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Elizabeth Bolognino's Traditional-Yet-Modern Tribeca Loft

Welcome to Why This Works, a new Curbed column in which decorator and former shelter-magazine editor Alexa Stevenson looks point-blank at professionally decorated rooms and breaks down the elements that make it work. Have a suggestion for someone whose work should be showcased? Do let us know.

A loft inside an old cast-iron building in Manhattan's Tribeca neighborhood started out life as an empty white box with great bones and ended up being a dream project for NYC-based interior designer Elizabeth Bolognino. The Ralph Lauren and Yabu Pushelberg alum was tasked with giving the space a cohesive design with a classic approach. "They are traditionalist," Bolognino says of the clients, "but they wanted their space updated to feel young and modern." Below, the details.

1. "I wanted the client to have some versatility if down the road they wanted to change the look and feel of the room, so I tried to maintain the colors in the accessories," says Bolognino. "This is a great way to experiment with color. Everything that has color can be removed and changed, if down the road you want to revamp and start over."
2. In a space with super-high ceilings, most people forget about two-thirds of the room: what's above your head. Here, Bolognino used some of the usual tricks, like floor-to-ceiling curtains, and accentuated the height by embracing repeating rectangles. "I painted the panes black in order to accentuate the shape and the height of the windows, and commissioned artist Marilu Nordenflycht to create line drawings framed in that rectangular shape," she explains. "The space feels less squat as a result of bringing the eye up."
3. It's easy to simply arrange books on a bookcase and give little thought to how they are styled, but Bolognino's a fan of using empty shelves as an opportunity to show a little personality and add some color: "I wanted the books to represent how the clients live. They are young and fun, and that’s why some of the books are a little haphazard. I specifically chose books with graphic covers and put it at the back of the bookshelves to create small vignettes on the individual shelves. It's a small thing with a huge impact."
4. Bolognino designed the millwork and the Regency-style fireplace after one she found in London. She toned down the traditional feel by stripping down the base and the crown of the millwork unit. "I modernized the piece by lacquering it in a white satin and stripping it of ornament," she explains. "I gave it more of transitional feel which really works in this space, while keeping some of the historical context."
5. The loft has such high ceilings that two seating areas make it feel instantly cozier. "Most people with a room this size would put a sofa against the three windows and add a couple of chairs," says Bolognino, "but I wanted the client to be able to have one more experience in the room without it feeling cluttered. Having only one functionality in a room this size is just not doing this space justice."

· Elizabeth Bolognino Interiors [official site]
· All Why This Works columns [Curbed National]