Q & A with Andra Birkerts

October 7, 2014

By Paula M. Bodah

If you want to peg Andra Birkerts as an interior designer who favors a traditional, transitional, or contemporary style, you’ll have a hard time. If she has a “signature” look, it might be that the spaces she and her team at Andra Birkerts Design create always have an element of surprise—an heirloom piece paired with something unabashedly modern, say, or a traditional New England architectural element juxtaposed with a lively tribal influence.

In the suburban Boston home that we featured our September-October issue, Andra’s sophisticated, eclectic, colorful style is on full display. Here, we talk in more detail about her work.

In the sitting room, you used a marble-topped piece the owners already had as a sideboard. Is it a challenge to incorporate a client’s own pieces into a whole new design?

It’s rare to have carte blanche to bring all new furnishings into a space. That is a wonderful opportunity for a clean, edited slate, but it doesn’t always happen. The more typical program is based on incorporating a client’s existing “life” into the new space. It is a challenge, but an enjoyable one. It requires an eye for what is needed to both balance and enliven the existing pieces. Here it meant grouping things distinguished by similar form or colors (the textured wallcovering has a color that’s similar to the wood of the sideboard, while the sofa, coffee table, and marble sideboard top have the neutral gray tone). Then, add contrast for energy: the mirrored surface of the coffee table and the vivid pattern of the ottoman, for example. It really is an exercise in composition.

sitting room with grass cloth

Photography by Michael J. Lee

In the living room, the decorative molding might have inspired a more traditional look for the rest of the room, but you avoided anything too dressy or fussy. What inspired you to design this room?

I generally don't take the "direct route" to a solution where all elements in a space are matched in style, form, or period. The molding in this photo is so unique and unexpected for a New England home; I wanted the room to accentuate it by juxtaposing different elements—the fur pillow against the smooth leather sofa, neutral walls with vivid rugs; a rounded shell chair to pick up on the wall niches, a mix of angular and curved shapes. The room suits the lively nature of the family who lives in the house.

andra birkerts living room

The dining room looks as though it could have run the risk of seeming a bit chilly, given all the windows. What elements did you bring in to make the space warm and inviting?

I agree the windows are risky—particularly because there are no window treatments! Lining two of the walls with wooden banquettes scattered with toss pillows created a layer of warmth that makes the space feel enveloping instead of stark and cool. I used natural warm materials and warm colors to reinforce the feeling.

andra birkerts dining room