Behind a Design: Research & Sketching

Sketching is necessary as a designer — even rudimentary sketching — because it’s a crucial part of getting your ideas across. I especially rely on my sketches when communicating with tradespeople regarding scale. I often draw profiles to show that specific ovolo or 90 degree needed to make it “just right.” I really love sketching curtains too. A sketch is often the only way to solidify a precise deliverable with my workroom. In my studio, I have heaps and heaps of books, many of which are pattern books. I revisit them often, especially in moments where I am custom designing important pieces, as they very much inform the visual vernacular. As I revisit my archives of design sketches I’ve made, one of my favorites includes a beautiful mantel in a dining room, informed by my book research. My sketches were pen drawings based off of work I found by the celebrated Christopher Wren, one of the most acclaimed English architects. Ultimately, this mantel design is what we consider a bolection style mantel. The bolection originates in multiple periods and regions — it’s found in England, Italy and France — but Christopher Wren gave it a lasting English “spin" in several important classical buildings. In this space, I wanted to use an English bolection as a foil to the Greek Revival choices we had made elsewhere in the residence. Most importantly, I wanted to save space here since the masonry fireplace was eating into the dining room. Thus, this mantel design is less obtrusive, more about the shape rather than the shelf- as evidenced in my sketches. To give it more heft, we added the paneled ovolo. Lastly, a serene mural done by Susan Harter Muralpapers truly wraps the room with an ethereal presence. The fireplace was indeed the center point of the space, grounding the room and also anchoring what is actually a three room design, to include other living areas. I didn’t want to adorn the mantel with much, however I found pretty jardiniere urns and put maidenhair ferns in them to pair with a circular mirror (I needed a circle!) and sconces that have a greek key design on them. Of course, because I believe that an architect should own the items that touch the walls he or she designed, I should mention how much I enjoyed collaborating with Jon Jang A.I.A. on this one. To explore some of my favorite pieces that I believe make lovely additions to a mantel, enjoy my selections below.

A regency mirror can do wonders — I like placing circular mirrors over a mantel in dining rooms, if I can!

Frances Palmer's pieces are truly works of art. Add a few blooms from the garden and your mantel will have the spotlight.

With their elegant crystals, these sconces help make a room dazzle in the evening hours. Even better when perched above a fire.

Sometimes there is nothing better than a pair of handsome candlesticks!

A beautiful brass bowl can bring warmth to a mantel. There is something so striking about a simple singular piece like this.