This Is How an Interior Designer Transformed Her Manhattan Office—We Want In
The carpet was pink, the marquetry had seen better days, and the window coverings resembled more the overflow of a Belgian lace doily factory than actual curtains. But beyond these finishes that told tales of decades past, one thing stood out: the unrivaled sweeping views of the Manhattan skyline. Then and there, the designer knew this was the vista she needed to inspire her multiple projects.
Silber had a plan for the aged Upper East Side space—and it was merciless. After ripping out every last finish that remained in the studio, she transformed what was once a generic white container into a carefully crafted jewelry box—with the view serving as the crown jewel. Not an inch got left unturned during the renovation. At the end, what remained was an efficient workspace for the team of three, which also doubled as an elegant showroom for visiting clients. Wondering what a day in the life of a New York–based interior designer looks like? Take the tour of Mara Silber's office and find out.
When I first stepped into the space, it had not been touched in more than three decades. We are talking about light pink carpet and scalloped window treatments. Awful! But the space has this wide-open view that lets you see for miles. It is very easy to feel cluttered in New York City, so the view is a powerful focal point. Even with the original furnishings, it was invigorating to stand in the entry for the first time. Light was pouring in from wall to wall. I saw the potential right away.
I love a bold entryway that makes a powerful first impression. When you walk into the studio, the north-facing view catches your attention right away. I completed the welcome moment by pairing an Oaxaca carpet with an oversize Christopher Wool poster.
The entry space is tight but has to be functional. First, I searched for coat hooks that have minimal projection. I ended up selecting "Flip Flop" hooks that fold-up when they’re not in use, like in summer when you’re not hanging up coats. The hooks were one of my first purchases. I also bought a low profile console table with ceramic trays to hold keys and mail. Lastly, I hung a mirror and added a bench that you can sit on while you get ready to head out the door.
Everything in the entryway was carefully curated. The functional hooks, perfect sized vintage bench, the Christopher Wool poster and the Citizenry rug all work together to create a powerful opening vignette.
"Aesthetically, I wanted the space to showcase my style: clean, classic and tasteful," says the designer. "But I was careful to make sure it didn’t feel sterile or corporate."
For Silber, the most important aspect of the redesign was storage: "Functionality is also an important goal of all my projects, but it was especially important for my own studio. Storage is a constant struggle for designers and my number one priority. We maintain a large library of catalogs and manage a seemingly endless stream of samples. Stones, woods, fabrics and carpets, metals and finishes, frames—name a sample, and we need a place to store it. I hate to see clutter, so I relied on closed storage wherever I could."
Every aspect of the design was created to serve a specific business purpose: "Preparing for client meetings involves assembling a series of presentations, which require a large amount of surface area. On projects where we are designing an entire house, it is not uncommon for us to have a dozen different binders full of mood boards, samples and tear sheets. To make the space functional as a design studio, I added a countertop workspace where I could lay out schemes and projects with storage below," says the designer. "I also created lots of additional storage places to keep samples and supplies."
"A design studio is basically a revolving door of inventory that is constantly shuffling in and out," the designer told us. "Boxes, samples, and different pieces are always being lifted up, placed down, and dragged left and right. That combination inevitably leads to scuffed walls and scratched floors, which drives me nuts!"
To counter the effects of the rapid wear and tear her business inevitably causes, Silber placed an emphasis on ultra-durable finishes: "I chose laminate wood flooring because it is super durable. I also chose darker colors for the walls to conceal any scuff marks. The darker walls also accentuate the window view—so do the wood built-ins that run under the windows—they are painted white and create a neutral backdrop against the natural daylight."
For the living area, Silber needed a space to brainstorm projects and sit down with clients: "I had several priorities for the living room space because my team and I spend a lot of time in the living space when we are collaborating on a project or presenting to clients. First, it had to be clean. Second, it had to feel cool and sophisticated. Third, it had to be comfortable."
To the designer, the living room had to serve as a showroom as much as a meeting space or comfortable workplace: "The sectional sofa was a must to ensure enough seating. It also faces the windows, which takes full advantage of the view. I consider the living area as a functional showroom—I want clients to understand my style and see firsthand how my projects can be versatile. The large living area and coffee table in the studio are helpful because it gives me room to layout different elements and test options. It is also a bonus to be comfortable while working—it makes the whole process less daunting!"
To anchor the open space, the designer invested in a large rug that would define the edges of the living room: "Perhaps the largest piece in the space is the sisal rug. I love sisal, so it was a no-brainer for me. It really warms up the room. To create even more contrast, I added wood-colored side tables and a sleek black coffee table."
When it came time to choose a color scheme for her studio, Silber says it was a no-brainer: "Neutral colors provide an impartial backdrop for the variety of schemes that we create for different projects. In addition to being versatile, neutrals also do a good job of showcasing my clean and classic aesthetic."
The biggest challenge was reaching the balance between functional and showcase. "On one hand, a studio needs to embody the designer's aesthetic and contain a certain wow factor. But first and foremost, the space needed to be functional. It’s an office after all and contains desks, printers, and supplies. I needed to make sure there was enough storage to house our library needs without compromising surface area that is used for laying out current schemes and assembling presentations."
Taking full advantage of the view and the storage built-ins below the windows, the designer set up a small meeting area: "The little meeting table showcases different accessories I’ve picked up from various stores and trips. I also have laid out several coffee table books—of which there is no shortage around here. The meeting area is simple but creates a charming vignette that is visible from the entryway. Taking advantage of all the natural light was an incredible opportunity for the space. The cabinetry beneath the windows not only provided precious storage space but also created a long countertop that I use to display current projects. It turned out perfectly."
"A super-clean and simple workspace area with ample storage is important to me," shares Silber. "Aside from my mouse and keyboard, I only keep a catchall tray and a letter opener on my desk. Just the daily essentials! There is one small trade-off—I had to sacrifice some leg space to fit two filing cabinets underneath the desk to store my paperwork and supplies. Having no visible clutter and plenty of desk space to draw and lay out plans is well worth it!"
To keep her motivated throughout the day, the designer needed the right accessory: "I knew the focal point of my desk would be an Elliott Puckette print that hangs on the wall with the Hugo Guinness prints (fun fact: These two artists are married in real life). I admire the art every day. My Elliott Puckette print is my prized possession! It was on sale at Design on a Dime (an annual design industry fundraising event). I had to race against Miles Redd, who was also eyeing it, to get it, but he was such a gentleman and relented."
While her beloved artwork serves as daily inspiration, the designer only has to turn her head to feel re-invigorated. "I feel so fortunate every day to have found such a rare space in New York City with a vast open view and giant windows." With Manhattan as a backdrop, we can't imagine this designer's flow of inspiration will ever run dry.