We came across Elizabeth Roberts, who runs her design practice from her home in Brooklyn, on Remodelista back in February. Here Roberts talks about her work, how she found herself studying architecture at Berkeley to opening up her own practice after working at William Turnbull in Northern California and Beyer Blinder Belle in New York.
1. You are a designer based in New York. Tell us about your background. What led you into this field? In high school I thought about going into architecture. A friend of my mother’s who was an enviably strong woman and feminist suggested that it was a great field for women. Everyone in my family were doctors so in my sophomore year in college I told my mother I’d finally decided to declare my major as “pre-med”. She was silent and finally she blurted out that she’d hoped I would do something with my creative abilities. That summer I spent as an intern at an architecture firm and I studied art in Paris during my Junior year. When I finally decided to study architecture my mother was the one who helped me apply to transfer to UC Berkeley while I was in Paris –I will always appreciate that encouragement from her!
After I graduated I ended up in New York City. It was a recession and there weren’t many jobs out there. One of my professors who I had worked with at William Turnbull Associates suggested that I specialize in Historic Preservation. It made sense. I had spent a few summers as a “site architect” at a dig in Crete and was interested in architectural history. I’m glad that I followed his advice, mostly because I ended up in New York and haven’t left ever since…
2. Your work exudes a warm minimalism and I think part of that is your use of timber in your projects -whether it be a beautiful wood dining table or kitchen island. How would you describe your style? Are you conscious of keeping spaces spare but soft-edged? Yes, I think one of the things that is very important to me is to “showcase” certain elements in a space –to allow enough space and “quiet” around an object for it to be seen. That often translates into wood against a painted surface, or a colorful item beside a white surface.
I experienced this in a very powerful way the first time that I visited the Tate Modern – when I was riding the escalator down from the Mezzanine to the grand Turbine Hall space –the very spare and muted materials served as a beautiful background for the hundreds of people moving through the space –let alone the art! I appreciate well-considered, calm interiors with exciting splashes of life, color or texture.
3. Tell us about your own space – a 5,500 square foot Italianate brownstone in Brooklyn. Did you glean anything from working on your own space that you are able to use with your clients? Yes, I tried hard to avoid design decisions that would remind me of my self –that may sound strange, what I mean is that I wanted my home to serve as a neutral background for the many years of changes that it will endure.
I share this lesson with clients –that bigger, more permanant design decisions should be appreciated by everyone in the house –the crazier design decisions are often best kept to furnishings and art that can be changed more easily.
4. How do you strike a balance between your work and the rest of your life? Do you find your work following you home to the kitchen table? In fact I do find my work following me home because my office is in my home!
This arrangement has been a huge benefit for me –it not only allows me to see my 2 year old son as much as possible, it also has allowed clients and potential clients to see my work. Meetings often begin in my office but move to the kitchen or one of the bathrooms where they can experience dimensions on drawings and touch and feel finishes that I recommend.
Above: Tape shadow by artists Joe Penrod. You can check out more of his work here.
5. What inspires you in your work? Travel is a wonderful way to recharge and become inspired. I try very hard to find places to stay while traveling that will provide me with a new and inspirational experience; whether it be a nice hotel, a house exchange or a tent in a beautiful location.
On a more daily basis – NYC provides me with so much inspiration – I love to see how creative New Yorkers can affect our every-day environment. I particularly appreciate creative endeavors that make something beautiful out of the mundane. I also love spending time outdoors in Prospect Park or in my garden, nature can be the best inspiration of all.