Today Curbed chats with two promising young designers, Virginia Toledo and Jessica Geller, about their transformation of a bland, modern "bachelor pad" of an apartment in the Long Island City neighborhood of Queens into a comfortable home for a young family of three. Geller and Toledo are partners in the NYC-based design firm id 810, which recently launched Blueprint 810, a web-based service that provides design expertise without the cost of hiring a designer.
Who were the clients? What goals did they have in mind for the space?
Geller: They're a young family, a couple with one young son who is about two years old. The husband works in finance, and the wife is a stay-at-home mom. They have a lot of family coming in from China and staying with them, they entertain a lot with their family. They do love that sort of "hotel" living. A lot of the "inspiration images" they shared with us before we designed the space were hotels. We wanted to give them that sort of feeling but also make it more personal. Home it up a little bit.
It's also about making the apartment into a house, of sorts, because they were previously looking in the suburbs. But the dad realized that his friends and coworkers that lived in the suburbs had all this space and these big homes but they were commuting two hours each way. He preferred to stay closer, because he worked such long hours. So it was really important to us that he feel like he had made a good investment in this place and that he had room to grow.
We're loving this project, mostly because you've done a masterful job of transforming a bland white box into something with character and life. Can you tell us something about where you got your inspiration for the design?
Toledo: It's the white box—we call it the same thing, we run into these spaces all of the time. I think at first what we wanted to tackle was the function of the space, because ironically despite the fact that it's a three-bedroom, the way it's laid out would be more conducive for a bachelor pad and it was a young family who moved into the space. In the before pictures, you can see the kitchen had hardly any counter space, so we asked the wife, "Do you do any cooking?" and she's like, "Absolutely, every single day." She had a ton of pots and pans?this is real family living. On top of that, every weekend they have karaoke for their family, so they need space for 10 to 12 people. So we were like, how are we going to make this space work for this family? They had already bought the apartment, obviously, so we set about figuring out how we could make this kitchen/living/dining area most practical for them. So the first thing was giving them more surface area for the kitchen, and in a creative way. Instead of using your conventional freestanding table with a few chairs—like they had in the model apartment—we gave them a banquette that hugged the walls, which are all angled, so that didn't prove so easy to deal with, either. We had them get a custom dining table that's actually made out of kitchen countertop material. That whole table gets used by them. She'll just set hot pots on the table. That mobile kitchen island also serves as additional serving space and it's on wheels, so then it gets parked behind the sofa.
Toledo: In terms of the finishes, we were trying to bring some texture from the outside. Considering it's all about the view—the building's called "The View"—you walk into the apartment and it's all about the outdoors. We came across that cultured stone that you see that clads all of the kitchen wall and brought that into the foyer, too, which starts to take away from the sterility of the space. And then we needed to fuse that with our client's love of everything that's glitzy and shiny. They were saying things like: "Can we get neon strip lights?" Like it was Vegas or something! We were trying to tone this whole thing down. So we mixed in a lot of textured things in with the shiny and luxe.
Geller: In terms of changing it from a "white box," we didn't go for any painted surfaces; instead, all of our walls are covered in either wallpaper or upholstery, or the stone that we chose. Like Virginia was saying, we wanted to make these spaces feel very textured and stay away from the sterility of the box.
The kid's room—with the space scenes and robots on the wall—is just fantastic. Did you two come up with that on your own or was that one of the clients' requests?
Geller: It was definitely a fusion of both our clients and us. We actually brought that wallpaper that has the robots on it and somehow our client suggested "robots from outer space." The dad wanted his son to have an understanding of space and all that sort of thing, so that's where the fusion came about. In there, we have the one wall that's covered in the robots, and the other one is a custom mural that we had designed. The boy even put his handprint in the moon to, you know, mark his territory. It glows in the dark, and the ceiling is also covered in this mural, with clouds and the night sky. Definitely dramatic.
And where did that robot wallpaper come from anyway?
Geller: It's from Aimée Wilder, out of Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
Did the client reject any of your proposals?
Toledo: I think this is one of the easiest clients we've had. They put a lot of trust in us. They interviewed a couple of people and they came back to us, but they had such an open mind and took to whatever we suggested. What they did do was go shopping one day on their own. They came back with the Armani fabric that you see on the windows in the living room.
Geller: One thing that we wanted to do that didn't end up working out: in the living room you see the wall angles, and we wanted to do a sectional that followed the curve of the wall. But it would've been a completely custom leather sectional and it just didn't end up working out. It's one of the challenges of working in these modern buildings.
Toldeo: Speaking of modern buildings, the windows and glass are great, and the views are obviously breathtaking, but if you go in there midday you can't watch TV or anything because it's just so bright. The drapery is motorized, and the mom has to close it up during the day because of the glare. We also added a protective UV treatment to the windows just to cut the glare; basically it's a tint that has no color to it. That was a major problem, because there's also the glare from the surrounding glass buildings in the neighborhood. So you're not just getting the sun and the water, but the bounce back off of the neighbors.
A number of your projects seem to be in older buildings. Was it hard to adapt to this modern project?
Geller: It's funny because they're actually not older buildings for the most part. We've very rarely had any sort of loft or pre-war buildings, but that's the design style that we love, so we transform all our spaces and add all the architectural detail, from the molding to the trim work, to make it look like this home that's been their forever.
Toledo: Most of the projects on our website, when we got them, were some form of "white box." All the trim work and the ceiling detail was a product of us designing it that way. Ironically, so many of our clients also love that architecture, but end up buying these post-war apartments that lack any of the charm they're going for, or at least that architectural sensibility. We go to work making the bones look good and then start going into the finishes.
Geller: That was probably the biggest compliment you could ever give us.
Could we talk a bit more about your firm, id 810 Design Group? How did you two come to team up?
Toledo: So I started the company about six years ago and then about a year into it the company was doing really well and I put out an ad on Craigslist for another designer to help me. After interviewing a bunch of people, I hired Jessica and we hit it off.
You both had a personal history in construction, correct?
Toldeo: Both of our fathers were in the construction business in one way or another. I went to school for interior design, worked for a hospitality design firm for some time, and then went to a design-build firm, which was a lot of construction and construction management, but I wanted to get back into the interiors side of it so that's when I started the company. I don't think we'd be nearly as successful if we didn't have that construction knowledge. For one, we know what can be built and what can't, but we also have a good sense of what things cost to build. That saves our clients a lot of time, and time—in New York, with the way that buildings work with approving projects and getting permits—is of the essence. We'll meet clients for the first time and we can take their lofty ideas and turn them into something that's feasible. We can also help them deal with their contractors, who aren't always easy to work with.
Geller: And I actually have a master's degree in social work; I was working with children who were hospitalized and I loved doing that but it was very challenging emotionally. At one point, I was given the opportunity to work on redesigning some rooms in the hospital. Design had always been a passion of mine, but I never realized it was a career option. Once I got my feet wet, I decided to leave and become a designer.
What's Blueprint 810? How did it come about?
Toledo: Well, we realized there was a major gap in the industry. People have been contacting us, wanting to hire a design firm, but don't necessarily have the budget to work with a designer or use the traditional method of acquiring furnishings [through "to the trade" sales]. So we decided to meld the design world with the consumer world, giving our clients the ability to implement things on their own. The concept is that clients fill out a form on the website that tells us everything about their needs and likes and how they live. We take that and in four weeks we turn around a comprehensive plan for their room, with furniture, where to purchase it, paint colors, wallpaper?everything they would need. And everything we suggest is accessible to consumers: nothing is "trade only." Basically it's using our design concepts but letting them implement them.