A Midtown design studio creates colorful spaces that banish the winter blahs
What happens when Audrey Hepburn of “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” meets Jane Austen’s “Sense and Sensibility”? The answer: The new design studio of Kelee Katillac and Steve Heiffus.
“When we found our historic space, we were smitten,” says Katillac. “Thank goodness Scott Lindsay saved the building years ago. Now we have 2400 square feet of wonderful rooms with 10-foot ceilings and lots of windows to play with. It’s our creative atelier.”
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Room after room unfolds in light- washed spaces that seem to glow with color. And that’s on purpose. “Our studio is a color story with separate chapters—unrelated rooms in which we try bold variations,” says Katillac, interior designer, author of House of Belief, and an ardent advocate of meaningful personal style. “A designer’s studio is much like a fashion runway,” she adds, “where we push hard for originality and style. Then, we take those runway ideas and tailor them for each client.”
With husband Steve Heiffus, an architectural designer, Katillac reinvented a classic interior with antique furniture, upholstered walls, couture curtains (her “gowns- at-the-windows” trademark), and colors that make you realize that off-white is so, well, basic vanilla.
“Color is essentially light in long and short waves that react in certain ways when they hit pigments,” she explains.
Always interested in the mind/body aspect of design, Katillac adds, “Our goal was to feed mind, body, and spirit with light and color,” she says. “Research now shows that we all give off as well as absorb bio-photons—basically, light—at the cell level. My process helps locate the light-filled colors that go deep within us—colors that continually feed our bodies, bringing about a sense of peace and well-being.”
Color is highly personal, admits Katillac. With colored glass and paint samples as well as flip cards of room scenes, she does a “reading” for interested clients, then comes up with a “color prescription.” With the palette in place, the rest of the space can then take shape.
For inspiration in the design studio, and as a way to show clients how colors work together in individual rooms, she turned to rocks, crystals, and gemstones because they refract light so well.
In the foyer, pale blue and sulphur yellow play off each other. Upholstered walls outlined in brass and a tufted, faux leather bar in a glove-like finish provide unexpected touches. A museum-quality table holds pride of place. Sulphur yellow and winter white silken fabric, cut into stripes and then sewn together with dressmaker details of Directoire stars, curtain the portiere linking the foyer with the salon.
In the salon, the blue-gray of chalcedony tints the custom- quilted sofa and the Deco-style side chairs. “Everything is Regency in this room—French, English, and Hollywood,” says Katillac. “We even dressed the windows in empire layers with high-waisted shutters ornamented with a bracelet of plaster cameos. Gilded birds land on curtain rods and crystal chandeliers.”
And silhouettes of period Chippendale chairs show up on white plates that Katillac found at Halls. A side chair upholstered in citrine plus a grand gilded chair matched with sulphur and yellow check keep it all more Holly Golightly. Two massive crystal chandeliers, which used to grace the former Ritz Carlton, bring on the glamour.
In the dining room, rose quartz makes everyone look good. “This warm pinkish color means affection,” Katillac comments. “I also added the new Pantone orange, which stimulates conversation, in the striped shutters.” Below the chair rail, she upholstered the walls with linen-cut velvet in a Georgian formal garden pattern.
Curtains with hand-folded, hand-sewn ruffling puddle to the floor. A reclaimed wood table from Kincaid Antiques at 45th and State Line, a fine Louis Philippe commode from Scott Lindsay, and an Italian trumeau from Christopher Filley Antiques add weight and importance to the room. A Brittany armchair from Webster House allows the host—or Katillac as she looks over designs spread out on the table—to sit in elegant comfort.
In the bedroom, the inspiration of aquamarine prompted Tiffany blue, a color that suggests flow and communication, says Katillac.
The upholstered headboard wall, framed in mahogany, is like an 18th-century picture room you might see at an English country home but with no “shhhh” about it. The bold flourish of Piranesi engravings matted in the same silky fabric and custom embroidered details of a period silver dish add other artful elements. The windows have a custom look with Roman shades, mahogany shutters, and billowy crystal-pleated French curtains with tiebacks embroidered with Katillac’s hand-drawn urns.
Pier mirrors over consoles and leather chairs in va-va-va-voom orange-red add a little sparkle and passion—something, Katillac says, tongue-in-cheek, the master bedroom definitely has to have.
Building on each room’s unique and distinct palette, Katillac and Heiffus added ornate plaster moldings, architectural details, custom floor finishes, and antiques sourced from all over the world.
“Each room tells a color story, but it also tells a story of a client’s interests, travels and taste,” she says. “When we design spaces for clients, each room flows into the next. But here in our studio, we wanted each room to be a different experience.”
Besides testing out color combinations, the design studio is also where Katillac tries out fabrics and finishes, bold flourishes, and ways to unify them all. Although each room is so very different, they all share a commonality. “The merit of highly fitted rooms is that they give you a feeling of everything making sense, nothing left undone,” says Katillac. “Your world is in order. You’re being taken care of, like at a grand, old hotel. Each room should fit you like a couture gown or a tailored suit.”