Jennifer Blumin, CEO and Founder of Skylight and James Ramsey, President of architecture/design firm RAAD and co-founder/creator of the Lowline, are the very definition of a New York power couple. They met in 2001 at a party at Studio 54. Years later (with many professional accomplishments in tow), they found their diamond in the rough – a neglected TriBeCa loft in need of a major facelift.
With their two children, Phineas (2 years) and Theodore (9 months), the couple moved into a landmarked building on White Street and spearheaded a head-to-toe renovation. Using the guiding principle of warm modernism, the end result is industrial yet cozy, fashion-forward yet still family-friendly. From the two living rooms (a glamorous low-slung lounge area worthy of the Beverly Hills hotel and an industrial space filled with souvenirs from far-flung locales) to the social dining area, no detail was forgotten. We sat down with the couple to learn more about their careers, their home, and their love of great design:
How did you find this home and know it was the right one for you?
JAMES: We have the greatest broker on earth. His name is Mark Chin, and he was tireless in helping us hunt for the ideal place. We were only looking at pre-war places – we weren’t looking for new development. We came across our current place off-market, and it was a complete mess. A terrible layout and clearly neglected for decades, it was the perfect blend of existing original details and blank canvas to design something unique and perfect for ourselves.
JENNIFER: Yes, we wanted a wreck – there’s a good chance we might have found the last un-renovated loft in Tribeca. Neither of us wanted to pay for someone else’s renovations, especially given that this is what we do!
No fear of a great challenge – we love it! So when you began designing your home, what was the first priority?
JAMES: We had two basic things we focused on first. We knew we needed three bedrooms for our growing family, which is tricky in a space like ours, and we wanted to make sure we had a place that was perfect for dinners and entertaining, since we do a ton of that.
JENNIFER: I’m a more private person than James, so I wanted a true family nest that felt spacious and not an afterthought, so I could retire to domesticity while James parties away in the front. The hallway James designed is not only an architectural focal point – it draws the line between public space and private space, making the existence of both feel entirely natural.
Once the renovation was complete, what was your favorite part?
JAMES: For me, I spend the most time in the kitchen. I love cooking, and this is the first nice kitchen I’ve ever had. Being able to design it myself, I was able to think through exactly how I like to cook and entertain and make sure those particular attributes were implemented accordingly. Jen loves our bedroom/bathroom area.
JENNIFER: Let’s call it more of a spa. (The door to the toilet room remains closed!) This winter was so cold, and the steam room, jacuzzi, and hot floor were perfect to warm up in after a day out in the elements.
What are the hallmarks of a RAAD designed space?
JAMES: RAAD places an emphasis on creating incredibly efficient spaces – really squeezing every last drop of usability out of a home, while maintaining clean lines. We then try and balance our clean, modern layouts with warm, natural textures and perfect lighting to make the simple act of using and being in our spaces as pleasant as possible.
JENNIFER: I’d like to add that RAAD’s focus on warm modernism is apparent throughout our home. My company focuses on adaptive reuse, which merges so well with that aesthetic. We used the bones of the building as inspiration.
What qualities do you most admire in a room?
JAMES: Good lighting is the number one most important thing you can do.
The space is neutral but the color palette is just right. Which colors do you use most?
JAMES: We tend to use simple whites and dark grays with rich wood tones. I know that sounds boring, but we’ve found that by being strategic about our lights and darks, we can use them as powerful tools to make spaces brighter, or more mysterious, or bigger, or compressive, or even just cheer people up.
JENNIFER: This also enables us to play with color in fabrics, art – even the kids’ mess! – against a neutral canvas.
Do you have any favorite, go-to paint colors?
JAMES: I kind of love Benjamin Moore’s “Witching Hour” – a deep dark gray that you can use for theatrical effect in showing off art, curios, etc.
JENNIFER: I use it all over my offices and event spaces too!
Why is design important to you?
JAMES: Design is important at every level, for every human sense. I really think it can improve our outlook on the world, organize our thoughts, or bring clarity to our reasoning. That’s something that applies to the smallest tool or the biggest city.
JENNIFER: I’m obsessed with our city’s old buildings, and I love the challenge of repurposing something that had one purpose historically, into something beautiful to be enjoyed in an entirely new way today. Our family home was originally a factory.
Biggest decorating/design mistake you see people make?
JAMES: Scale is a huge issue. I see so many living rooms that are meant to be grand, but in actuality, they are too big for people to have a conversation, and the room ends up sitting there unused. Try and keep people less than ten feet away from each other in any seating group if you can, and sit back and enjoy the conversation!
What’s the biggest business lesson you’ve learned in running your own firm?
JAMES: Don’t do projects as “favors” for friends. If you’re going to do it, do it for real. They do not usually understand the amount of work that went into it, or appreciate the favor, so treating it like a normal project will make both your friend and your staff take it more seriously. Plus, then, you don’t run the risk of ruining friendships!
JENNIFER: I taught him that!
When you’re feeling uninspired, what do you do to get it back?
JAMES: This is probably a bit hackneyed, but I find that either listening to music or being out in the natural world are the two most recharging, inspiring things I can do for myself.
What’s the accomplishment you’re most proud of?
JAMES: I’m most proud of the Lowline, my idea for an underground park in Manhattan. It has transformed from a bizarre daydream into a real project that is going to happen and transform the city, all starting from absolutely nothing except an idea and some amazing friends!
What do you attribute your success to?
JAMES: I started RAAD at a foolishly young age but stuck to it through many lean years. Being excited about your designs and what you do comes through, not only in the finished product itself, but also in your friendships with your clients.
Who do you look up to in the interior design world most and why?
JAMES: My wife, Jen! She’s bold in her tastes and fearless, even when it comes to disagreeing with me and overriding my design ideas!
Finally, what is your top advice for turning a house into a home?
JAMES: Fix the lighting, and don’t be shy about filling it with the nerdy things you love and find interesting. Beware of bad LEDs and a lack of personalization.
JENNIFER: Don’t try to decorate your home in a month. Allow it to grow organically over time as you find and incorporate things you love.
Click through the slideshow for more details on this beautiful home.