July 21, 2017

'From Classic to Contemporary: Decorating with Cullman & Kravis'

Ellie Cullman and Tracey Pruzan redefine traditional interiors with a modern perspective in their new book, 'From Classic to Contemporary: Decorating with Cullman & Kravis.'

by New York Spaces

From Classic to Contemporary: Decorating with Cullman & Kravis
From Classic to Contemporary: Decorating with Cullman & Kravis.

NYS: What made you decide to write another book, From Classic to Contemporary: Decorating with Cullman & Kravis, with Tracey Pruzan? How did you choose each interior in the book?

Ellie Cullman of Cullman & Kravis: We're living in a time where websites bombard with one-line style tips for do-it-yourselfers, yet glossy images in shelter and lifestyle magazines tease us with an unattainable lifestyle of the rich and famous.

Tracey and I wrote this book to demonstrate the best approach to re-examining the foundations of design. We redefine traditional interiors with a modern perspective. We chose the projects for the book expressly to illustrate how to create interiors that feel relevant today without foregoing the seminal tenets of design.

NYS: How does it depart from your other two books?

Ellie Cullman: Our first book Decorating Master Class, which was published ten years ago, provided a comprehensive look at the "big picture' by exploring all the rules and basic of design. Then in 2013, The Detailed Interior focused on the small things, to see what makes our work look so complete, layered and most of all distinctive.

NYS: We are quite in love with your home. Tell us about your latest design experiments there?

From Classic to Contemporary: Decorating with Cullman & Kravis
"Oceanfront Sophistication."

Ellie Cullman: I think of my own home as a laboratory—a place to take risks that you might not do in a client's home. I recently felt some of the rooms looked dated, too dark and serious. The first thing I did—and something I always recommend—is to start with a new rug. I found a Keshan that was calmer and lighter than my previous living room rug. The other "freshen ups" evolved from the rug. I swapped out the swags and jabots on the curtains for much less fussy and cooler ivory silk panels. Then, several pieces of furniture that were previously covered in velvet and silk damask were re-upholstered in lighter, more neutral color fabrics, some with metallic threads. I also used modern art (Gottleib, Frankenthaler) as a counterpoint to the antiques and I introduced modern lighting such as the Roberto Ride and Willy Daro lamps.

NYS: Why do all designs orbit around a rug for you? We find that fascinating!

Ellie Cullman: A rug is the one item in a room about which all other design decisions are made. Its style, pattern, content and colors set the stage for your home, especially the living room rug, which is really the linchpin for the whole process. If you change the rug, you need to be prepared to make some other possibly major changes

From Classic to Contemporary: Decorating with Cullman & Kravis
"Living in Color."

NYS: How many craftsmen do you work with to put together your interiors and why is this important? We particularly love the custom red stucco walls in your own home.

Ellie Cullman: We literally work with an army of craftsmen to produce our interiors: Upholsterers, curtain makers, weavers, embroiderers, decorating painters, Eglomise (reverse painting on glass) artisans, marble crafters, plasters molding fabricators, metalworkers, furniture and cabinetry makers, the list goes on and on. And not only are these artisans US based, we work with craftsmen from Europe, India and Canada as well, whose artistry and attention to detail is extraordinary and what makes our interiors so special.

NYS: We loved the "Living in Color" Miami house. How much does the environment influence your choice of color, look, and feel? Are you always so versatile?

Ellie Cullman: Our clients—a family with three young children—wanted an interior that referenced the home's location but was not too modern and didn't reflect a typical Miami look. The color palette was inspired by the water, the sky, and the beach.

From Classic to Contemporary: Decorating with Cullman & Kravis
"Living in Color."

Instead of painting an entire room in one color, we blocked it out within the rooms—sometimes on just one wall, sometimes all over. This animated the decorating that suited the client's goals in the best way. In the entry, one bold lemon-yellow wall is like a vertical welcome mat. In the living room, a lacquered band of orange paint wraps around the white walls just above and below eye level to frame the views and the art. In the master bathroom, the ceiling glows turquoise and in a little girl's bedroom, translucent squares of sherbet toned paint overlap and change.

We carried the idea of bold planes of color into the fabric and other furnishings as well

For those of us living with harsh winters, there is always the fantasy of moving into a brand-new home in a warm climate with big glass walls and tons of natural light. In the dead of winter, the idea of a home in the South gleaming with color and reflective surfaces sounds like heaven. And in the summer, the bright surfaces are just as refreshing, especially when you have great outdoor spaces to enjoy as well.

NYS: "Southern Hospitality" stopped us in our tracks. You cleverly juxtaposed traditional with modern in a way that was incredibly fresh. Tell us about it!

From Classic to Contemporary: Decorating with Cullman & Kravis
From Classic to Contemporary: Decorating with Cullman & Kravis.

Ellie Cullman: Our clients wanted their home to reflect the city's historic heritage as well as its location in the south. It's a very grand and proper house, but it's also airy, light, and cheerful, especially the color palette—off white, white, and refreshing sherbet tones that promise a cool relief from Houston's climate. The minimal palette also helps maintain a good balance between the more formal architectural elements, the gardens, and the more modern sculptural furniture and art.

Often like the homeowner's own contemporary art collection you have to design what we call a floating furniture plan because the canvases are so over-scale that a painting would never fit above the back of a sofa. With the extremely high ceilings in this residence, however, we were able to put many important works of art above sofas, mantels and sideboards. The ability to put furniture against a wall adds a traditional feeling to our design.

NYS: In "Oceanfront Sophistication" we were blown away by the dining room and the bedroom. Tell us about why the dining room is so striking to the eye and how you knew to add the perfect lamps and dressers to cause such an impact in the bedroom!

From Classic to Contemporary: Decorating with Cullman & Kravis
From Classic to Contemporary: Decorating with Cullman & Kravis.

Ellie Cullman: The dining room is an eclectic mix of furniture, fabrics, and lighting including a custom table designed by Cullman & Kravis and fabricated to our design from bronze with a shaded tonal Eglomise top, an ethereal chandelier fashioned from dried dandelions, and a set of French 1940s sycamore chairs attributed to André Arbus, upholstered in faux suede.

The commanding view of the ocean dominates the master bedroom which exudes a feeling of serenity because of the textures of the silk carpet, the woven bed throw and the boarded ceiling. Designed in neutral colors for comfort and tranquility, the room could have felt flat without the pops of the marine- blue lamps, vases and the pale blue armchair

NYS: "Downtown Eclectic" is incredibly chic and interesting. What is the art of mixing and matching without causing utter chaos?

Ellie Cullman: Our clients were determined to push their comfort zone, they hoped to apply a bold palette and to adopt an energetic mix of furniture and objects from vintage finds to contemporary custom pieces.

The rooms are filled with an unconventional range of furniture styles. Custom pieces such as the metal-edged mahogany dining room table, which was hand made in NYC, and the living room coffee table with its gleaming metal base feel very current and chic. Purchased at the Paris flea market and placed between two windows, the Anglo Indian Calamander wood campaign chest from 1837 hints at travel and worlds away, and adds to the harmonious blend.

From Classic to Contemporary: Decorating with Cullman & Kravis
From Classic to Contemporary: Decorating with Cullman & Kravis.

NYS: What is one of your favorite residences in the book and why?

Ellie Cullman: It's a little like asking who your favorite child is—you never have a favorite. My incredible team and I have loved working on all the projects in the book—and each of them is so different. We're blessed to have clients for whom we've done multiple projects. We get to know their likes, their styles, their needs so our rapport with them is comfortable, which makes the design journey we take together all the more pleasurable

NYS: The style of inventiveness shown throughout is quite breathtaking. What inspires you to create things like the rose gold glaze you applied in a particular dining room's walls?

Ellie Cullman: Inspiration comes from everywhere. This particular wall color came from the interlocking Cartier gold bracelets that I wear every day which are rose gold, yellow gold and white gold. There was something very exciting about contracting the rose gold on f the walls with the silverware on the table and the yellow gold tones of the Lee Krasner painting on the wall.

NYS: What would you most like people to take from your new book?

From Classic to Contemporary: Decorating with Cullman & Kravis
"Rooms with a View."

Ellie Cullman: Interior design has evolved to keep pace with the world we live in today. Yet is still about proportion, composition and a balance of colors and textures that you respond to. But, today, it's also about the mix – the fusion of classic pieces and new colors and materials with a thoroughly modern sensibility. To design interiors today that feel current, relevant and smart, let the steadfast design principals guide you, don't throw them away. Readers will see how today's interiors reflect the modern edge that feels fresh, timeless and just right for today's lifestyle.

NYS: When and where can our readers pick up your new book?

Ellie Cullman: From Classic to Contemporary: Decorating with Cullman & Kravis will be published and available on September 19. It is sold everywhere.

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