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Interior Designer Iris Zonlight Uses A Pop Of Color With Neutral Hues
By Heather Bryce - May 7, 2018

To say that interior designer Iris Zonlight loves monochromatic colors is an understatement. In her own Sag Harbor home, the principal of Blue Ocean Design has furnished it mostly with neutral hues. Think: black, gray and white. Actually, there is very little gray but scads of black and white.

Let’s start with the black and white photos on the walls surrounding the fireplace. The largest one is of a dramatic ocean surf. It is by Michael Cromer, a well-known German fashion photographer who once lived in the Hamptons. The image is so powerful that Zonlight says, “I can never look at it enough.” Two other photos capture a bridge in Prague and Indian men sitting on a stone wall. “India is my favorite country,” she says. “I go every year.”

“There are so many reasons why I love India: the food, the people, the walled cities, the palaces, the furniture made of mango wood and rope, charpoys (traditional woven day beds), mudda chairs” . . .  and for the anti-color designer – she loves India’s colors.

Let’s move on to the two-tone drapes (black and white) to the black and white sofa pillows to the zebra skin rug. Did we mention the white and gray walls that are offset by black window frames, black blinds, black brick fireplace and high gloss black door?

While the combination is striking, it is muted somewhat by earthy materials from a coffee table made from a wooden camel cart to a tall black arc lamp sporting a sea grass shade to a pair of natural rattan poufs. The camel cart is exactly what it sounds like: a cart drawn by camels replete with metal details and feet added. It is an item that the designer has used in several projects with the advantage that none are alike. The organic materials, she says, give spaces “more depth.”

“I’m not very colorful,” she says. “I prefer to change colors with the seasons,” say a green accent around Christmas. She finds neutral hues “very calming,” while “colors are very personal.” How does that resonate with her clients? Since most of her work comes from personal referrals, her clients know her style and are drawn by it. “Someone into bright colors would not come to me.”

That’s not to say that she never adds color. Kids’ rooms are one place color is welcome. And because we’re in the Hamptons, she can be generous with blue “any shade of blue.” She discovers her clients’ propensities by having them fill out a questionnaire before work begins. Here a client specifies favorite colors so that they can be incorporated into such items as fabrics, walls, rugs and bedding. The questionnaire also unearths other important preferences. Do they entertain a lot? What spaces do they use the most?

Back to Zonlight’s own house where, she says, her dining table changes all the time. As she has been staging many a house, she winds up using her own table then buys herself a replacement. “At the moment I have a distressed wooden table with metal legs and white Eames chairs.” She plans to cover the plastic chairs in grayish reindeer hides purchased from Iceland or Norway.

In her kitchen she has four vintage stools by midcentury designer Frederick Weinberg, which she purchased at the famous Brimfield Antique Show in Massachusetts, one of her favorite sources. “Depending on the season I have different covers for the stools: white duck cloth in the summer with metal grommets and a nautical rope, and Mongolian lamb covers in winter.”

Blue Ocean was founded in 2013 along with a partner, Deborah Srb. Srb left the firm in 2016 to focus more on her real estate career at Sotheby’s  International Realty in Southampton. These days Zonlight finds herself working on projects near and far. She is currently working on a large New York City apartment; a huge Mediterranean-style house in San Diego; a Robert Stern-designed house in East Hampton and two show model apartments (one a three-story townhouse) for a building in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

Born in Holland, Zonlight studied design at the Charles Montaigne Academy in Amsterdam, emigrating to New York shortly after, where she worked for Italian jewelry designer Luigi Briglia. Two years later she started her own jewelry company in which she designed and manufactured private label jewelry for mainly European companies such as Escada, Sonia Bogner and Etienne Aigner.

After 15 years she yearned “to be doing something else,” so she and her now ex-husband began to buy properties and renovate them. “Every time we finished a house the buyers wanted to buy every piece of furniture in it,” she says. “So it seemed natural to start a career in this field. I feel that I really found my passion. I absolutely love what I do.”

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