Designer Crush: Benni Amadi and Courtney Springer

1. Benni, you were born and raised in Italy — how do you think Italian culture influenced your approach to design?

In Italy you grow up been attracted to beautiful things...it is just a way of living.  Italians are inspired by older periods, but we will give it a new feel—maybe with a new color or the way it’s constructed.  I grew up in classical-style Italian houses and my work is always rooted in a certain tradition.  There’s a perpetual link between the past and the future. 

2. Courtney, you have a background in retail buying and merchandising — how did working in fashion shape your perspective on design?

I worked retail in small boutiques for many years and that definitely influenced my perspectives on design.  Aside from the obvious aestheic appreciation for textiles, layering and accessorizing, there is a really interesting psychology in retail that translates to interior design as well.  For example, I loved getting to know the women who shopped in the boutiques and learned to anticipate what they’d want to buy next season or what kind of displays would draw them into the store. Now, in interior design I use those same type of insights.  Getting to know my clients and being able to anticipate what they will be excited about and love to live with is a huge part of this work.  Also, the way my clients dress can tell me a lot about what kind of interior design they will love. It's not foolproof, but a person's favorite outfit can tell you so much about who they are and what they want to express to the world around them.

3. Tell us about your project for this year's Decorator Showcase. The name of the space says it all: Moody Blues. How did you two settle on this color palette and why did you feel it's best for the space? 

Our idea for the space was to blend traditional with modern, to pay homage to the architecture of the home, but also to bring it into the 21st century. One of the first elements we were inspired to do was the black paneled walls. We knew we wanted to add pattern to the ceiling to draw your eye up and take advantage of how high it is. 11 foot ceilings are almost unheard of in a small powder room. We turned to Eskayel for the wallpapers and really felt inspired by their mix of black with inky blues. The dark colors play into the more traditional style of the house, but the mix of black and blue feels really forward thinking.

Once we had a strong idea of which wallpapers we were going to use for the powder room ceiling and the walls in the vestibule space, we knew we wanted to go with a blue or green for the tile floors. When we saw how Adriatic Sea  from Fireclay Tile popped against black it was a no brainer. It just instantly created that bright, powerful tile moment we were looking for.

4. The room(s) have a challenging layout. Why did you choose these, and how did you deal with it? 

One of the challenges in the space, really a blessing and a curse, was the ceiling height. Over 11 feet high in a powder room is almost unheard of. We knew we wanted to wallpaper the ceiling in the powder room, but ended up bringing it down about two feet onto the walls. This helped created a lighter feel in space to juxtapose the black walls and create a break in the height of the walls to bring your eye down a little more.

Another one of the challenges was just that the space is large for a powder room. We ended up going with an oversized marble vessel sink from Kohler so that the scale felt appropriate for the space. We also hung the Ladies and Gentlemen for Roll and Hill light fixture in the corner and brought it down to eye level in order to fill that empty corner and create a sculptural element with the lighting.

5. You've managed to pack in a lot of style in a small space. Tell me about making it all fit.

Powder rooms are often the space you can go a little wild with. Since they are small rooms you can make it dramatic without being overwhelming, which was one of the reasons we were attracted to doing one for Showcase. 

Sticking to a specific color pallette also helps make the two rooms feel cohesive, even with a lot going on. By sticking to a limited range of black, blue, and hits of gold, we are able to have multiple prints and bright pops of color without it becoming a circus. The solid black walls in the bathroom also help temper the wallpaper patterns and bright accents.

6. Could you say a word about the sculptural elements and the art?

We worked with Simon Breitbard Fine Arts for a lot of the smaller art pieces, including the sculptural elements. To accessorize the console we wanted a few pieces that had texture, but not a lot of color so they wouldn't compete with the wallpaper. The Heather Knight urchin bowls and the Monique Cornelisse sculpture that are on our console table are predominantly white, with the urchin bowls having just a hint of blue/green on the inside. These aspects really popped off the wallpaper, but also didn't compete. 

The Amanda Wright hanging ceramic pieces have been a hot topic of conversation with visitors in our room and also came courtesy of Simon Brietbard Fine Arts. They are a little punk rock, a little glam, and we've even heard people reference Mario Bros. and Game of Thrones when looking at them! That's the fun thing about art and about Showcase...it really gets people talking and gives them access to ideas they may not have seen before.

The largest piece of art in the space is by an artist out of Oakland named Jen Props. She is known for graffiti style art and we wanted to bring some of that edginess to the space, but in a refined way. We commissioned the piece and worked with Jen on a the idea of using just black and white for the piece, but then she really blew us away with the amount of texture she brought to the work. The result is simple and modern, but also really dramatic.

7. What is your favorite element of the room?

That is the hardest question...it's like telling someone to pick their favorite child! But we might have to say the Eskayel wallpapers. Those two patterns really drove the color story, were one of the first elements we selected, and they were one of the first vendors to jump on board to sponsor our space. The wallpaper was pretty much the jumping off point for all the other elements of the design. 

8. Benni, how do you think New York interior design differs from San Francisco interior design?

I think that New York and San Francisco have a very similar aesthetic, but New York design is sometimes a bit more "out there" and "show-offish" (which I actually love about NY).  But for the most part I find them very comparable. 

9. Courtney, if you could design the set for any movie, which would it be and why?

This is my secret dream! I have to admit I am a big fan of romantic comedies, so for me doing sets for a Nancy Meyers movie would be as good as it gets. "It's Complicated" is one movie I can watch over and over. First of all, Meryl Streep...enough said.  But also I love that dream of the quintessential California/Santa Barbara lifestyle. The Spanish style house she lives in with its casual, breezy kind of elegance is amazing, and I loved her charming bakery. I would love to put my spin on the way that character would live and what her business would look like.

10. How do you get to know your clients and their unique space?

Courtney: I always start with in person consultations, walking through the house and talking room by room with my client about their needs, their ideas for the space, sharing my ideas as they come to me and just having a collaborative dialogue about how they want to live in their home. But after that, it is so different from client to client. Some really have a vision that they just don't know how to execute.  Others don't know anything about design or even how to explain what they like/dislike, so I'll send them various inspiration images to see what they are drawn to and what turns them off, and then we’ll establish the style they are going for from there.

Benni: Face-to-face meetings are a must, possibly with the entire family (including the family pets!). I like creating homes that are the perfect expression of the people who inhabit them and the places that inspire them. My projects integrate our clients’ lifestyle with their surrounding environment. Whether I’m designing a six-bedroom home or a 600-square foot apartment, my objective is always to create a balance between quality and comfort as well as function and utility.

Lightning round!

11. Pancakes or waffles?

Benni: Pancakes!

Courtney: Same!

12. Netflix or night out?

Courtney: Netflix.  

Benni: Night out for sure.

7. Justin Timberlake or Justin Bieber?

Timberlake for us both!

8. Beach or mountains?

Courtney: I’m a California girl and love both!

Benni: Beach every day and all day. I am a professional beach bum!