Britt and Damian Zunino knew they had their work cut out for them when they signed up to outfit a project happening on Manhattan's Upper East Side. As the principals of Studio DB, an architecture and interiors firm that oversees residential and commercial design, they've perfected a traditional-meets-modern aesthetic throughout New York City for a range of clients. But this project was different. In this case, there were no clients—so there was no one to tell them what to do with just 225 square feet.
"Because this was for a show house, it was an opportunity to push the number of design elements in the space beyond what we would normally propose for a residence," Britt says. "It was also challenge to tie together so many moments within a small space."
The opportunity and the challenge were presented to them as part of the 47th annual Kips Bay Decorator Show House, a highly coveted exhibition where 23 design firms put their mark on 22 rooms throughout a palatial Georgian mansion. The event took place last spring, and was open to the public as a fundraiser for after-school programs. Britt and Damian knew that the bathroom could be seen as an underdog in terms of potential—as is the case with most homes—and they liked their odds of making spectators stop and stare.
"Since we didn't have a client, we had to create our own set of design criteria and a narrative," Britt continues. "One of the main jumping off points was the classic 'Climbing Leopard' rug by Diane von Furstenberg for The Rug Company. We have always loved this rug but hadn't been able to convince a client to use it yet."
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The rug features an aerial view of a leopard's back, and it appears to be in mid-stretch at the center of an emerald green backdrop. The inspiration made for a lush canvas, and Britt and Damian sought to use its saturated shades as two-fold departure. One, they craved figurative distance from the typical palette of neutral bathrooms, and two, they envisioned more literal time away from life itself.
"The room was designed as an escape from the constant pressures of the day-to-day. It was clearly a reaction to our own life of raising four kids, running a business, and trying to juggle it all in the city," Damian adds. "We wanted to create an adults-only room to unplug—and the cocktail bar doesn't hurt."
As part of the show house's rules, the couple was given six weeks to define and execute their vision. Originally, their section of the home was divided into three rooms, and it felt too cramped. So they started demolition immediately, which opened it all into one area. This meant, too, that Britt and Damian had to simultaneously coordinate with the Kips Bay vendors to ensure that the rest of the process was completed on time. Kohler supplied the plumbing, Benjamin Moore provided the paint, the Shade Store handled window treatments, and Lutron Electronics gave lighting. Fittingly, The Rug Company stepped in with furnishings, too.
"We painted the walls and ceiling a rich viridian green, which allowed the walls to recede. The deep plum Kohler bathtub was a serendipitous find, as it was a new addition to their line and they were eager to share in a finished space," Britt notes. "We had the freedom to select anything outside of these sources, but we were also responsible for the costs. So an important part of the design process was using our relationships to find partnerships with other vendors."
The duo selected de Gournay to bring even more drama to the space, thanks to a never-before-seen mural that was based on a painting by the artist Charles Baskerville. That original artwork was created for a Beverly Hills property designed by Elsie de Wolfe, which was rented by actress Marlene Dietrich in the 1930s. The mural honors the historic work with a lively depiction of a jaguar and zebra set on a metallic backdrop, and Britt and Damian hung a photo of Dietrich nearby.
"The installation was atypical because the mural panels needed to go back to de Gournay when the show house wrapped," Britt remembers. "They were installed over a layer of muslin which was glued to the wall and could be peeled off. It was incredibly stressful, but they came off the wall without a hitch."
It's been a few months since the exhibition ended, and their work was celebrated with the other designers as rooms of unabashed personality. Britt and Damian hope that their work stands as an example of what a luxurious bathroom could be: A small space that can readily fit big ideas.
"We'd love to see people embrace creativity and color and think outside the box a little," Damian says. "Adding subtle touches, such as colored marble, can transform a bathroom into something truly unique and special. It's all about the details."
Builder: Luva of NY, LLC.