"I think the unexpected remains our greatest tool," says Gambrel. Unexpected--that quality distinguishes Gambrel's rooms: an unexpected mix of materials-color-pattern-silhouette evoking time and place.
Interiors by Steven Gambrel are distinctive and highly original. If you like Gambrel's design vision and enjoy deconstructing the magic behind design, you will enjoy this book. Gambrel writes as articulately as he designs, and shares in his own words what informs his design.
Materials. As an University of Virginia-trained architect, Gambrel clearly has a reverence for materials which is revealed in his work. His passion for salvaging materials and using his Sag Harbor homes and West Village Townhome as design laboratories is infectious. You will want to start frequenting salvage sites looking for the odd treasure to incorporate in your home after reading this book. Slabs of marble from the Museum of Modern Art sculpture garden which floor his Sag Harbor kitchen are a sublime foundation for his creamy kitchen. Gold-gray marble from an old bank lobby warm up his master bath floor. In a client's home, a mid-century gun-metal Parisian shower surround provides panache. You can picture Gregory Peck or Jimmy Stewart sticking a wet shampooed head out of the shower and greeting you in that room.
Other innovative uses of material include using what looks like shiny black paten leather (like your childhood Sunday shoes) on a dining banquette, mixing mica dust in ceiling plaster for shimmer, and repurposing a lighthouse lens as a lantern.
Color. "A hit of lucid color" is how Gambrel describes his color choices. High gloss bottle green walls, inspired by the galleries of Rosenborg Castle in Copenhagen, connect all four floors of his West Village townhome. He combines lacquered deep tortoise-like walls with a glossy amber ceiling in a client's library. What keeps these colors from being lightly lurid, and dashing instead, is a mix of restraint and balance. "I like the contradiction of a super saturated color with an alternating serene one, just like the strength found in pairing timeworn pieces with those that are polished and modern," explains Gambrel. "I view dense color as luxurious, a reaction that hails from an era when merchants used pigments, then precious commodities, as flagrant displays of wealth."
Pattern. What also gives a pleasant jolt to Gambrel's rooms is a bit of unexpected and exuberant pattern. Pattern like in an argyle sock might cover an armchair, or Gambrel's partner Connor's favorite Irish cable knit sweater inspired a cable pattern in a rug for their living room (see cover). A brass grate design patterns a daring black and white rug for a client's black and gold living room. A mostly serene room may have a dollop of pattern splashed onto a pillow or emanating from wall art.
Silhouette. You may notice there's not a lot of curve in Gambrel's rooms--mainly lines, angles, squares and rectangles with an occasional circle or organic shape. Some curve is in the black headboards he designed for his guest beds based on silhouettes of Flemish home facades he sketched from a walk in Brussels. Clean lines, defined angles and crisp tailoring are softened by tufted furniture, textured fabrics and rugs, and the luxurious use of color which embraces and envelops you. I like Gambrel's mid-size and smallish rooms best which are like jewel-boxes, even if they are neutral like his french limestone-colored cellar kitchen in his West Village home. The rooms sparkle and delight.
Gambrel believes we should "keep the good parts of what already exists, while layering our lifestyle and unique time in history onto that place....images of place are the core vital tool for future generations to learn about our time....Design is not just about inventing new ideas, but also about layering successful ideas inspired by traditions and shared culture." His hope and purpose for this book? "...I hope to share a small window into what I think about the time and place in which I live."
If you like the original and thoughtful room on the cover of this book, you should like the unexpected and welcoming style inside.