Anatomy of an Installation: Creating a Functionally Beautiful Office

As a new feature on the blog, I want to share some of the process shots I’ve taken from different projects. I always think it’s fun to look at before and after pictures, and it’s particularly interesting to see the various stages of an install.

For this Greenwich, Connecticut estate, the client wanted a home office space that was pretty, yet functional, and that had our signature modern-traditional  style. She wanted a bright retreat that was calm and peaceful for work, and anything but stuffy. To achieve this, we layered a variety of elements—from custom millwork to accessories—to create a complete look.

A room at the front of the home had great potential. I loved the windows and overall light feeling of the room. We wanted to make it warmer, creating ample storage and work space, and achieve an inviting room visible from the family’s entry hall.

varvel BEFORE

As you can see, the room was bare, save for lovely windows looking out to the yard, and several interior windows and a French door connecting to the rest of the home.

To create storage and a comfortable work space, we added custom built-ins. On one wall, visible from the interior hallway, we added bookcases and pretty window seats.  On the opposite wall, bordering the interior hallway, we added a great work area with built-in desk, file drawers, and more bookcases designed around the room’s interior windows.




My client loves steely blue tones, so we chose to paint the cabinets and millwork with a gray-blue color, using a strié technique to give subtle texture, similar to raw silk.

With the painting done, we brought the client’s antiques, books, and other belonging into the office to decide what we would use and not use.  This is always a fun part of an install, because you really begin to see the personality of the room take shape. For each project, we look at what the client already owns, then make a list of accessories we need to round out the look of the room.


We covered the dark hardwood floor with a woven wool damask carpet that was installed with nail heads at the edge—a great detail.  The colors of the rug picked up the camel tones of the furniture and blues on the walls.


To create contrast and complexity we covered all exposed walls in horsehair wallpaper.


The window shades were custom made and we chose the the fabric’s bold, graphic pattern specifically to contrast with the soft damask of the rug and the strié of the cabinets.

Decorative lighting, and multiple sources of lighting are important for function and mood in a room. The crisp, polished nickel picture lights, below, add a sparkle to the bookcases, particularly at night.


Because this room needed to be a functional office, we incorporated practical, yet pretty storage solutions throughout. For example, we stacked snake-skin boxes, which house family pictures, on a bookshelf just behind a small, antique writing desk.

We also decided to buy specific accessory items.  For the antique desk; since it’s visible from the interiors hallway, it always needs to look pretty so we found great objects for that surface.  To create a calming and fun effect on the bookshelf, we purchased decorative books and organized them by color—each shelf has a slightly different shade.


As a last touch, we found just the right artwork. The photograph, below, of a cathedral in France had the right feeling for the space and is a place our client has visited.  To add to the layered effect of the room, we hung it over the bookcase.


The combination of the different elements—starting with custom millwork, decorative finishes on walls and cabinets, antique furniture accents (like the antique desk and leather corner chair), varied fabrics, interesting lighting, books, artwork, and fine accessories—were key to making this room work. I think the effect is quite lovely!

I’ll be sharing more installations from favorite projects, so stay tuned!



  • 5 years ago Lane Brooks

    HI Susan – I love this room and the before and after shots. What is the best way to mount a piece of art or mirror on cabinetry in front of books?

    all best, Lane

    • 5 years ago Susan Bednar Long

      Lane, Not if you are talking aesthetics or technical terms, but I find using 2 small pieces of art hung vertically one on top of another and making sure that the tops and bottoms do not align exactly with the shelves…they should be staggered and fall between the shelves. Or, mounting them on the vertical stiles between the shelves always looks great if you have a series of bookshelves in a row. The one large one in my project photo works well because it anchors the center of 3 bookcases, and it too is proportioned to allow a nice amount of books showing on all sides. As far as actual hanging, I like to put a picture hook directly on the face of the shelf if there is a beaded edge, or put a nail in the top of the shelf where you won’t see if the art is every moved.


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For as long as I can remember, I’ve been fascinated by design and the subtle impact of our surroundings. Some of my earliest influences still resonate – I think of the dark woods and textured lodens of my father’s shooting club, the smell of fresh paint on a new canvas, and the bold symmetry of the Philip Johnson Glass house just down the street. For me, it was a natural path to become an Interior Designer. I love what I do. I’ve created this Blog to share my thoughts, finds and design inspirations. I hope you enjoy it!