Ellie Cullman's career in design began indirectly although fairly simply. It began with an awful screenplay. The finished screenplay, written with her close friend, the late Hedi Kravis, was submitted to an Oscar-winning producer who quickly deemed it absolutely terrible. As luck would have it, though, he had just fired his third decorator and was impressed by their lush descriptions of rooms and hired the ladies to finish his country house.
Twenty-nine years later, Cullman & Kravis is one of the top decorating firms in the country and counts Oprah and Candice Bergen as clients. Projects range from a timber and stone ranch on 10,000 acres in Colorado to a French forties-inspired pied-à-terre at the Plaza hotel in Manhattan. The firm started in 1984 when eighties excess dominated. "We were a counterpoint to the 80s," says Cullman, "everything we did had a calm and classic feel."
Clients came to her for her expertise researching, authenticating, and documenting art and antiques collections, and her signature quickly became a smart mix of 18th century antiques with custom-made upholstered pieces. But as the firm has grown, Cullman's signature has started to evolve. "I love change. In the past five to 10 years we've become more modern in our approach. Nobody wants all brown furniture! Our work feels younger and fresher and gives us more latitude—we can truly do it all," says Cullman.
Cullman's new attitude and fresh definition of traditional liven up a living room in Palm Beach. Matchy-matchy and classical antiques overload is replaced with a silk shag carpet, pecky cypress beams, Venetian mirrors and a mix of antique, vintage and custom furniture. Yes, those are matching sofas, but a rectilinear coffee table plays foil to one with a glass top and serpentine base. "You have to think about a variety of forms," says Cullman. "This room really embraces the mix giving it that Palm Beach aesthetic without being fussy." Cullman's trademark refinement of detail gives the space its bright and fresh appeal: Orange drapes with delicate embroidery, blown glass that looks like floating sculpture works as a room divider, a 19th century side table with ivory inlay.
"You can't put a stamp on this style of decorating," says Cullman. "And that's what makes it so special. We're embracing so many elements. There's a big component of fun but yet it's still tranquil. This is not a recipe you've seen before."
· [Cullman & Kravis]
· [The Detailed Interior]