Photographs courtesy of Kati Curtis
Left: Kati Curtis, designer, artist, painter, and owner of Nirmada: Interior Design, in NYC;
Top right: Hand sketch of a space; Bottom right: Computer rendering of a space
Kati Curtis learned the importance of combining technology with traditional design tools, a philosophy that she still uses today, while attending the Savannah College of Art and Design in Georgia. This artist, painter, and designer began her professional design career in Washington, DC, where she worked mainly with architects, then on to San Francisco, Los Angeles, and finally, to New York City, where she began her own practice, Nirmada: Interior Design, in 2004.
Her current approach combines comfort, sophistication, and modern solutions that have received nationwide, award-winning recognition. Kati is also a member of the United States Green Building Council and strives to work with eco-conscious furniture and materials. She is currently working on a multitude of projects in New York City, New Jersey, Qatar and London.
Kati Curtis speaks with Ava Living:
Does the organic process of hand drawing and your use of color and form that you developed through your painting skills help with the process of presenting ideas to clients? Do you believe that this skill set helps to form a more well rounded design approach?
Absolutely. Hand sketching is still the quickest way to get your thoughts down on paper. It's vital to have the ability to sketch a quick concept when meeting with a client, or on a jobsite when you need a fast solution. We've found that clients generally respond more positively to hand sketched renderings. Unless a computer rendering is photo-realistic, clients can be confused by the graphics. If the budget allows, we do provide realistic computer renderings as part of our final presentation. It's really an integrated approach. The most important thing is to develop a clear and shared vision with the client.
Do you find that the current economy has made a big difference in the pieces that people are choosing for their homes? Is price generally the main consideration or say, finding something more timeless and classic, rather than trendy?
We always strive to provide timeless solutions which are unique to our client's needs, regardless of budget. In good and bad economic times, our clients are making a significant investment, and we aim to design spaces which are of a quality that will endure. Of course we’re always happy to revamp a space we designed years ago, if it’s looking tired and worn out. The most important part of weathering difficult times is developing and maintaining your client’s trust by providing solutions which appropriately consider their personal schedule and budget.
You work on projects on an international level, but also work and are based out of New York City. Having lived in some tiny NYC spaces myself, I would suspect that storage is the number one request when redoing an urban living space. True? If so, what are some of the creative ways that you’ve tackled this issue?
Yes! Storage is a major consideration for some of our New York clients. Since we’re a more technically oriented company, we can offer our clients custom solutions which are an integral part of the architecture. This year it seems that we’ve done a lot of work with Hulsta Rolf Benz, who supply high-end modular furniture systems from Germany. Their systems allow us to provide our clients with custom storage solutions, which are also pieces of beautiful furniture. In New York’s smaller spaces, we always take advantage of ceiling heights, bringing cabinets all the way to the ceiling, or finding ways of combining storage which serve multiple needs, like for a kitchen and bath. We also design a lot of home offices, which are commonly located in guest bedrooms, so there is a need to combine the function of an office, with the look of a comfy second bedroom.
Left and right: Examples of storage solutions used in a living space and a kitchen design
Going back to the topic of international design work, you are currently working on a project in Qatar. Can you tell us a little bit about your experience with this project?
We worked as a consultant along with Ellerbe Becket and Pelli Clarke Pelli on this project.
Being that Qatar is said to have the highest GDP, per capita, in the world, do you find that the budgetary restrictions are often different than in your projects based in North America?
Budget is always an issue on some level, whether high or low. The issue we find more challenging is the availability of different materials and/or furnishings in varying parts of the world. In the Middle East, materials like stone and marble, which are sometimes cost-prohibitive for the projects we do in the United States and Europe, are readily available and inexpensive there. We can pave corridors with marble in Qatar, where we might have to use linoleum here in the United States.
However, it’s much more difficult to get quality furnishings in the Middle East. We worked closely with dealerships there to make sure we specified pieces we knew we could get, but the specifications are often sent to China to be replicated by lower cost manufacturers. The challenge becomes writing your specification tight enough, and developing relationships with your overseas dealers, so that you're sure that you're going to get the products that you want once the specs are turned over to the purchasing agent, and also that you know that the products are going to last for the long haul. Of course, it always helps to involve the client on every level, from schematic planning to purchasing, so that we`re always working towards a shared vision.
Above: Nurse station
You are a member of the United States Green Building Council. Can you talk a bit about that and how it applies to your work?
I am currently studying to become a LEED AP, which has significantly raised my awareness and has influenced not just what we specify and purchase for projects, but what happens to things we're demolishing or taking out of a space. Indoor air quality is also a big one, along with energy efficient lighting, and appliances.
Left to right: Green elements used in restaurant design
Are there any stand-out green manufacturers/suppliers that you love?
We try our best to consider the environment in everything we specify and purchase. Number one is the look we are trying to create for our clients, so if we can do that in a responsible way, we have the best of both worlds. A simple way of doing this is to always use low or no VOC paints such as Affinity by Benjamin Moore, or Safecoat paints. LV Woods recently opened a showroom here in NYC, and make simple-to-use, beautiful reclaimed wood floors. For an Indian restaurant we designed recently, we covered banquettes in Carnegie fabric’s 100% recycled polyester fabric. These are just a few examples of how we can use responsible materials in everything we do.
Above: Carnegie xorel
You are currently training in Vaatsu, the Hindu science of Architecture and Interior Design. Can you tell us what lead you this new concentration? Was it job related or do you find that it spoke to you on a personal level?
Years ago, I was working on a hospital project where we used Vaastu consultants to site the project and assist us in room locations and medical planning. The theory of it all really made sense to me, and as I began to develop a personal yoga practice of my own, it became apparent that there were methods to integrate my interior design practice, with my personal yogic philosophies and values. Through my studies, I have learned that Vaastu is much more a science than a philosophy, and that it can work side by side with the green building practices that we're presently incorporating, even though Vaastu was first practiced thousands of years ago. Vaastu is so much more than a course you can take, but a lifetime of development which is highly intuitive and quantifiably effective.
Do you have any exciting projects in the works?
The most exciting project we have coming up is an airport lounge for Jet Airways, at Newark Airport. The lounge location is directly across from Virgin Atlantic, who are known for their own keen lounge design; so we have a great opportunity to show off some design muscle! We are also working on apartments on Central Park West here in NYC, and a house in England, which is a market we'd like to expand.
For more information on Kati Curtis, Nirmada's portfolio, client list, and awards/presentations,
visit the Nirmada site at: http://www.nirmada.com/
To contact Kati Curtis, ASID, IIDA:
Tel: (347) 374-8299
Address: 205 West 54th Street, Suite 4G
New York, NY 10019
Written by Ehren Seeland