15 (Great) Questions for Architect Russell Groves

For architect Russell Groves of Groves & Co., good design is deceptively simple: clean and understated on the surface, rigorously planned and designed below. He has worked this equation for some large fashion and retail clients (Tiffany, Coach, Ralph Lauren) as well as in private homes, including his own modest getaway in East Hampton, New York. We asked Groves to share some ideas:

Remodelista: You are known for kitchens that seem basic but very sophisticated. How do you deal with this?

Russell Groves: Kitchens are the ultimate challenge – the ultimate struggle to balance aesthetics and function. As we like to keep the details simple, we like the heavily grained woods (rift oak, walnut) for the cabinets to give them warmth. And we try not to let design gimmicks get in the way. Large knobs or handles on cabinets can get caught if you move quickly through space.

RM: Your favorite counter surface?

RG: I love basalt or a polished absolute black granite. Basalt is a beautiful warm gray – although it is softer than granite, it is sublime. Granite is one of nature’s hardest stones, and a softened finish can soften the color and texture.

Polished concrete floors at designer Michael Kors & # 8
Above: waxed concrete floors in designer Michael Kors’ Florida home. Photo courtesy of Russell Groves.

RM: Concrete, yes or no? Better use and finish?

RG: Well, like a lot of things these days, it’s complicated. We love the look and feel of concrete, but it is very important to use an environmentally friendly version (the typical concrete making and curing process produces waste and exhaust fumes). We use it for floors – it’s incredibly durable and in the right color / texture can be incredibly warm. We used a beautiful, eco-friendly gray floor for two houses for Michael Kors.

RM: Your favorite neutral paint color?

RG: I am still an admirer of Benjamin Moore Decorator’s White (CC-20). Sometimes we warm it up with Linen White (912): 60% Linen White / 40% Decorator’s White on the walls and vice versa on the ceilings. It creates a subtle and refined distinction.

RM: Your typical space-saving move?

RG: As we do a lot of work in New York City, we are always aware of space constraints – there never seems to be enough storage space. A good trick with a walk-in closet is to make it the connector from the master bedroom to the bathroom. In this way, it becomes a functional “corridor” and the circulation space is used.

RM: What material is worth madness?

RG: Difficult question! I love so many materials – I would say richly grained marble for a bathroom. It’s incredibly warm and lush, but also durable, water resistant, and can last forever.

RM: What do you like to overdo and why?

RG: Texture – both rich and understated. I love super lush, warm materials like velvets, woods, and raw silks, even in small amounts, especially when placed on smooth surfaces and understated details. Raw silk pillows with a nickel or polished chrome lamp or bowl make a great contrast.

An elegant Trufig point of sale in a minimalist kitchen;  photo via Trufig.
Above: an elegant Trufig take in a minimalist kitchen; photo via Trufig.

RM: What are you downplaying and why:

RG: I hate when a beautiful wall is interrupted by foreign material. Trufig makes excellent switches and sockets. We try to place them in convenient but discreet places – on a side wall or in a niche.

RM: When are downlights a good idea?

RG: We try to use a mixture of functional lighting (downlighting) and decorative lighting in any room. Probably the most effective uses of downlights are in the kitchen to illuminate work surfaces and to illuminate art. The standard “color temperature” is 3500 Kelvin, but I find this too cold and I usually go for a 3000 Kelvin bulb which can be sized at 2500.

RM: Most intelligent “smart home” feature:

RG: We have seen a backlash against complex systems that require an engineering degree to operate. My own home system is very simple, but the only thing we like is remote temperature control by Homeguard. With an app on my phone, I can turn the heat up to toast when we get home on a cold night. I find the Nest units too large.

Another view of Michael Kors & # 8
Above: Another view of Michael Kors’ kitchen in Florida. The shelves contain an eclectic collection of artifacts he picks up on his travels. Photo courtesy of Russell Groves.

RM: What gesture do you like to repeat in a house?

RG: An interior should be holistic and cohesive – flooring, baseboards and door details should convey a unified overall approach, if not exactly the same.

RM: Which two functions do you often combine in the same space?

RG: Many of our customers, especially those with young children, love a home office tucked away in the kitchen or family room so they can keep tabs on their work responsibilities and their kids. For a client, we designed a sequence of study tiles for the kids, much like in a library at one end of the parents’ home office. Desks were four feet wide for extra comfort and storage was built in, but we also love the vintage vibe of Bisley filing cabinets.

RM: Fad which must disappear.

RG: I’m not a fan of model after model – we are visually assaulted every day. I am by no means a fan of “excessive”.

RM: Opposites attract: what pair of materials do you prefer?

RG: It’s all about contrast: hard against soft, smooth against rough. This visual tension brings a dynamic interest to our work. Our favorite: sandblasted rift oak against slightly polished nickel-silver. Gorgeous.

RM: Favorite design maxim?

RG: I like to say that “simplicity is deceptively complicated”.

For more expert advice:

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Expert opinion: 13 (excellent) questions for architect Gil Schafer

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