In its storied history, the Ivy League town of Princeton, New Jersey has long been known for the best in education, the arts, and culture. It has also—since 1974—been known as a showhouse town. But in recent years that aspect of Princeton culture had ceased, until last year when aspire design and home launched Aspire House Princeton, in a contemporary home only a few minutes from the Gothic towers of Princeton University and its surrounding landmark mansions. A portion of the proceeds from the showhouse were set aside to benefit the education and careers of up-and-coming designers from underrepresented communities.
In our recently released aspire design and home Showhouse Issue, we sat down with Amy Manor to learn more about her creative process in designing the Library for this project.
aspire design and home: How much time did you have to complete this room, start to finish?
Amy Manor: I developed a vision for my room and began meeting with designers and builders as early as December 2019. As the events of 2020 took place I altered the themes to match the feelings I felt.
aspire: What was your biggest challenge? Did you have a Eureka moment during the process?
Amy: The biggest challenge was coordinating COVID and getting an accurate timeline on when construction would be completed.
The Eureka moment came when I discovered the art of Gavin Benjamin through Parlor Gallery. The imagery in his art reflected much that has gone on in 2020 from faceless portraits that resemble medical masks mixed with rising racial tension and civil rights.
aspire: What did you and your team accomplish that you thought would not happen in time?
Amy: We were becoming nervous that the event would not happen due to COVID delays. Coordinating with the progress of the construction for painting and electrical was very time-sensitive. In the end, everything came together perfectly.
aspire: What was your inspiration for this room?
Amy: As a child, I remember sneaking into the men’s only lounge to look for my father at the Standard Country Club in Atlanta, GA. I would see the smoke, drinks, and card playing. The conversations were only understood by businessmen and they seemed distant and important. Women were not welcome. This was my first memory of the “N-word.” I didn’t fully understand but I knew it felt wrong. I was 5 at the time. I wanted to express the Library as a room of diversity. My vision has remained the same but has taken on an unexpected direction of interpretation and individual discovery. The pallet is dark, mesmerizing, and thought-provoking. My wish is to create a judgment-free space to discover beauty and truth in oneself.
aspire: Did you step out of your comfort zone for this project, and if so, why?
Amy: Yes absolutely. I was nervous over addressing and displaying a room that reflects racial and gender disparity. I had to become open to sharing personal learning experiences involving those themes.
aspire: Despite the fact that there were so many designers involved, there is an inherent cohesiveness to the home. Did you all converse/collaborate? Or was this a completely individual process?
Amy: This was completely an individual process. The rooms do have a cohesiveness that carries throughout the home. This could be from the knowledge of the owner’s Japanese heritage as well as being inspired by the beautiful design and execution of elements in the architecture.
aspire: Is your preference for a showhouse a small space or a large space? Does one or the other provide a better opportunity to stretch your creativity?
Amy: There are definitely more ways to stretch my creativity throughout a large space but small spaces can have a similar impact. With a small space, all the little details are amplified so everything must have purpose. There are many little details that were put in my room to enhance the idea of a judgment-free space for discovering beauty and truth within one’s self.
aspire: Describe the town of Princeton in one sentence.
Amy: The beautiful town of Princeton is a historical landmark containing gorgeous buildings, downtown boutiques, scenic parks, and friendly people.
This or That?
aspire: Paint or wallpaper?
aspire: Hardwood or rug?
Amy: Hardwood with area rug
aspire: Beach or Mountains?
aspire: Saturated Color or Black and White?
Amy: Black and white
aspire: Brunch or Dinner?
aspire: Midcentury or 18th Century?
aspire: Draperies, shades, or nothing?
aspire: 2001: A Space Odyssey or The English Patient?
Amy: 2001: A Space Odyssey
aspire: Week at the spa or Week of Broadway shows?
Amy: Week at spa
Click Here to view more interviews with our Aspire House Princeton designers.
Photography by Mike Van Tassell.
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