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The Art Of The A-List

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Interior designer Anelle Gandelman discusses how her diverse background influences her projects, the indirect path she took to opening her New York-based firm, A-List Interiors, and a stunning Hudson Valley farmhouse renovation.

Tell us about your upbringing: I was born and raised in South Africa. I studied art in high school, and I won a couple of regional and national prizes in painting. After high school, I came to the US with the idea that I was going to study fine arts and major in painting. I went to Parsons School of Design but then ended up working in advertising because it was huge back then.

Did your home country influence you creatively? We’re a former colony, so a lot of our education and architecture are based on Western Europe and continental design, mostly British and French. I think that my aesthetic has always been a bit more classical because of that. Classical design has always been my passion, and its principles of balance and proportion come through in my business.

You opened an art studio before A-List Interiors. Take us on that journey: I had an internship during college doing textile design and developing home furnishings for a startup called DwellStudio, where I eventually became head of design. After a few years, I found myself always stuck in meetings, doing spreadsheets, and going to factories. I really missed being creative, even though I enjoyed the business side of things. To fulfill both my creative desires and continue my interest in business, I entered the American Art program at Sotheby’s Institute of Art; my experience there inspired me to open up my art gallery in 2007.

When the recession of 2008 hit, people bought less artwork. So, as a way to diversify my income, I’d take artwork to people to see it in context in their homes. They’d then ask me for my advice on other things, like wallpaper and furniture. The interior design part of the business quickly started blossoming, and I realized that I was more passionate about it. In 2012, I decided to close my art business and dedicate myself fully to interior design, and that’s when I started A-List Interiors.

How does your art background benefit your designs? I’ve found that painting and drawing train your eye. So when I’m putting a design together, I’m thinking of it based on the rules of composition: focal points, rhythm, repetition, and even color theory. I think my art background really helped strengthen those skills as a designer.

What were the owners looking for in this Hudson Valley farmhouse project? A husband and wife who live in Brooklyn Heights were up visiting friends for the weekend and, on a whim, they decided it’d be great to have a country home and found this property, which was a working farm. The husband is also from South Africa, coincidentally, where he grew up on farms, so it appealed to him. The first thing the wife said to us was that she didn’t want it to be too serious.

She wanted it to feel like it was historic, but she also wanted it to be a bit quirky and tongue in cheek.

How was it both a renovation and a new construction? It had been added on to around the 1980s, but it was a really bad addition. We got rid of that addition, brought the house down basically to the fireplace column and the foundation, and salvaged some wood. The rest was a new construction.

How involved were the clients in the project? We did a lot of antique shopping with them in Connecticut and New York, and we combined these finds with the wife’s family heirlooms. Most of the art pieces were bought at auction. They also wanted each room to have a theme, like Downton Abbey, where someone would come to your house and you’d tell them to put their things in the Yellow Room or in the American Room. They wanted their rooms to have these fun names. They even named the home: Sunnyside.

Is there an architectural style you leaned toward with this project? A lot was based on Federal-style architecture and furnishings. I sourced from a store in Connecticut, which produces Federal-style furniture in England with some of the original multigenerational furniture makers and then brings them to the US. So, for example, the dining room table and dining room chairs are brand new, but they’re made exactly the same way they were made two hundred years ago.

How else did you balance the old-yet-new vibe in the dining room? We wanted it to feel like people could come for the weekend and relax, so we used bright teal paint on the fireplace to update it, added a lot of color and a printed grass cloth on the walls to make it feel a little more casual, and mixed in more traditional furniture and light-colored window treatments.

What other rooms or spaces were your favorites to design? I love the staircase because of its ample light and because I love Gracie wallpaper, a hand-painted wallpaper that requires a lot of time perfecting and antiquing. It’s a great connector between the original part of the house and the new part of the house.

I also love the kitchen and the mudroom. The kitchen feels indestructible—we salvaged the beams from another part of the house—but it’s also warm and inviting, open and light, and it can handle a ton of people for meals. The mudroom has heated floors with reclaimed tiles, so it’s really functional for the area’s harsh winters.

What I like overall about the house is that it’s stylish and it has great pieces, but it feels very comfortable: when you walk in there, you feel like you can just plop down and won’t ruin anything. We balanced the aesthetics with durability, making sure the materials we used were hard to ruin because they have young children and were going to have guests coming through every weekend.

Sometimes people won’t invest in quality because they’re worried about things getting ruined, but it’s actually the opposite: higher-quality items are more durable and stand up to a lot more wear. Over time, your house is going to look better if you invest in quality pieces. In this house, they really did.

What inspired some of the color schemes? The teal was a direct inspiration from a wall color in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. We found a color there that was similar but more muted and historic, brightened it up, and made it a high gloss to make it more current. In the kitchen, we went lighter. There was going to be a lot of activity on the patio, too, so we connected those colors with the landscape. The clients wanted it to be a happy, sunny space, so we used a lot of oranges and yellows.

In the themed bedrooms, we started with different elements in each room. In the American Room, we found a wallpaper that was white and blue with porcelain plates, and we built the room around that. The Purple Room was also based on the wallpaper. In the master bedroom, we fell in love with a beautiful coral-colored ombré linen, which inspired that space.

We also made sure that we were careful about how each color palette was flowing into the next, always asking, “As you move through the space, are colors complementing each other well?” For instance, the American Room shares a bathroom with another room, so we kept the bathroom more neutral to connect the two.

Talk to us about the outdoor entertaining areas: The property is massive: around 150 acres. We wanted the outdoor spaces to feel like a stepping stone between the house and the landscape. One patio faces the lake, where they spend a lot of their time, and the other patio off the study is on the other side of the house, so we used more cool tones in there.

How much do you enjoy the client-designer relationship? I really enjoy it. I’ve become more particular about which projects I’ll take on because I spend a lot of time with my clients. Many will hire us for multiple projects, so I want to make sure there’s a good relationship. In the beginning, it’s like a first date: I don’t really know the other person. By the end of the project, trust has been established, and I really know what they respond to and what they need from us to make it a success. As a designer, I’m changing people’s lives to some degree. When people are happy that I helped create their home, it’s very satisfying.

What’s next for A-List Interiors? We’re starting to work on more projects outside the tristate area, including Nashville, Chicago, and Philadelphia, and we may potentially have projects overseas. We’re also adding to the team, but I want to keep the firm small with more of a boutique feel because it’s important to me that I work with every client and create with them. Plus, I just love witnessing that reaction where they can’t believe it’s their home—it’s the best feeling.

Color Schemes and DIY Dreams

jest-cafe

Avid DIYer Mila Moraga-Holz had design sense instilled in her from a young age. Despite growing up in a remote part of South America, she learned the importance of creating beautiful spaces with the tools you are given—a talent and passion she documents through her design-and-lifestyle blog, Jest Café, and in the intricate renovation projects she takes on with her Los Angeles home.

Where did you grow up, and what was your childhood like? I grew up in the south of Chile, far away from the rest of the world, but I still felt connected to it by my parents. I was surrounded by nature and love. Growing up, my mother and father filled our home with beautiful things. They designed our house from the ground up, and they decorated it with art, plants, and fun furniture—specifically rustic and vintage items. Our home was carefully curated, which is not an easy thing to do when you live so remotely.

Have you always had a passion for expressing yourself creatively through design? Was this something you discovered at an early age? My mom always asked my opinion when decorating my bedroom, and she supported my crazy ideas, like painting all the walls different colors. I was also very interested in DIY projects and loved doing needlework, but I didn’t know of anybody who did these things for a living, so I didn’t pursue them as a career. My parents were design aficionados, but in their daily lives my mom owned a very successful cordonería, or sewing goods store, and my dad was a lawyer; my world was very, very small.

When did you first start doing your own interior design work? I have tried to bring something special to every room and home I’ve ever lived in, but I started to actively pursue my passion for design in 2015 when I started my blog, where I was inspired by other bloggers to do what I love.

How did you choose a name for your blog? Is there any significance behind it? I wanted a name that wasn’t too serious but that embodied a place where people could gather, be entertained, talk, and have fun. I want my readers to laugh and feel connected to a community.

I took the word “jest” from the book Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace, which talks about the importance of entertainment in our lives and how the pleasures we choose define who we are. In the end, though, I just liked how the words looked together.

Where or what do you turn to for inspiration for your projects? I subscribe to a lot of design magazines. Architectural Digest Spain is my favorite, but Instagram is another important resource. I have saved many images from these sources that help me come up with new ideas.

What is the first step you take when embarking on a new project for your home? Do you look at each room as a separate element or try to renovate the space more holistically? I start with an object or an image that inspires me, and I move on from there. I definitely keep all the rooms in mind when decorating a space, especially in my home because it is very small—nine hundred square feet—so the flow between rooms is particularly important. I like the door frames to act as windows to the next space, which means that the color palettes have to work together.

It’s easy to see your appreciation of color in your spaces. How do you go about selecting a color scheme? I get inspiration from nature, among other places. Any colors that work well together in nature will work well together in your home. I also pay attention to the shade of colors that I see throughout the day, and I try to use the ones that inspire me in my house. To narrow them down, I take a photo of a palette I like (a flower, for example) and I find matches in Photoshop or the Pantone app to come up with a final color scheme. As much as I like color, I like to keep a room within a palette and I try not to go too crazy with it.

How do you balance the color transition from one room to another? I think the best decision is an informed one. I take my time when choosing a color. First, I look at the possibilities in Photoshop, and then I go to the paint store to get a lot of sample patches that I stick to the wall. I live with them on the wall for days until I can narrow down the choices to three. I buy paint samples of those choices to paint large patches on the wall, and, again, I live with them for a few days. I pay attention to how the colors change throughout the day until I am sure which one is the right one.

How do you decide what furniture to incorporate into each room? My first thought when looking for furniture is the price. I have a budget, and the furniture I choose has to be within that budget. My next considerations are color and shape. I like statement furniture that is different, but my husband cares more about comfort, so I need to keep that in mind, too.

Tell us a bit about your most recent home project and your thought processes behind it: My most recent renovation was my kitchen, which I did when I was eight months pregnant. That room started with a color: berry. I knew I wanted the kitchen cabinets to be painted in a fun hue, and I ended up using a color inspired by Farrow & Ball’s Radicchio. After that, everything else followed. Creating a room—deciding on shapes, textures, colors, lighting, and tiles—is a wonderful process that I love. Seeing it all come together is so exciting! It gives me life. I know it sounds corny, but it’s true.

What is most challenging about embarking on a new DIY or renovation project? The most challenging aspect is envisioning the end product. I am good at seeing the big picture, but mistakes happen, and sometimes I need to take detours. A good quality I have is that I make fast decisions and don’t dwell in self-doubt too much. Plus, when you have a small budget, there is not much room for different options or for making mistakes.

Why are plants and flowers important to you, and how do you feel they contribute to the look of a space? Plants were a major decoration item in my home when I was growing up, so I naturally incorporate them into my home as an adult. They warm up a room and make it come alive.

Did you conceptualize and paint the murals, like the ones in your kitchen and living room, yourself? How did you create them? The mural in my living room was inspired by a textile by Roberto Burle Marx, and I created the mural in the kitchen with Adobe Sketch.

Do you have any exciting projects coming up? I am working on an affordable and colorful home goods line. It’s taking a while to get it off the ground because I have three boys and designing is not my full-time job, but it will happen soon.

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Taking Your Decor from Summer to Fall

With summer on the outs, it’s time to think about switching up your decor in time for fall. Colors are shifting, leaves are falling, and the weather is turning. Take inspiration from the great indoors and switch-up that interior!

Make easy switches

Accents like throw pillows, sheets, and blankets are great ways to add autumnal colors into your home. Warmer colors like shades of red and orange are ideal, and can really bring that fall touch into your living space.

Use this as an excuse to clean

Spring cleaning doesn’t mean that a giant declutter project only happens in the spring. While you’re in the middle of taking down the old and putting up the new, clean your space as well. Dust off the mantle, sweep the floors, and ensure that you have a blank canvas going into this interior switch-up.

Fragrant fall touches

Few things take us to a new season quite like certain smells. Candles like ground cinnamon, chai, sandalwood, pecan pie, and of course, pumpkin spice, are scentsational additions to any home!

Consider adding lighting

The days are slowly, but surely, getting shorter, meaning you may want to think about putting additional lighting around your home. Even something as simple as tea lights or small lanterns could make a big difference when the sun sets.

Take inspiration from nature

Fall foliage is one of nature’s finest gifts, so why not put it to use? Get crafty and save money all at the same time. Clay leaf plates and a foliage garland are great ideas to get you started. Take a stab at this fall bucket list for even more inspiration to bring into your home.

A Baltimore Design Odyssey

Laura Hodges is a Baltimore-based interior designer whose worldwide travels and passion for design from an early age have given her a keen eye, making her projects truly tailored to the client. Laura discusses her signature aesthetic, the importance of practicing sustainability, and what has impacted her work the most.

Where does your love for design stem from, and how did you break into the business?
My family traveled a lot when I was growing up, so I was exposed to many styles of architecture and design, which expanded as I began traveling on my own as a young adult. I earned my interior design degree from the New York School of Interior Design and worked with distinguished designers such as Jamie Drake and Thomas Jayne after graduating, before starting my own firm in 2016.

You define your aesthetic as clean and classic. How do you incorporate this aesthetic into your various projects?
As much as I love seeing new trends and design styles, I always take my cues from classical architecture and design. I lean more toward a modern take on traditional shapes with an emphasis on contrast and form.

living room design

© Jennifer Hughes

What is your process like as you approach each project?
I always start with an in-depth discussion with my clients to find out not only their practical and functional needs for the space but also how they want to feel in their home and what would bring them joy and a sense of calm. From there, I look to their art collection (if they have one), travels, and interests, as well as my own intuitive take on their design style, to find inspiration for their project.

Where do you find the balance between functionality and style?
Luckily, we’re in an age when style and functionality do not need to be mutually exclusive anymore. We have access to so many beautiful fabrics and materials that are specifically designed to last. The primary function always comes first, but we consider both at the same time and happily have to make few compromises.

What’s your favorite piece in your own home?
I found a beautiful, handmade Italian Savonarola chair from the early 1900s at an estate sale, and it has remained my favorite piece.

You’ve traveled to many places in your life. How have your travels impacted your work?
I absolutely love traveling and never want to regret not having made the effort to visit historically significant or naturally beautiful places. My travels inform me every day—whether it’s the colors, culture, and style of another country or simply understanding how historically important architecture feels in person. I grew up traveling to France and England with my family, which formed my love for classical architecture. I later traveled to countries like Peru, Thailand, and Morocco, and they really opened my eyes to more extensive design styles and cultural influences.

living room with white sofa

© Jennifer Hughes

You recently opened your own boutique home-decor shop, Domain. How did that come to be?
It’s been a longtime dream of mine to have my own home-decor shop. My husband and I had the opportunity
to purchase a property in the historic district of Catonsville, Maryland, in 2017, and we were excited to explore the possibilities.

How do you balance heading Domain with your design responsibilities?
Since the shop is in the front of our design studio, I’m able to physically be in touch with the day-to-day responsibilities while leading our design projects. I love sourcing locally for the shop and incorporating design finds from our projects. The two businesses definitely feed off each other.

Sustainability is a big part of your mission. How do you go about achieving this?
I always start my sourcing of furniture and fabrics from companies with sustainable manufacturing practices and a commitment to fair trade. We also help our clients find a new home for their unwanted furnishings and commit to donating salvageable building materials from our projects.

Tell us more about the Patapsco residence you designed:
The Patapsco project is in Catonsville, near Patapsco Valley State Park. The park was a big inspiration for the general color scheme and feel of the space. The main living space is very bright and airy, with beautiful views of the park, so I used a very light ivory color on the walls to draw focus to the view. This property was the model home of a newly built neighborhood, so it was important to bring a sense of character to the home and inject the clients’ personality as much as possible. I pulled the color palette from the breakfast room rug, which was one of the first design choices I made. Once the color palette was established, I chose modern sculptural pieces that would have a significant presence in this open space. Creating more intimate gathering areas that felt more welcoming was important to me.

The clients have a very fun and quirky sense of style that I loved incorporating into the design. They love birds and other animals, so the palette for the fabrics and rugs is upbeat and colorful with a sense of humor. I wanted each element to feel as personalized as possible.

coffee table decor

© Jennifer Hughes

Describe your favorite design elements in this project:
The red cabinet with the round wood mirror in the entry is one of my favorite parts about this project. The vignette feels so striking yet inviting when you enter the home, and it instantly gives you a sense of the homeowners’ taste.
The breakfast room is a warm and bright space off the kitchen that originally was of little use to the homeowners. I brought in an oversized daybed full of comfortable plush pillows and nesting tables, as well as a colorful rug, to create a cozy reading nook that’s now one of their favorite places in the home.

As an homage to their love of birds, the dining room has an oversized art installation of watercolor paintings on silk that makes a dramatic statement in this open-concept space. Sitting in front of these paintings are a beautiful, handmade dining table and bench from a local woodworker.

In the family room, the navy Chesterfield sofa anchors the large space, defining the room and creating more intimacy. A round wood coffee table brings in more natural textures and visual interest. The black-and-white photograph above the mantel and brightly colored chartreuse chevron lumbar pillows are perfect examples of their quirky style.

Who in your life has been most influential to you?
My grandmother and mother were big influences on me. They were both amazing mothers and wives, while also pursuing their own interests and education, which included art, travel, and all kinds of crafts.

How do you define success in this industry?
My own definition of success is based simply on being able to do what I love for my clients and for them to be happy with our service and projects.

When do you feel most creative? How do you overcome times when the creativity is harder to come by?
I feel most creative when I’m able to travel and visit new cities and meet creative people. I love going to High Point, North Carolina, twice a year for the furniture market. We find great pieces to create and design with there. When I feel uninspired, I usually find ways to spark interest by visiting an art museum, a design shop, or a maker’s space.

What is your favorite part about designing a space?
My favorite part is creating a space that is beautiful and functional but still speaks to my clients’ aesthetics
and makes them feel good in their own home.