When we saw the photos of the new interiors located in the historic Austin Nichols House, we immediately knew we had to share them with you. First, because the spaces are stunning (thanks in part to renovations done by Morris Adjmi). Every little detail—from the architecture to the chevron floors, paint choices, appliance finishes, and furniture selection—is inspiring. Like, “we want to pin every image” inspiring. Second, we were curious to know what goes into staging a home of this caliber. So we chatted with Andrew Bowen, Director of Operations at ASH, an acclaimed design and staging firm, who oversaw the entire project. Keep reading to learn more about Bowen’s process and the features that make these homes, located on the Williamsburg waterfront, so great.
And yeah, in case you were wondering, we would very much like to move into one (okay, every single one) of these model homes.
This is an amazing building. How did the project of staging these spaces come about?
I met with the developer at the site for what was meant to be an introductory staging pitch. It quickly turned into a riveting exchange about design, real estate, Williamsburg, and more. I think there was a very tangible conversational click where we both realized that our ethos and theirs was a perfect match. I think it was the next day that we started negotiating a contract, and within that same week we were all signed up and started designing.
Where do you begin when staging a model home? What is your process like?
We start with research. In order to be successful, we must firmly understand the market and prospectives who are going to be brought into these homes. We speak with the marketing team and/or broker(s) to learn what will help them sell or lease the property most effectively. We build a unique lifestyle from scratch, much in the way a branding agency works.
Generally, we first layer on furniture, then art, then accessories. From there we select paint colors, wall coverings, and window treatments that complement the architecture. Finally, we bring in a tailored program of floral arrangements, fragrances, and even music.
The master bathrooms feature Pietre D’Italia Nero mosaic floor tile and honed Giolia Carrera stone walls.
Where did you find inspiration for the interiors?
Everywhere. Europe, in particular, offers a breadth of forward-thinking designers who we are constantly inspired by. Lately, Mexico has also been a huge inspiration. We read design publications both in print and online. We follow blogs that are interesting to us. Each team member brings something different to the table, so my favorite projects are the ones that have all hands on deck where you can really start to see an incredible variety unfold.
How did you go about sourcing items for these homes?
We are constantly shopping, both locally and globally, for new and vintage finds that we can add to our collection. We also work with talented makers and artisans for custom works that lend our projects the unique flavor we're known for.
The fixtures and finishes in the space are so perfect. What additional textures did you add to create another luxe layer?
For this building, which is blessed with strong bones both new and old, we brought in a variety of textures that each offer something different: thickly woven wool, rich velvets, soft cottons, brushed suede, and natural leather. It's important especially in post-industrial residences to soften the inherent brutalism of, for instance, a concrete ceiling, while also celebrating its strength.
I love the wall mural and bold, black accent walls. What inspired that?
In newly developed property such as this, we have certain strategies that are employed to infuse a lot of personality into a space without completely changing the existing finishes. Accent walls, murals, and the like are part of our arsenal. It's critical to make spaces memorable and also differentiable, especially when you have a collection of models residences like this at the Austin Nichols House. Many buyers are walking through multiple models, and we want them to remember what it was that spoke to them about each one after they leave, and of course, bond with our client's listings over the competition.
Seriously, how could you forget this pink, white, and black design?
Did you design each home with a different family or type of person in mind?
Absolutely. We go as far as to name the imaginary people who live there and try to understand what the dweller likes to do on the weekends, how they entertain, the music they're currently listening to, etc. All of our models have a nickname.
What was the biggest challenge you encountered working on this project?
I would say volume. We are adept at working with (relatively) smaller NYC floor plans, where space is at such a premium, but when you have soaring ceilings across the board it's also necessary to activate the vertical space. Otherwise you're leaving a huge luxury on the table and people might overlook the value of this naturally rare amenity that is often only found in historic buildings, especially at this price range.
What about your favorite memory?
In this project, it was probably what began after I took a call from the client at 8:00 a.m. on a day I wasn't actually working to discuss the materials and finish of a pair of lounge chairs for the furniture plan. As a night owl, it's almost impossible for me to wake up before 9:30, let alone function. We had an in-depth discussion about a pair of lounge chairs we were planning for the sales office, and I promised to either find something just like them, or have them made because it would absolutely make or break the space. We searched relentlessly, and eventually ended up having them basically custom made. It's so rewarding in staging to constantly be materializing mental images into a physical reality, and to work with passionate people who appreciate that the value of this service really comes down to the finest level of detail.