Entrusting an interior designer to interpret your own personal style, and then translate it throughout the walls of your home, isn’t always the easiest surrender of control. And for those with endless creativity and inspiration springing from their life’s work and surroundings, that personal style can become even more nuanced, more difficult to convey, let alone execute at the hands of someone who is not yourself.
For Nicki Pombier Berger — an oral historian, educator and artist — articulating her vision for a full-apartment renovation in Brooklyn’s Park Slope to designer Elizabeth Mercer Aurandt first included talking at length about the project at hand. For Elizabeth to fully understand the inner workings of Nicki’s brain and the type of space that would feed her clever idea tank, she, as Nicki says, “internalized and metabolized” her ideas to bring them to life. After this gathering of ideas, Nicki says, “[Elizabeth] gives back a portrait of myself that I wouldn’t be able to come up with on my own.” Aside from the aesthetics of the home, it needed to be welcoming and functional for Nicki’s two sons, aged 5 and 13, one of whom has multiple disabilities.
Elizabeth, who grew up immersed in the arts — from performing music to studying visual arts to jewelry design — was up to the task of executing the needs of Nicki and her family, and used nature to greatly inform the apartment’s design. “I had gone camping on and around Lake Superior with my family while I was working on this project,” Elizabeth recalls. “As we were walking different parts I took note. There was the beach and that became the kitchen and the dark stones became the bathroom. The deep woods were a reflective place and that was the study. There were also lots of wildflowers and that was translated to the bedroom. Nicki goes to some of the areas [where] we were with her family, and I knew those were places she really loved, so it was a good place to pull from.”
A rental for over 20 years, the apartment was in need of several updates before aesthetics came into play. “When we opened different areas up there were crumbling exterior walls, plumbing issues — we had to get things up to code,” Elizabeth shares. “Lots of repair work came before the pretty stuff.” Repairs led the way for a full kitchen redesign that involved preserving existing wood flooring and incorporating a hutch that was original to the building. Trim paint, custom shelving and interesting artwork were features added to Nicki’s study, and her bathroom’s original cast iron tub was refinished to maintain the space’s character.
In Nicki’s bedroom, the greatest surprise to her of all is a bold wallpaper she chose that’s a departure from the rest of her apartment’s neutral palette. Her selection of this pattern was a result of honing in on what she was instantly drawn to, not unlike how Elizabeth deeply pinpointed what she perceived to be Nicki’s greatest needs for her apartment. “It is reflecting back to myself everything about my life,” Nicki says. “It shows back to me the things that I love. For me that is important because, in addition to being a mother, I draw a lot of meaning out of the work that I do and the people I engage with in the world. To have my home be a surface for that is validating on a daily basis.” —Kelli
Image above: Before Elizabeth redesigned the kitchen, it was dark and lacking proper storage. Reconfiguring the space — including the sink and range placement — opened up new cabinet opportunities to improve functionality while elevating the room’s overall design.