Friday, December 2, 2011

Elle Decor's 2011 A List - Designer #4: Mark Cunningham

*Each week, I'll be looking at Elle Decor's "A List" of designers for 2011. See full details on here.

Today's spotlight is on Mark Cunningham.

Here is what Elle Decor says about him:

As you might expect from a Polo Ralph Lauren alumnus, this New York designer’s rooms tend to be masculine, well tailored, and timeless. He likes his palette neutral, but the Florida-born designer isn’t afraid of shades like light blue and royal purple either. He mixes crisply upholstered custom-made pieces, American antiques, and accessories ranging from Coromandel screens to rough-hewn doors set into pristine white walls, all resulting in a quietly invigorating look.

Here are some pictures.

I can't believe I'm saying this - but his work really speaks to me. Or - since that sounds a bit dramatic - I was really drawn in while going through his portfolio. I find his designs kind of fascinating. They're generally contemporary - but never have a spare or cold effect. They're actually very warm and inviting - and even offer some surprises and personality.

But let me backtrack a little. At first glance, this is not a designer that I would expect to appreciate as much as I did. He incorporates very little color in these spaces, which is one of the first things that I consider while getting the feel of a room. He also uses a lot of contemporary furniture, and antiques and older pieces are often of such similar style, that they don't provide very much contrast. I on the other hand, prefer a more eclectic approach to decor - with rooms that look like they have evolved over time. Finally, there is very little focus on art (or the wall decor is so subtle or unmemorable that I didn't really register its presence). And the art that does appear in these images looks more like it was placed there to compliment furnishings after the design was completed. Nothing is wrong with any of that, but none of it falls in line with my own preferences.

Regardless of my personal taste, these are pretty great rooms and I can't imagine many would disagree. Somehow, he manages to give very specific styles universal appeal. And one obvious reason is that he is a master stylist. His resume really shows in his work.

When you click through his online portfolio, the one consistent theme is impeccable, yet seemingly effortless styling. The last six images display this best. Probably because some of them were shot for ad campaigns...but they really do encapsulate the elements of styling that he brings to interiors.

It's the styling that takes what could have been pretty boring, masculine rooms and softens them. He can even "do" feminine...and well (see images 4, 8 and 9). I honestly think he could take any half-hearted bachelor pad with good furniture, rearrange things, add some accessories, pop a few lilies in an organic looking bowl, possibly slap a little textured paint on the wall...and voila! it's a spread in Elle Decor!

How about that last image? Is that a photograph or a painting? Something about the wall, the orchids...even the angles of the furniture and lighting... I can't stop looking at it.

So yeah - this was a surprising one for me. And a perfect example of how looking for what you DO like in all design will open your mind, make you think and possibly compel you to reconsider previously held notions about your own personal style.

What about you? Have any thoughts to add?

all images via Mark Cunningham Inc.
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