Ellie Cullman Provides Insights on Honoring the Past and Showcasing the Present

Designer Ellie Cullman, honorary design chair for the Designer Showhouse on the GreenDesigner Ellie Cullman, honorary design chair for the Designer Showhouse on the Green (an 1834 Georgian that was remodeled in the mid-1800s into a Greek Revival) in Fairfield, discusses the joys and challenges of working on a showhouse. An enthusiastic advocate of historic homes, the designer also provides insights into the character, elegance and irreplaceable appeal of living in a home with a past.

What’s your favorite thing about working on a showhouse?
My favorite thing about doing a showhouse is the great professional challenge it presents for me and my team. Not only is it critical to make an important design statement, but showhouses must be conceived and executed in a ridiculously short period of time. The joy of chairing this showhouse in Fairfield is that I will have the time to engage with and appreciate my colleagues’ work.

Cullman & Kravis’s 2014 Kips Bay Showhouse bedroom had a “Some Like It Hot” theme, a reference to the movie of the same name, and captured the company’s “modern traditional” design philosophy.

What’s the most recent showhouse that you worked on?
Cullman & Kravis has done half a dozen showhouses. The most recent was in 2014 for Kips Bay, which was held in the historic Villard House on Madison Avenue and 50th Street. We transformed a bland conference room (the building formerly housed Urban Center Books) into a sumptuous and sexy bedroom.

What are the pros and cons of working on such a project when you really don’t have a “client”?
The pro of working without a client is that all our ideas are readily and enthusiastically accepted by the “client”/us. The con is that the choices are infinite!

What do you hope visitors come away with? And what should they consider while touring the home?
I hope the showhouse will provide “take-home value”—that is, gives visitors concrete ideas that they can use in their own homes. While touring the house, visitors should take in as much as they can—wall colors, fabric combinations, floor plans, furniture selections, etc.

 Ellie Cullman’s family home in Connecticut is a showplace of cherished Americana.

Your family’s CT country house is a historical home. What are the top three reasons that you enjoy living there?
The top three attractions of living in our Connecticut home are: the continuity to our family’s past history; the joy of modern living in a family home replete with charm and soul; the fabulous produce we enjoy from our vegetable garden, especially the corn!

Do you find that interest in historical homes is trending these days?
Sadly, I don’t believe that there is much interest in historical homes at the current moment. Most people seem to be solely obsessed with the new and are all too ready to discard the old.

What are some of the challenges of making an older home more workable/livable for today’s lifestyles?
Of course historic homes have to be modernized to accommodate new heating, air conditioning, lighting and computer systems. They also have to be made more energy efficient. But consideration must be given as well to decoration—to brightening the historic palette and to eliminating clutter.

What charms do you see in historic homes that you wish were replicated in homes built today?
At the end of the day, there is no substitute for the character and elegance of a historic house with a gracious floor plan and refined detailing. 

Click here for more about the Designer Showhouse on the Green!

A version of this article appeared in the October 2015 issue of Connecticut Cottages & Gardens with the headline: Redesigning History.