Designer of the Month - September - Ellie Cullman

1 September 2007

Ellie Cullman

Ellie Cullman’s interiors are comfortable, livable, elegant and timeless. A native New Yorker, Ellie studied at Barnard College and launched her firm, Cullman & Kravis, in the 1980s. Her flair for design was recognized by clients who commissioned some of Manhattan’s most tastefully decorated apartments. Since then, Cullman has established a reputation for designing elegant residences throughout the U.S.

Historically significant pieces are a signature in her projects and many of her clients collect fine art and antiques. Cullman’s curatorial eye and connoisseurship are influenced by an early career with the Japan House Art Gallery and the Museum of American Folk Art. Her environments often feature antique carpets and one of a kind textiles, however Cullman does not attempt to recreate one single period. "To have everything in one style, you’d end up with a museum room”

Cullman has collaborated with prominent architects including Allan Greenberg, John B. Murray and Lyman Perry and for several years has been featured in Architectural Digest's "AD 100", a selection of top interior designers and architects across the globe.

FRETTE Q&A – Ellie Cullman

Q: Your room designs tend to be very well-proportioned and orderly, is that your general approach and why?

A: One of my goals is to maximize the possibilities of a space by having it be as functional as possible. To do this, I refine the floor plan to create well proportioned rooms with orderly furniture arrangements. For example, there should always be a bedside table large enough for a lamp, glasses, water, an alarm clock, and a good book. A clearly defined floor plan also provides a logical framework for the decoration.

Q: Art and unique one of a kind pieces tend to appear in your rooms, how difficult is it to find the right piece as the focal point of each room?

A: Searching for the ultimate signature pieces for every room is one of the most exciting parts of my job. I always like to have at least one unique object in each room, usually an antique piece of furniture or an original work of art. We avoid using reproductions as much as possible and shop literally all over the world to find the special forms that elevate our interiors. When an antique is not available, we prefer to create custom furniture for our rooms.

Q: How do you approach designing small rooms which tend to exist in New York apartments?

A: The key to designing small rooms is to not to overcrowd them, to always have breathing space for the furniture.

Q: How do you differ your design approach when designing urban residences vs. country homes?

A: I feel that our design approach is more responsive to the needs and preferences of the clients, rather than a superimposed dictum. For example, we have done informal country looks in the city and formal "high country” (as we call it) looks in the country.

Q: If you were to describe your personal bedrooms in three words, what would they be?

A: Soft, elegant and warm

Q: Do you project the same methods in designing your clients' bedrooms as you do for your own?

A: Of course. No matter the size or location of a job I use the same methods to create spaces that are as beautiful and as practical as possible.

I design every bedroom with the same mindset. First, I consider "function” – the layout of the room with respect to the size of the bed, the television location, whether or not there will be chairs or a sofa for reading, a desk area, the storage requirements, and lighting. After the program is worked out, I consider the "form” – i.e. the aesthetic component of the room – fabrics, wall finishes and the style of the furnishings. A room is not successful unless it meets the twin criteria of form and function.

Q: In designing your clients' bedrooms, what is the most important piece of information you require prior to getting started?

A: Lately, it seems to me that the design of every room, not just the bedroom, revolves around storage and the all important TV.

Q: Asian art is found throughout your Park Avenue home, can you please tell us why you have a particular interest in Asian art, especially Japanese?

A: My husband and I lived in Tokyo in the early years of our marriage. I learned to speak Japanese and became a great devotee of Japanese and Asian art. One of my first jobs was as an exhibition assistant at Japan House Gallery.