Interior Designer Elizabeth Bolognino Makes a Home in Westport

above: Bolognino moved into this 2003 center-hall Colonial in central Westport with her husband, Justin, and three children after selling her home in Ditmas Park, Brooklyn in 2021. She likens the Westport sensibility to that of Fairhope, Alabama where she spent her summers growing up.
Portrait by Andrea Carson

Interior designer Elizabeth Bolognino talks a lot about story. Fed by a natural spring of historical references, academic constructs, and three-dimensional ideas that manifest in her many installations, she looks for the story of a place, the story of its inhabitants, the story of that very particular piece of furniture fashioned before your grandmother was born.

Once she finds a thread, she builds the narrative around it and finishes with a flourish. A classic New York six worthy of a high-octane re-do gets a tufted-velvet sofa the inky hue of an anti-oxidant-rich shot of POM Wonderful! A behemoth apartment on Tribeca’s riverfront lands, as a backsplash, a veined slab of marble winking with mineral deposits. Luxurious penthouses in a new development on Toronto’s Richmond Hill get shiny fixtures and finishes befitting Double-Oh-Seven himself.

left: The library epitomizes Bolognino’s club-room concept, which facilitates conversation. Paneling is stained the color of oxblood with a high gloss. right: The lobby derives its grandeur from its Beaux-Arts arched windows and centers on an Empire-style table from John Boone. Other features include a Steinway grand piano and a chandelier by Ralph Lauren. – Photograph: The Watford Group

The designer, a Georgia peach who, after a decade and a half in New York arrived in Westport in 2021 under the cover of the pandemic, is imaginative and shrewd. With 13 years under her belt at the helm of Elizabeth Bolognino Interiors—and with offices in New York City and South Florida as well as a home studio in Westport—she remains a creative whose hands touch every one of her projects.

At Westport HQ on a recent afternoon, Bolognino’s housemates are accounted for. Husband, Justin, founder and CEO of the pioneering immersive-experience laboratory, Meta, is exuberantly glued to the golf on the flat screen, seven iron in hand; Frankie, seven, is marveling at the resident tooth fairy’s generosity during her recent streak of lost teeth; three-year-old son, Just, provides play-by-play on the winter strawberries he’s consuming; Billie Holiday, the yellow lab, lobbies for affection and foodstuffs from siblings and strangers alike; and Chloe, 12, discusses her aspirations as a student of acting while slurping a bubble tea. The proximity of both the Country Playhouse and the Staples Players is a bonus.

The Bologninos—technically the Bolognini—bought the six-bedroom, five-and-a-half bath, center-hall Colonial in central Westport after selling their apartment in Brooklyn’s Ditmas Park in what amounted to an even swap on the balance sheet. Situated on an acre about a mile from Staples High School, the house is tucked behind a hedged berm that more or less conceals the magic that is planned—or not.

The apartment interior represents Bolognino’s Contemporary concept in a standard unit with barrel chairs and a carpet by Eskayel in a custom colorway. – Photograph: The Watford Group

For now, the 20-year-old floor plan is holding up as is, without significant changes. After all, there is an interiors empire to run, a line of furniture to produce, and a midcentury design show to host. (Bolognino’s concept is currently being shopped to streamers.)

Over a snack tray on a walnut dining-room table she designed, Bolognino is thinking out loud about art for a large wall covered in impressionistic dogwood blossoms seemingly afloat in a trickling stream, a nod to the tree popular in Atlanta, her hometown. The art she hangs on it, she says, should reflect her husband’s Italian heritage.

Growing up, Bolognino spent her summers on the Gulf Coast in Fairhope, Alabama, overlooking picturesque Mobile Bay and soaking in the artistic milieu of her maternal grandparents, a painter and a woodcarver. Now a resident of New England, she delights in living close to Long Island Sound, where she goes to the beach, coached by local master gardener Alice Ely, and serving as an alternate on Westport’s Historic District Commission.

“Westport feels related to how I grew up in the South,” she says. “It’s slower, more genteel, more polite. The sense of tradition is familiar to me.”

At the University of Georgia, Bolognino studied graphic design and computer science and earned her B.S. before pursuing her M.S. at Pratt. At Pratt she negotiated an internship with noted interiors firm Yabu Pushelberg. In her third year, she was hired by YP; her job served as her senior thesis.

“YP’s standards were the best training I could get,” she says.

left: A room without windows, this Williamsburg library is a contemporary refuge that nods to earlier times. Illuminated shelving flanks a Murphy bed tucked behind a 1969 Reg Lancaster portrait of Francoise Hardy on a Honda motorcycle. The custom cabinetry features a polished-brass detail and the chairs are by Ralph Lauren Home. right: In this Amagansett home by Bates Masi Architects, Bolognino favored natural materials that echo the surrounding habitat. The dining table and chairs recall the materials and shapes of windsurfing, the owner’s hobby. Bar stools are by Mark Albrecht Studio. – Photograph: Adam Kane Macchia

At Ralph Lauren, where she spent three years designing the company’s flagship stores on Fifth Avenue, Greenwich Avenue and in Seoul, Bolognino added texture and patina to her repertoire, finding, fixing—and often re-purposing—one-of-a-kind objects she acquired at Paris flea markets or in Lauren’s sprawling warehouse in Queens. Negotiations with artisans who could cane chairs or repair furs were legion, she recalls.

“I learned how to make movies in my mind and then how to create the stores around that.”

Now, under her own marquee, Bolognino has married the two sensibilities that have most profoundly influenced her point of view:  the inspiration of objects and details steeped in history and the concentrated energy of symmetry and pared-down forms.

She calls her concept “layered minimalism” and she’s trademarked it. “It’s a method, not a style,” she says, explaining that in approaching a project she applies the appropriate proportions of traditional and modern elements and references, and is always careful not to strip a house of its soul by gutting it. Like a modern storyteller putting a fresh spin on old material, she respects provenance, whether in a structure or in a piece of art.

Bolognino appreciates how the zeitgeist of a particular period influences how things look—interiors, fashion, architecture, consumable goods.

Inspired by the interests of her clients—traveling, writing, collecting—Bolognino endeavored, in this pre-war classic six off Park Avenue, to pay homage to a more glamorous era with a mix of modern and traditional elements both found and acquired. A sofa by William “Billy” Haines, once the “it” interior designer to Hollywood’s stars, sits beneath a monumental image from Shirin Neshat’s ‘Soliloquy’ series, which Bolognino says is the kind of piece that can tell us about those who inhabit the space. – Photograph: Adam Kane Macchia

“It’s all driven by socioeconomics,” she says. Her examples are numerous: Large-scale manufacturing spawned the streamlined silhouettes of Art Deco. Biomorphism arose from a post-war freedom of thought.  The 2008 financial collapse brought austere Prohibition-era finishings. Covid’s dark ages prompted a yearning for comfort and light.

Bolognino’s luxuriant auburn hair and supple skin—she will soon be 43—lend her a equanimity that belies the stress that is inevitable when an immense cocktail table fails to arrive in time for an increasingly impatient client’s holiday party, say, or a contractor gets the counter height wrong when cutting custom cabinetry.

Referrals are the engine of Bolognino’s business, and a client relationship that endures through consecutive projects is ideal. To date, she’s been hired by musicians, record executives, magazine publishers, and creatures of fashion. She handles the flow with the help of four employees and three consultants.

left: A La Cornue range and hood in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. right: Bolognino spends many weekends in the Catskills where her property includes an original farmhouse and a contemporary barn that houses her husband’s music studio. In this room with a view, the mix of pieces is of Bolognino’s choosing: a string-tufted ottoman, an Empire-style table with which she says she is obsessed, and a mid-century rocker. – Photograph: Adam Kane Macchia

Bolognino’s business is three-fold:  residential interiors, commercial commissions, and a customizable furniture line, each piece reflecting the ethos of a distinct period—or an original idea of her own. Her Collectors Fireplace embodies the latter. An all-in-one marble and oak fireplace surround and shelving, the item addresses the persistent scourge of modern decor by hiding a television that pops out in the evening.

Apart from producing new furniture and outfitting colossal cedar-shaked cottages in Bridgehampton and embellishing skyscraper aeries on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, Bolognino’s current mega-project is the Watford, the gated Toronto community where the aforementioned penthouses are located. Its raison d’etre?  Nearby, “Deadpool” creator, actor, and investor Ryan Reynolds is backing a 1.2 million-square-foot movie studio, which will be Canada’s largest film-making hub to date.

In an exclusive partnership with the developer and her old pal Ralph Lauren (Home), which will provide all materials, Bolognino is decking out the penthouses with three distinct themes from which owners can choose—Traditional, Contemporary, and Moderne, the latter inspired by James Bond’s interior environs. Bolognino has blockbuster clients in mind. Indeed, soon she may take her storytelling all the way to Hollywood.

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