On a perfect Sunday afternoon this past summer I ventured into Brooklyn to visit the stylish studio apartment of Ben Miller who you may remember from our last installment of Meet The Assistant. Ben’s studio is a pint-sized 240 square feet which would be a challenge to decorate even for New Yorkers who are used to living in cramped quarters. But – when you’ve worked with one of America’s top interior designers you certainly have the upper hand when it comes to space planning and knowing how to select just the right pieces to help maximize every square inch. Ben furnished his home mostly with vintage finds from shops in his neighborhood and put his DIY skills to the test in order to create clever storage solutions. He mounted floor-to-ceiling bookshelves along a wall to house artfully arranged books and accessories and installed a pegboard in his teeny kitchen as a place to hang pots and pans. The apartment itself is full of charm with incredibly high ceilings, large, intricate moldings and two large windows that bring lots of light into the space. It’s also full of personal touches like family photos, self-made artwork and heirlooms that were handed down to him from loved ones. Read on to hear Ben school us with a lesson on how he decorated his small space with such big style plus take a peek inside. It’s house tour time!
The Sleeping Area
“I always find great deals on good quality solid linens on Overstock.com and accent them with interesting pillowcases. These pillowcases and the lumbar pillow are from West Elm. I got the red and white striped guy years ago at Pottery Barn and never used it until this apartment. I love the weight of this Smith & Johnson Dry Goods bed sweater (a bargain find from Bed Bath & Beyond) and use it year round. Switching out your duvet cover is an easy way to change the look of your bed. This is a super simple one I grabbed at Ikea.”
The Space-Saving Solutions
“These wall shelves hand-crafted by some talented friends of mine and once hung on the wall of their super artsy loft in Bushwick. When they moved to Minneapolis for work, the shelves were willed down to me.”
“Even though they’re not really pieces, my plants bring such life and joy into the space. They’re happy with the tons of light they get and truly help make the place feel like a home.”
“My chest of drawers is an old piece I found at a local second hand furniture store. I was drawn to the intricate veneer inlay on the face and I had to have it. It’s not so much perfect for this space, but more something that I just knew I’d think about down the road if I didn’t make a home for it. The label shows it’s a John Widdicomb piece but I’m a little in the dark as to when it was made.”
“This came from Junk in Williamsburg and was in need of a little TLC, a little mineral oil and the wood came right back to life. The caned front was in great shape and really makes the piece in my eyes. It’s the perfect bar cabinet and has a couple of shelves to tuck away serving pieces I don’t use often.”
“Being that I love to cook, this was particularly tricky. There isn’t a single drawer in the apartment and only two usable cabinets so storage was an issue from the start. I figured the best approach would be some sort of exposed vertical storage. Shelves weren’t really an option because of the door swing, so I painted some inexpensive pegboard the same color as the rest of the studio and hit up Home Depot. They have a million little accessories for the garage that I used to configure just the right combo for my pots and pans. With counter space being almost nonexistent, I got a cutting board to partially cover the sink and added a nice chunk of work surface. What was nothing more than a 4′x4′ pocket of space is now a highly functional kitchen. It’s a little bit Julia Child, a little bit Tim The Tool Man Taylor. And the best part–it cleans up in a jiffy!”
“I really love my desk. It’s an old Steelcase piece with great character that I found on Craigslist for next to nothing. You don’t see the single drawer version all that often and the writing surface is just excellent. I love that it’s a bit beat up and has its own story. Being that I live in a pretty small space, it gets used all of the time–I use it for working but it’s my dining table too. I’ve hosted four friends comfortably.”
The DIY Artwork
“Before working with Laura I helped open up the Ace Hotel. One morning I noticed someone had forgotten their photo strip in the lobby photo booth overnight. As it turns out, it was an automatic test strip–four blank frames taken at random each night to be sure it was in working order. I started collecting these blank strips and before long, people began leaving them for me at the front desk. It ended up that I have one for just about every day I worked there. Here’s the kicker–after I’d begun working with Laura I was invited back to toast to a friend who was leaving the hotel. It was late and most of the crowd had gone home when I noticed the photo booth fire up on its own. I bolted over just in time to catch the last frame and then, promptly freaked out. I framed a sampling of them and included the one of me with a huge smile in that final square.”
The Personal Touches
“I’m terribly sentimental so most of the little objects and artwork are direct reminders of friends and family or fun trips. It’s nice to look around your place and feel like your loved ones are right there with you. Here is a piece from a set of gold lipped glass trays I found at thrift shop that I filled with spare keys to friends’ places, a small cup my mother made and an old industrial pail from Moon River Chattel in Williamsburg.”
“I have a bunch of pieces of pottery my Mom made around the apartment, this is a key bowl she made just for me, an antique copper flashlight picked up at the Brooklyn Flea and a found key inside a small glass ink well.”
” This chair was another great find from the local thrift store, the frame was $20! For the time being I wove a makeshift seat using twine and added the loose cushion. I love the lines and haven’t yet decided on a fabric for the seat.”
Photos by Nicole Gibbons for So Haute
Ben Miller at home in Brooklyn
Meet the Assistant profiles the assistants and associates who work behind-the-scenes with some of the industry’s top designers to help make beautiful spaces come to life.
Ben Miller is assistant extraoirdinaire to the incredibly talented Laura Kirar of Laura Kirar*TRU Design, who has infused her modern, tailored aesthetic into the interiors of residential spaces, award-winning restaurants, showrooms, and hotels across the globe. Originally from Lafayette Louisiana, Ben, 29, moved to New York on a whim nearly six years ago and has worked with Laura for the past year-and -a-half. With offices in New York and Miami, a wide range of product lines that includes furniture, accessories, lighting, tile, carpets and more, not to mention an insanely busy travel schedule, Laura relies on Ben to help her keep it all together. I caught up with Ben earlier this summer at his 240 square foot studio apartment in Brooklyn and was utterly impressed with how he created such efficiency and style in his small home. Look out for a house tour here on the blog coming soon (!) and in the meantime, let’s get to know the fabulous Ben Miller…
How did you end up in New York?
A few weeks after Hurricane Katrina I was home in Louisiana driving back to Lafayette from dinner in Baton Rouge when a dear friend of mine called to catch up. She had just moved to Brooklyn and was telling me about how a couple of potential roommates had fallen through and was going on about how much I’d love the city. It wasn’t the first time we’d kicked the idea of me moving to New York around, but it was certainly different this time. It took the 45-minute drive from Baton Rouge to convince me to give New York a shot. The next day I gave notice at my job, broke the news to my parents and bought a plane ticket. Two and a half weeks later I flew to New York for the very first time, blew up my air mattress and fell asleep in my windowless 10′x10′ room. I got a job with a big ad agency a couple of weeks after the move and the rest, as they say, is history. It’s crazy to think that was nearly six years ago already!
What is a typical day in the office for you?
Between collections and interior projects, everyday is its own adventure. We start work around 9am and finish between 6 and 6:30pm. Some days are spent in showrooms but most of the time I’m helping out with the project management of the licensing collections and smaller scale design projects. The licensing collections is where most of my focus is currently. There’s so much that goes into launching these collections–from gathering inspiration through all the planning and promotion it involves–that the majority of my day-to-day is spent making sure things are moving along.
A lamp from Laura Kirar’s collection for Arteriors home
Do you have a favorite project that you’ve had the opportunity to assist Laura on?
Seeing the latest introductions from Arteriors home was big for me. It’s the first collection I’ve been a part of all the way through, from hand sketches to the launch at High Point.
How would you describe Laura’s style?
Utterly refined, simultaneously handsome and beautiful, grounded in her foundation as a conceptual artist and accented with worldly influences.
A lounge chair from Laura’s McGuire furniture collection inside a penthouse residence she designed at the W Dallas residences
Have there you ever had any crazy on-the-job disasters or mistakes that you’ve learned from?
Ha. Just last week I directed our driver to a random address in New Jersey I’d mistakenly picked up in an email chain. We were forty minutes out of the way but managed to make it to her speaking engagement on time! Best of all, she completely kept her cool while I turned five shades of embarrassed.
What do you like most about your job?
The fact that it’s a constant education. Our office is small but mighty so there’s lots of opportunity to be a part of all areas of the design process–I really love learning about new resources and techniques, though.
What do you like least?
Facebook! I’ve never been that active personally, so to do it for our company is truly bewildering.
Another view of the Laura Kirar designed penthouse at the W Dallas residences.
What has been the most valuable lesson Laura has taught you?
Scale and proportion matter more than just about anything. I’m paying close attention to the way she balances restraint and grace with something a little punchier, like rich color.
What are your long term career goals?
To always work with inspired, talented people who are doing what they love. I work best when collaborating, so hopefully to find a good partner or two to bounce ideas off. Maybe we’ll start a small design firm together one day.
A sneak peek at a vignette inside Ben’s Brooklyn studio
Finally – What advice can you share with our readers about decorating on a design assistant’s budget?
1. Start at the hardware store–grab some paint to completely shift the feeling of a space, swap in a dimmer switch to your most used light sources, look for creative new uses for otherwise typical products.
2. Spend as much as your budget allows on a few things–a comfortable sofa, your mattress and bed linens, and a rug that will work hard beyond it’s current home.
3. If you find something you absolutely love, get it, because chances are you always will.
4. Frequent your neighborhood antique shops and vintage stores–you’d be amazed at what treasures are hiding in those dusty corners.
5. Don’t be afraid to DIY–cut your own mats and dress up inexpensive frames, make some art, repaint (and reupholster while you’re at it) a tired chair with good looking bones.
Top and bottom photos by me
L-R: Vicente Wolf, Thom FIlicia, Laura Kirar, Jonathan Adler
The New York Times Store recently released a series of images from its 100+ year old photo archive, many of which have never been seen before and to celebrate, the Times tapped 5 celebrated interior designers Laura Kirar, Kelly Wearstler, Vicente Wolf, Jonathan Adler and Thom Filicia to curate a selection of 10 photos from the archive that reflects their design aesthetic and appreciation for the use of photography in interiors. The collection is called 50 Photographs and is now available for purchase at The New York Times Store. I attended the launch party at the Staley-Wise Gallery on Monday and it was chock full of design stars including the 50 Photographs guest curators (minus Kelly Wearstler), style icon Iris Apfel, design maven Charlotte Moss, newly appointed Architectural Digest editor-in-chief Margaret Russell (sporting a cast on her right leg!), Barney’s Creative Director (& Jonathan Adler’s husband) Simon Doonan and fashion designer Naeem Kahn. Below are a few fun snaps from the party along with a several of images from the collection including my favorites from Jonathan Adler who chose nine photos of chic people wearing masks at high-society parties plus one of the New Jersey Turnpike. Says Adler, “I like to look at pictures of glamorous people having fun in kooky outfits and then when I get too carried away I like to remind myself of where I came from – hence the Jersey turnpike picture.” Check out the photos below and be sure to check out the full collection here. I just might have to add Adler’s whimsical pick featuring the masked leopard people to my own collection…so chic!
Left: Iris Apfel and husband Carl Apfel. Right: Laura Kirar
From L-R: Gallery Co-Owner Etheleen Staley, Margaret Russell, Naeem Kahn and wife Ranjana.
Left: Charlotte Moss. Right: Simon Doonan and Jonathan Adler
Oversized Cars, 1954, Eddie Hausner/The New York Times (Vicente Wolf)
Geisha – Tokyo, 2001, Gary Knight/VII (Vicente Wolf)
Park Benches, Vincent Laforet/The New York Times (Kelly Wearstler)
The Steeplechase, 1939, Andrew Herman (Laura Kirar)
World’s Fair Dinosaur Dismantled, 1965, Robert Walker/The New York Times (Laura Kirar)
Leopard People, 1966, Larry C. Morris/The New York Times (Jonathan Adler)
Going Groucho, 1974, John Sotomayor/The New York Times (Jonathan Adler)
Summer Reflections, 1997, Suzanne De Chillo/The New York Times (Thom Filicia)
I’m so excited to bring you the first episode of So Haute TV! Join me as I take you behind-the-scenes with designers Nate Berkus, Steven Gambrel, Laura Kirar and Jesse Carrier at the Right Now In Design event I hosted back in July. Hear these design superstars share the deets on their latest projects, new collaborations and current design obsessions. Plus, Nate gives us the scoop on his new TV talk show which premieres Monday, September 13th! (Check your local listings here.) Click the play button to watch the video and let me know what you think!
At Wednesday’s Right Now In Design panel, the intriguing discussion revolved around three main topics: building a brand, the state of the industry and what’s new and next in design. Myself and Josh Greene moderated the talk and below is a detailed recap of the highlights.
On Building a Brand…
The first questions touched on whether or not having a specific and recognizable signature look is important to developing your brand and what the key is to creating a successful brand as a designer. Nate and Steven both felt that maintaining a consistent point of view in your work is essential and Nate expanded on that by talking about the importance of maintaining integrity in your work as well. He believes you should never waver on being consistent with your point of view, regardless of how adamantly a client may demand a specific piece, never incorporate a piece into a space if it’s something you don’t believe is a reflection of your point of view. Nate believes the same tenets hold true when it comes to product design and that quality is crucial. He says consumers are extremely savvy these days and regardless of whether something costs $9.99 or $9,099, if a customer looks at the product and feels it’s lacking in quality, they’ll move on to the next item on the shelf. He believes you don’t necessarily have to spend a lot of money to “live well,” which is an expression he embodies throughout his work. He also says that throughout all of his work whether it be his television shows, books or his products for HSN, he is always conscious of being consistent in his aesthetic and approach.
Josh and I also asked the panelists about the role of publicity in building your brand and touched on the demise of many of our favorite shelter publications. The designers immediately brought up Domino and acknowledged the huge impact the magazine had on and the industry even though it was only around for a short time. There was also consensus about the increasing importance of online media, although they all agreed there’s nothing like touching and feeling an actual glossy magazine. Jesse Carrier spoke about how publicity has really helped him to create awareness of his brand and reinforce his credibility as a designer. Since his recent flurry of press this year (He was named one of Traditional Home’s top 20 young designers and also honored on Elle Decor’s A-List) his phone has been ringing a lot more and there is a lot more interest in his firm in general.
We also touched on the subject of licensing. Laura is quite the expert in this field having multiple licensing deals including lines with Ann Sacks, Baker, Kallista and Maguire (all Kohler Interiors Group brands) plus a line with Arteriors Home and a couple of new top secret collaborations in the works. She says that licensing deals are appealing to designers because they think they’ll make a ton of money, but revealed that a scoring a deal isn’t necessarily a surefire way for a designer to get rich. It’s contingent upon the nature of the deal and many other factors.
On the State of the Industry…
We kicked off this topic with the predictable yet still-very-relevant question of how the sagging economy has impacted the design industry and if there are signs that things are finally picking up. Nate, Laura and Steven who all operate larger firms agreed that throughout the recession business definitely slowed down a lot and that people, even the very wealthy, just didn’t want to spend the money on a decorator when times were uncertain. Laura also said that she thinks the recession may have forced people to think differently about how they spend their money and told the story of a client who is currently debating whether to spend the money to re-decorate his home or do something philanthropic with it instead. The designers also felt that their design projects are taking twice as long these days. The reason why is that clients are taking much longer to make decisions because they’re giving very careful consideration to every purchase. Jesse had a different experience than the other designers and said that he benefited from having a smaller design firm. During the recession he was able to secure clients who might have otherwise gone to a larger design firm which resulted in a boost to his business.
Being a blogger, I couldn’t help but ask Nate about the infamous Moggit Girls story. For those who don’t know what I’m talking about, back in May a duo called the Moggit Girls who write a satirical blog about design, tweeted Nate that he should do a show with an audience full of design bloggers. Nate tweeted back that it was a great idea and within an hour tweeted again to tell the Moggit Girls that he wants to do the show and to expect a call from his producers! Talk about the power of social media! This story led into a question about how social media has impacted the industry and how having a social media presence has impacted the designers’ businesses and brands. Jesse, Steven and Laura all acknowledged the importance of social media but confessed that they haven’t quite unlocked the secret to finding the time to build a huge social presence for their brands online. Laura does has a Facebook page and says that social media is always a topic that comes up in her marketing meetings, yet she hasn’t quite embraced it the way she would like to. Nate, on the other hand, has a huge social media since joining both Facebook and twitter earlier this year. He admitted though that he fought the idea of twitter and Facebook tooth and nail but after attending a social media conference at Harpo, finally bit the bullet and now it has become a huge part of his business. He also says that social media will play a big role in his new nationally syndicated show which premieres September 13. (Visit thenateshow.com to check your local listings for air times). The topic of blogs came up and the panelists acknowledged how important design blogs are becoming to consumers. They all said that rather than bringing in tears from magazines, clients are now emailing them links to inspiration they’ve found on blogs. And while they appreciate the exposure that design blogs offer, they’re not quite sure how to manage that publicity against the print world because print is still the priority and they would never want exposure on a blog to cannibalize an opportunity for a print feature.
I mentioned to the designers that with the rise in how-to television programming on networks like HGTV and the wealth of information available through blogs, clients seem to be more educated than ever. I followed that up by asking the panelists how this affects the way they approach their role as a designer. They all agreed that clients seem to know way too much these days, but that it’s not always a bad thing. Whereas designers used to be the ones that presented memos to their clients, the clients are now handing the designers memos from sites like 1stdibs! Still, they feel their roles as designers are solid because while a client can certainly have an eye to spot a beautiful piece, they don’t have the expertise to understand if the scale will work in the space, if it will fit through a doorway, etc. It also challenges designers to be far more creative with their sources. also, specifying custom furnishings really allows them to take the front seat and lead their clients to their choices.
On What’s Right Now and What’s Next in Design…
Josh broached this topic by asking our panelists for their predictions on the next big color trend and their point of view on color in general. Steven said that he’s drawn to blues and personally loves to use color in his projects although it’s really up to the client in the end. He spoke about a client who expressed how much he adored his use of color but that it wasn’t for him so instead Steven was challenged to experiment with textures and layering rather than strong color. Nate said that he is usually drawn to a combination of colors rather than one specific color, while Laura talked about the practicality of using color in context. She feels that the location of a home has a huge impact on the color choices that are appropriate for the space. She gave the example of how a pink house would look amazing and possibly even commonplace in Florida but if you had a pink house in New York it would seem totally odd.
As a final question, I asked the panelists what they were obsessed with “right now in design.” Jesse is currently obsessed with upholstered walls and Steven has an obsession with interesting surfaces and finishes. Nate and Laura both share a current obsession with mid-century Mexican furniture, a coincidence I found to be quite uncanny!
That about sums up the key points of the panel discussion. I want to give a special thanks to Pierre Frey, my gracious co-host who was so kind to let us hold the event in his beautiful showroom! In case you’re not familiar, Pierre Frey the company was founded in 1935 in Paris, France and designs, creates and manufactures fabrics and wallpapers in the purest French tradition. The company is celebrating it’s 75th anniversary this year! Along with Pierre I want to thank my co-host Josh Greene and his business partner Alex Kale as well as Pierre’s showroom manager Kim Huebner…we all worked together to make this event a success. And finally, a special thanks must be given to our generous sponsors for the evening:
The beautiful floral arrangements were provided by H. Bloom. Check out HBloom.com to try their floral delivery service in New York City.
Fiji Water provided water for the evening to help keep our guests hydrated! Check out Fiji Water’s blog here.
Casa Dragones provided its ultra smooth 100% blue agave sipping tequila for our guests to taste. Visit the Casa Dragones website here.
And finally, Etude wines provided a fantastic rosè and chardonnay for the evening. Visit Etude’s website here to learn more about their wines and vineyards.