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Leadership Design

Written by Karen Marley
Imagery by Kim Smith

Think of it as the culminating opus of an oeuvre comprised of more than 80 projects. This is the re-designed interior of the Hobart and William Smith Colleges President’s House by CJS Architects.
    “We have such great trust and a close working relationship with HWS,” says Blynn Nelson, Director of Interior Design at CJS Architects.
    When the college decided it was time to give the President’s House an update, it was up to Nelson to determine the aesthetic. She needed to create a design that had the capacity to function elegantly across many different purposes. It had to be a family residence that appealed to the family’s tastes all while helping the President serve in his role to the college for everything from relaxed student gatherings to formal catered dinners with dignitaries.

Reviving a Greek Revival
In addition to accommodating the diverse functionality, Nelson had to work within the home’s architectural parameters of being a circa 1936 Greek revival. She took
her cues from some of the home’s eclectic, historic furniture and artwork collections and decided to take a contemporary route that melded old and new.
    The artful remix radiates a new energy layered with textures, colors, styles, and patterns used in unexpected ways. Pulling it off required utmost attention to detail. Reupholstered pieces are meticulous in the alignment of patterns that demanded an artisan’s eye and craftsmanship. Off-the-shelf selections from West Elm uphold a sophistication that is fresh and exciting yet timeless. Custom furniture had to assert the highest quality of craftsmanship. Nelson used a lot of assertive geometric shapes to balance out the more ornate traditional furniture.

A Composition of Adagio and Allegro
The interior spaces are rich with dimension and style. Each room is its own experience, yet they flow together harmoniously. Rooms are anchored with Oriental rugs over hardwood floors. The color palette throughout the rooms mimics nearby Seneca Lake with a layering of soothing, neutral grays, blues and greens. For the walls, Nelson selected different neutral tones of gray from Benjamin Moore’s Color Stories®, which subtly change the way you see the color depending on the time of day and lighting.
    “It feels very ethereal. Almost dreamlike,” says Nelson.
    Against the calm color consistency, each room offers distinct, energetic notes. Take the music room for example. A classic wood-trimmed wingback chair is upholstered in a bold, oversized paisley; a modern twist on a historic pattern.
Red and golds contrast with the emerald green velvet couch. The pieces are tied together with a new take on a modern wood coffee table.
    The parlor and dining room are adjacent but read as one space. The exterior wall is in a metallic cork wall covering. The table and sideboard, sleek with a hint of mid-century modern, were sourced locally in Geneva, New York from Miles & May Furniture Works as custom-designed pieces. But the traditional mirror, chandelier and wall sconces keep the design roots grounded in classicism.
    In the parlors, the circular geometry of the coffee tables and tufted ottoman echoes the circles on the table in the music room. A rectangular lamp accents one parlor. In the other, a floor lamp is adorned with stacked glass globes. Decorative candle holders topped with white pillar candles create dimensional interest.
    The kitchen was given a facelift with all new cabinet hardware, a fresh coat of paint, and new appliances. Along the upper cabinet, doors were either removed outright or replaced with frosted glass. Geometric lines in the kitchen are established in the linear metallic backsplash.

For Nelson’s efforts on behalf of CJS Architects, she was awarded the Interior Design Award from the American Institute of Architects (AIA) and the International Interior Design Association Award in the Residential category. 
    “It was such an honor to win an award from the AIA. It’s like a bucket list item,” says Nelson.
    Such awards are iconic of prestige and represent leading design. Certainly, a fitting way to provide a showpiece home for the individual representing the head of a historic, esteemed college. 

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