The Great How-To 2014

Good design has a way of changing how we live in our homes. Sure aesthetics are important, but that’s just the start. Most homes, like the shirt purchased off the rack, cover the basics with walls, a roof and floors. They work, but they could fit much better. A designer, like an attentive tailor, can make a house a home by adjusting it to the way it’s lived in.

For the second year in a row we called out to designers across Long Island to find out about their successes. There was just one criteria: Show us a project you completed that was particularly tricky and overcame some major design obstacle. This year’s round up of entrants harmonize ideal fits with fashionable forms. In every case—from an impossible gravel slope on the North Fork to a living room that looked like a college dorm in Woodbury—these designers changed the way a space worked with smart solutions.

1. Dual Purpose Living Room
Typical of the 1950s ranch-style, the entry space of this Nesconset home connects with the living room in a long and narrow shoebox. This family needed two things from it: A place to gather while watching TV and a slightly more formal space to greet guests—a place to pause before entering the home. Mary Meyer of Mary Meyer Interiors stretched a $5,000 budget with an assortment of eclectic styles and took advantage of the home’s structure.

“I made two zones because that room is awkward and large and the beam that holds the roof up created that natural transition between the rooms,” Meyer said. Guests enter the front door into a small seating area with a traditional settee and Danish modern chairs around a pair of round wicker tables. Beyond that is where the family relaxes on a large sofa. Meyer combed Craigslist to eek the most out of the budget while logging long hours in the car to find key elements as far way as the Hudson Valley.

2. Hill House
Most architects would rather follow nature’s lead, even when that means limiting designs before pen reaches paper. The steep hill their client owned, situated in Peconic with water views, gave Glynis Berry and Hideaki Ariizumi, the partners behind Studio a/b Architects, one option: Go straight up. “The views you wanted and the ability to accommodate an adult and three children on the inside is what shaped the building’s view on the outside,” Ariizumi said. The solution was a small building footprint with four floors separated by short staircases. The result is a design that remains open—someone on the mezzanine level can see virtually the entire interior—while maintaining a level of privacy. “We used the decks as a way to expand the livable space without busting the budget,” Berry said.

3. Elegant Rustic Kitchen
Not all remodels need an infusion of bold color. Debbie Seiferth of Fleur de Lis Home Design proved that by following classic design rules and paying close attention to texture, a room can pull guests in with layers of detail. Guiding those details was conscious effort to design a space in Garden City that is easy to live with.

“I used elements in this house that are low maintenance,” Seiferth said. “Like the hammered copper island top, distressed cabinets and textured porcelain tile on the floor that hides dirt.” The warm tones link the kitchen to the living room and the covered deck, which Seiferth designed to look and feel like a masculine lake house. The generous 20×20-foot deck looks onto a landscape that comes alive with lighting at night and, because it’s covered, it can be used anytime. “It creates another room and you can sit out there when it’s raining and it’s lovely.” That deck also prevents UV rays from damaging the living room furniture, allowing Seiferth to create a wall of windows with an 8-foot-wide opening.

4. A Living Room Graduates
Some designs can be traced back to one touchstone, one key element that influences every other aspect of a room. This Woodbury living room, designed by CP Interiors’ Crystal Photiou, owes its colors and patterns to the green onyx fireplace surround. “The client said she’d been living in a house that looked like a college dorm and it was time to grow up.” After showing her the sample, the design took off. “The fabrics came from that green color, the rugs came from that and the furniture—it all built off the green onyx.” The room was wide open with little architectural detail, which Photiou addressed with a centered gas fireplace flanked by custom wenge wood built-in cabinets. Photiou, who previously sourced fabrics for the likes of Macy’s and Magaschoni, knows how to use the material. One example is the way she contrasted the geometric pattern on the valance with the organic one on the rug. Seating is handled by a pair of custom sofas, which replaced a worn sectional.

5. Addition by Addition
Knitting together two existing buildings in Water Mill—both of which were built by modernist Andrew Geller in 1962 and deemed unchangeable by the town—was a challenge. Set them amid a sprawling property featuring a tennis court, wetlands and a quirky yew garden with thousands of irises, while adding in a new home, and the design would have been harder to resolve with an overly designed solution.

But Harry Bates and Paul Masi of Bates Masi + Architects found the solution adjacent to the problem: Decks. “Geller always had these boardwalks tethering the parts together,” Masi said. Along with designing a larger residence, the duo pulled the existing two closer using an elevated walkway. “You try to find something that is basic to solve your solution,” Masi said. The decks inform the aesthetics from the outside in, while the same wide plank mahogany flows through the dining room, kitchen and living room. The interior is formal yet relaxed with a blurred line between eating and kitchen spaces.