble also maintain that balance between classic and modern.
The bedroom is where Bero's "eclectic mix" really comes to life. "They had some pieces already that they wanted to incorporate and then the wallpaper and accents really bring it all together," says the designer. She repurposed certain pieces (the armchair was once in the living room), and spotlit others, like the Queen Elizabeth artwork above the bed. The subtle wallpaper provides texture without competing with the mix.
In the guest room, Bero focused on establishing luxury within a small footprint. "It’s not large but it has all the bells and the whistles," she says of the space: "The luxe finishes, custom drapes and wallpaper, the beautiful accessories-I think it feels very special and unique and like a place I’d want to spend time as a guest."
To maximize space, she swapped nightstands for two floating shelves, each fitted with narrow lamps, and employed a campaign-style chest to serve as combination console/dresser. In space that size, she says “it’s important to make every piece count.”
The secret of success is to do the common thing uncommonly well.