When Contemporary Design Meets Traditional Architecture
The New York metropolitan area comprises a collection of architectural styles unique to the region. From Tudors in Westchester to shingle style homes in the Hamptons and the city brownstones in between, New York has plenty to offer in historic architecture.
I’ve found that home owners will view architecture as either an inspiration or a boon when decorating, remodeling or designing their new homes, and it can be especially challenging to incorporate what’s considered to be modern or contemporary design into these traditional foundations. When designing and decorating your home, it’s important to remember that ‘modern’ is a reflection of the current times, styles, art and design approach, and thus can change quite frequently and add to the challenge of melding two seemingly contradictory styles of architecture and design. However, it’s not impossible and some ambitious designers cherish the day they can redesign and update their home’s décor.
If you’ve moved into an old home with classic architecture, you will likely find old hand rails, picture rails, beautiful old baseboards and crown moldings. What you probably won’t find is large closets, extra storage space and perfectly rectangular rooms. Removing the historic character of your home for the sake of modern design and extended space would be an unnecessary sacrifice. By working with interior designers and custom cabinetry makers, you’ll be able to keep these features and incorporate your desired style.
Before getting started, determine the form and function of each room, corner and space. For the New York area, this will vary from colonial architecture to city apartment. The function will determine the needed storage additions as well as the aesthetic of the room. If your home severely lacks the necessary storage space, consider turning an extra room or even an attic into a closet, or building out a wardrobe on a blank wall. If you’re feeling especially creative, use unexpected and unused spaces, such as built-in hanging and shelf units in the garage to hold sports gear or out-of-season clothing. In Manhattan, specifically, I’ve found that many people have unusually shaped spaces, which sometimes require creative designs accommodating plumbing, security panels, high ceilings and narrow walkways. Using interior designers and custom cabinetry allows you to tailor a space for your needs and in your desired style.
After function is determined, you can then incorporate other elements, such as wood grains, accessories and unexpected textures, which can modernize a classic home. There is no ‘right’ choice of materials or combinations of materials—only the ‘right’ choice for you. Choosing door or drawer facings that match the older architecture can be one way to incorporate modern design without looking out of place. Another option could be mixing traditional staining with more contemporary styles, such as high-gloss or highly textured finishes, or exquisite mirror or colored glass inserts. I’ve seen some gorgeous designs that incorporate rich, deeply textured dark woods with traditional five-piece doors and drawers—and then accented with a white high-gloss bank of drawers for a contemporary twist.
The last and final element would be lighting. Of course, natural light is preferred, but one of the most common requests I’ve heard from homeowners is to add in some form of extra lighting. LED lights provide a wonderful, bright light that does not produce potentially damaging heat. Lighting in a closet creates that ‘boutique effect,’ while additional lighting in other rooms can brighten up every corner and make every room in your home feel bigger.
As the Chief Design Officer of California Closets, I strive to incorporate what’s considered modern each year. In August, we launched several new door and drawer styles that can bring fantastic personality to a space—glossy Parapan finishes, deeply-textured panels and barn door hardware, rich leather inserts, exquisite etched and printed mirrors and glass—which blend nicely with all types of architectural styles. Every accent, finish, door knob and drawer insert can influence the aesthetic of a room or a home. These are details that can create the bridge between historic architecture and contemporary style, and I’ve seen some beautiful results in New York and its surrounding metropolis. While images can only show so much, our design teams at the California Closets Showrooms in Manhattan, Westchester or Long Island can illustrate how you can blend contemporary design with traditional architecture, no matter the space.