From the June/July 2015 Issue:

Contemporary Versailles?

    Writer: Robin Amster | Photographer: James Starkman | Interior Designer: Shawna Starkman |

Designer Shawna Starkman takes eclectic to a new level in her scheme for a Cresskill home

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enlarge | The designer married opulence with clean and contemporary style. A formal chaise covered in teal and citron flocked velvet damask is balanced by a contemporary cream sofa with leather sides and a velvet seat and back. Two tiny wood stools on one side of the pearl gray vinyl coffee table are a nod to the owners’ East Indian roots.
The design of a young family’s Cresskill home gives new meaning to the word “eclectic.” Shawna Starkman’s dazzling design scheme for the six-bedroom home combines clean and contemporary style with a luxuriousness and opulence reminiscent of Versailles. It’s all a reflection of the homeowners’ bold choices and the designer’s creative approach.

Think: A unique set of bed posts comprising hand-turned wood blocks sprayed with Cadillac white automotive paint and interspersed with hand-blown glass balls. Think: A 10-foot-long concrete dining room table that was created by JM Lifestyles in Randolph to look like a live-edge tree complete with cracks filled with resin and cubic zirconia to resemble sparkling ice.

Starkman’s daring designs and unorthodox approach come as no surprise given her background. She was a production designer for music videos before turning to interior design with her firm, New York City-based Shawna Starkman Design Group. “It was super creative work,” Starkman says of her former position. “I never knew what I would have to come up with on the fly. That definitely unleashes creativity, especially because you can never do the same thing twice.”

The designer recalls the Cresskill homeowners threw out words such as “opulent,” “Versailles” and “contemporary” in their first meeting with her to discuss their home’s design. “That’s a lot of different concepts to bring together,” Starkman says. But she was undaunted. “My favorite thing is using out-of-the-box ideas.”

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enlarge | Shawna Starkman’s clients picked the bold teal and citron palette for their living room. The couple’s East Indian heritage means “color in capital letters,” Starkman says. However, the designer believes in layering assertive colors against neutral back­grounds, such as the cream sofa, pearl gray coffee table and the cream ground of the rug.
Not Your Mother’s Home
The new home has traditional architecture, but the interiors had to reflect the owners, a young, hip former Manhattan couple with two toddlers. “They didn’t want it to look like their parents’ home,” Starkman says. “They wanted it to reflect their youth, their creativity and their heritage.

“The word that kept spinning in my head was ‘Versailles’; they love French Provincial style, opulence and elegance,” she says. “I said I could do Versailles but that we would have to do it fresh, cool and edgy.”

That meant toning down the couple’s design vision by placing it “in an environment of clean lines on the one hand and some neutral backing on the other,” Starkman says.

The living room, for example, features a bold teal and citron palette. But the bright colors are layered on top of neutrals: a cream sofa, a pearl gray vinyl coffee table and the cream ground of the carpet.

The furnishings here also demonstrate a juxtaposition that helps temper the room’s bolder aspects. The space features a chaise in an ornate teal and citron flocked velvet damask. Opposite it, two French Provincial wing chairs have deep navy velvet seats and a backing in a cotton teal and cream pattern. The sofa that sits between them, though, has leather sides, a velvet seat and back, and clean contemporary lines and scale.

“Juxtaposition is risky,” Starkman says. “It’s not for the faint of heart.”

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enlarge | Given her clients’ comfort with bold colors, Shawna Starkman chose hot yellow and black for the dining room color palette. The wall covering is black with silvery white beading. The 10-foot-long custom concrete table looks like a slab of wood with a live edge. It’s flanked by custom chairs with backs covered in a black fabric that mimics the walls and with fronts in an ostrich-patterned white vinyl. Starkman searched high and low for the custom chandelier with an oblong boat shape—rather than round—that’s a graceful fit for over the table.
Color in Caps
The living rooms teal and citron were chosen by the homeowners, whose heritage is East Indian, and that means color in capital letters, Starkman says. They encouraged me to come back to them with bold color choices. When I came up with the color palette for the dining room, I said I wanted to do black walls with a high gloss primary yellow, and they didnt hesitate.

The dining rooms primary burst of yellow is provided by a piece that itself represents a dramatic juxtaposition of style and color. The French Provincial sideboard is covered in high-gloss yellow lacquer with silverleaf embossing. Like many of the furnishings throughout the home, the sideboard is from Indonesia, and like virtually everything in her design, it is custom, the designer says.

Drawing again on her production design background, Starkman doesnt hesitate to go far afield in her search for a vendor, craftsman or artisan to turn herand her clientsvisions into reality. As she puts it, I dont do an entire job out of the D&D Building [a to-the-trade building housing 120 home furnishing manufacturer showrooms in New York City].

For this home, that meant those unique bedposts in the master bedroom as well as the one-of-a-kind dining room table. Starkmans client showed her a photo of large black Moroccan blocks hanging down on four sides of a bed. She reinterpreted the idea in a lighter fashion. She had a fine furniture company hand-turn hundreds of wood blocks, and she sprayed them with Cadillac white automotive paint for an opalescent sparkle. Starkman also enlisted a Brooklyn glassblower to turn out 80 glass balls, each of them different, to be interspersed with the wood blocks for a lighter look. The entire construct was strung on metal frames welded to the floor.

The dining room table came to life in a similar way, but it grew out of a mistake. The live-edge wood table Starkman had ordered from Mexico arrived with a gash down the middle. Starkman returned the table but the concept stuck in her mind, so she engaged JM Lifestyles to make a concrete table that looks exactly like wood and asked that it include what looks like natural cracks in wood. We thought it would be cool to fill the cracks with resin and cubic zirconia [a diamond lookalike] so it would look like a tree had fallen in the woods during the winter and its cracks had filled with sparkling ice, Starkman says.

The result? Another of Starkmans favorites: You start in one place and among me, the client and the vendor, we ask What if? What if? Somehow it all works.

Robin Amster is a Madison-based freelance writer and editor.


Interior design: Shawna Starkman Design Group in New York City. Living Room: sofa and chaise Martin Albert Interiors in New York City; sofa fabric, Pierre Frey in New York City; chaise fabric, Robert Allen Design in New York City; coffee table, DAS Upholstery in Ditmas Park, New York; wing chairs, Jepara Design 99 in Central Java, Indonesia; wing chair fabric, Kravet in Bethpage, New York; stools, Made Goods in Baldwin Park, California; custom cabinets, American Classic Kitchens in New York City; rug, Delos in Calhoun, Georgia. Dining Room: table, JM Lifestyles in Randolph; sideboard, Jepara Design 99; chandelier, Chandi in Boise, Idaho; chairs, Unique Elegant Seating in Linden; fabric for chairs, Majilite in Dracut, Massachusetts, and JAB in New York City; window treatment fabric, Osborne & Little in New York City; window treatment fabrication, Lisa Fantasia of Fantasia Interiors in New York City; silver paint treatment, GFC Eduardo Parra in Kingston, New York. Master Bedroom: bedposts, wood and construction, New Day Woodwork in Glendale, New York, and glass blower, Scanlan Glass in Brooklyn, New York; bed upholsterer, Martin Albert Interiors; side tables, Room Service in Los Angeles; wall covering, Osborne & Little; window treatment fabrication, Fantasia Interiors; window treatment fabric, Romo in New York City. Sitting Room: ottoman, Martin Albert Interiors; ottoman fabric, Artistic Frame in New York City. sofa, chair and desk chair, Jepara Design 99; fabric for sofa and chair, Osborne & Little; window treatment construction, Fantasia Interiors; window treatment fabric, Romo; rug, Delos.

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