Many interior designers get stuck on the ratio between functionality and aesthetic appeal—whether a space should be more usable or more beautiful. For Hudson Valley designer Elizabeth Mercer of Mercer INTERIOR, it all comes down to a design principle from famed Chicago architect Louis Sullivan that dates at least back to the 1800s: “form follows function.”
“[It’s] the guiding principle in our kitchen,” Mercer tells Chronogram regarding the Kingston Design Connection Showhouse. “My designs are completely informed by how each space will be used; this project is about utilizing all the space we can for storage and making it accessible.” In the case of the kitchen, this means its function—accommodating a large family to cook three meals a day—dictated its form.
- Photo: Deborah DeGraffenreid
- Elizabeth Mercer, mercer INTERIOR. The mandate “form follows function” guides all of Mercer's design decisions. This was especially true of the showhouse kitchen, which has to meet the needs of a large family that cooks three meals a day. “My designs are completely informed by how each space will be used," she says. "This project is about utilizing all the space we can for storage and making it accessible.” She found Albany Marble for the countertops and backsplash, and employed Dave Jones Design to refresh the cabinetry.
With this necessity in mind, Mercer knew she needed large amount of surfaces for food preparation, and an oven that would last. She decided on an AGA (or, Aktiebolaget Gas Accumulator, named after a Swedish company) range oven, supplied by Earl B. Feiden, Inc., an appliances store in Latham, New York.
“They got really excited,” Mercer says of the homeowners when they found out about the Feiden oven. “They actually knew what it was, because they had done their homework and that adoration of quality was appreciated.”
For many parts of the kitchen, Mercer was at the mercy of the showhouse’s vendors, like Jay Teske Leather Co. and the New York Heartwoods furniture company. In other respects, though, she took control, like the decision to use cane for the cabinets. (“I found a paper cane that was used in another time whenever there was a shortage of actual cane,” she says.)
Mercer is also effusive about the “deal of the century” she struck with Albany Marble to find the perfect countertops; she went to the owner, Frank Orciuoli, and specifically asked to see a piece of marble that hadn’t moved in decades. “I stopped short in front of some stone he said had been there since about 1989,” she says. “It felt like we rescued something. It was a mind-blowing treasure.”
Taking new cabinets donated for the project by James Bruyn of Bruyn Designed, Mercer found the ideal carpenter: Dave Jones Designs, based in Brooklyn, to transform them to match her vision. “Dave modified the drawer and door fronts in addition to custom-building all the upper cabinets,” she says. “Without his contribution we would have been stuck using basic prefabricated cabinetry,” she says.
All in all, the New Orleans-bred Mercer has been realizing that designing the Kingston kitchen is a much different — and very rewarding — experience than she’s used to. “I'm usually given a direction from the client and a budget to support their desires and I interpret that,” she says. “In this case we had to sort of work backwards — starting with vendor relationships to make something that shows how we can elevate a space.”
“And [this time], I had the privilege of determining the aesthetic and the budget,” she says with a laugh. “If only that were all our projects!”