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Etienne Coffinier and Ed Ku's Upper East Side Sitting Room

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Welcome to Why This Works, 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.

Thanks to the wizardry of Etienne Coffinier and Ed Ku, a tiny room in an Upper East Side brownstone now lives on as this cozy and cohesive sitting room. The designers, the pair behind the Manhattan firm Coffinier Ku, are known for their French-trained aesthetic and their custom furnishings—not to mention a certain fearlessness when it comes to whimsy (see their room in this year's Kips Bay Decorator Show House). "Overall, we wanted to create a very calm room—one where you could come and truly relax," they explain. "We also love that this room doesn’t shout at you but that you discover more and more interesting design details the longer you spend here."

1. People often worry that large furniture makes a small room feel smaller when, in fact, the opposite can be true. The trick is having something designed for the space. "We designed this large sectional, which runs almost the entire length of two walls in the room," say Coffinier and Ku. "It opens up the room so that it feels spacious, and is highly functional: this piece can fit a very comfortable amount of people for a get together."
2. Because of the size of the room, the designers custom-made select pieces of furniture, such as the coffee table, which seems to float. A cerused oak forms the top of the cantilevered table as well as the sofa arms: "We played with materials to maximize the usable space for a table."
3. "We used white sheers with a loose thread detail from Nobilis from wall to wall, creating an expansive feel," say the designers. "It helps unify the room when the sheers do not only go around the windows." They also help solve the problem of unevenly placed windows. "The right window butts into the corner and the left window had over a foot of wall to the corner. With a continuous sheer, you don’t notice these problems. We also created a curtain pocket with the crown molding so that the head of the drapery is hidden."
4. About that fireplace: "We were lucky enough to have a fireplace in this room, so we decided to accentuate that feature by cladding the section of wall with the fireplace in cerused oak." The wood paneling creates a clean, modern look that eliminates the need for a mantel. The designers also hung a funky mirror over the fireplace, which helps open up the space.
5. To echo the coffee table, Coffiner and Ku designed the end tables with alternating slabs of cerused oak, leather edging, and Lucite. The designers also amped up the drama by putting spotlights behind the tables. "It’s a great trick—especially with Lucite—because the light reflects within the slab."
· Coffinier Ku Design [official site]
· All Why This Works columns [Curbed National]