My Home Renovation: Where to Splurge & Where to Save

I’m into scenic wallpapers, sculptural chandeliers, gilt encrusted mirrors, veined marble and striking insects and snakes on anything, from cast bronze door pulls to silk taffeta drapes. And like most homeowners, I want a state-of-the-art kitchen, spa-quality bathrooms, statement-making architectural features, great flow from room to room…you get the picture. But as the saying goes, “you can’t have it all.”

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Snakes are having their moment on everything from fabrics and wallcoverings to significant pieces of furniture. One of our favorite items is linen sporting embroidered snakes (Venimeuses) from Pierre Frey. (Image: Pierre Frey)

That’s the third certainty in life after death and taxes. Even in luxury interior design, clients have limits imposed by space, timeframes and budgets—and so do I. In my home renovation, I had to make dozens of strategic choices about where to splurge and where to save. In retrospect, these decisions grounded our team’s approach. More significantly, these are principles that pay off in any interior design project, so we’re sharing our top five strategies on where to splurge and where to save here (and not in any particular order!).

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We replaced ordinary architectural details with more intriguing versions, such as embellished cremone bolts and hand cast snake door pulls. (Images: Cremone bolts at Hardware Designs, Edgar Brandt door pulls at 1stdbs)

1. Save by embellishing the basics: Many homes have good bones, but as Mies van der Rohe said, “god is in the details.” From adding crown and panel moldings where there were none to replacing old hardware with elegant new options—ranging from hinges and pulls to door knobs and cremone bolts—we added greater detail to almost all of the apartment’s architectural elements rather than replacing them. These small gestures made a big impact. Our most inventive idea was to detail the dark green Terrazzo floor in the foyer with gleaming brass inserts, turning it from striking to spectacular.

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Sconces were a must in my lighting plan. Some of the options we considered were by Herve Van der Straeten and Marie Suri. (Images: Ralph Pucci and Liz O’Brien)

2. Splurge by developing a bespoke lighting plan: The recessed lighting in the apartment was basic, offering adequate background lighting in each room but nothing more. Instead, we splurged on an all-encompassing bespoke lighting plan with the help of a lighting consultant that will define and highlight conversation zones, architectural elements, artwork and task areas in every room. The plan creates different layers of lighting by combining many types of fixtures–from recessed cans, sconces and lamps to statement-making chandeliers by some of our favorite lighting designers. While the lighting plan was more expensive than we anticipated, it was a foundational basic that will stand the test of time, enhance quality of life—and is only possible to do before walls and ceilings are closed up.

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Instead of doing a new kitchen, we gave the traditional white cabinets a high-dose of glamor by painting them glossy black. A kitchen by New York designer Steven Gambrel was a source of inspiration. (Image: Steven Gambrel)

3. Save by turning a good kitchen (and bathrooms) great: The allure of a new kitchen is huge, but they cost tens of thousands of dollars. Did I really need a new one given that what was there had good bones, from high quality cabinets to gourmet appliances? Instead, we gave the traditional white cabinets a high-dose of glamor by painting them glossy black, changing out the brushed stainless hardware for burnished vintage brass and replacing the sedate granite countertops with Calcutta Violetta, a creamy marble with dramatic red and black veins. We took the same approach in the bathrooms by replacing pedestrian glass tile with far more luxurious Calcutta marble.

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Large gestures, such as handsome new double doors in all the public rooms and sumptuous stones, like Calcutta Violette in the kitchen, were used to add cohesion and glamor to the apartment. (Images: 1stdbs and ABC Stone)

4. Splurge to add much needed cohesion: Every home needs an underlying aesthetic, and the apartment’s hodge-podge of different portals between rooms was disruptive. Some rooms were totally open while others had doors. To add elegance and unity, we added double doors in every public space, from the elevator foyer that opens into the apartment’s gallery to all the main rooms. While none are identical, they all share the same sleek Deco 20th century aesthetic and are lacquered black. Only the foyer doors are different: handsome glass numbers with black steel frames and burnished brass hardware.

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With such stunning options from de Gournay, Gracie and Zuber, it was tough to commit to a scenic wallpaper. Stay tuned to see what we picked. (Images: l-r, de Gournay, Gracie and Zuber).

5. Splurge on something really special: Special is understatement for the scenic wallpapers by Zuber, de Gournay and Gracie. I love them all and knew I was going to splurge on one for my dining room. None is better than the other, and all are a major commitment; like a piece of fine art, it’s something you keep forever (or at least until the next owners take it down). So what did we pick? We’ll write about it when we can, but for now, here’s a hint: it’s an ethereal neutral, despite the detailed panorama it depicts.

09 May 2019

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