TALKING IN THE LIBRARY WITH DESIGNER

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It’s been back up and running since late January, but this Saturday, the Red Bank Public Library plans to hold a grand reopening to mark the completion of a $1.6 million renovation.

The interior design of the facility was done by Globus Design Associates, a three-person firm that specializes in library and museum work and is one of the field’s more accomplished practitioners in this part of the country. It also just happens to be based right here in Red Bank, just a few blocks east of the library. Firm principal Suzan Globus of Fair Haven, a past president of both the American Society of Interior Designers and its New Jersey affiliate, founded the firm 18 years ago.

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redbankgreen spoke recently with Globus about her work on the project. We met in the former Eisner family living room, now the home of the New Jersey collection, which Globus calls “one of the most beautiful public spaces in Red Bank. I just can’t think of another interior in Red Bank equal to this one.”

How did you come to this specialty?

I was a journalist, and had reached my life goal by the ripe age of 25; that was to become a newspaper editor [at a weekly shopper on Long Beach Island]. Along the way I had written sports, I had written for magazines, I had written for TV and for a member of Congress, and the only thing I hadn’t done was to write a book. But I quickly realized I didn’t know anything about anything but writing, and who wants to read that book?

So I decided I should go pursue another interest and then write a book about it, and that led me to a one-year course in interior design, and I loved it. So I said, ‘I’m going to do this properly,’ and I went on to get another four-year degree in interior design, and became qualified by the National Council for Interior Design. [The book idea, she says, fell to the wayside.]

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I worked for an office furniture supplier initially, and was thinking of leaving to start my own practice when the director of purchasing for the Ocean County Library, which is the largest system in the state, told me that they were planning a major expansion. They gave me a contract for ‘colors’ — I specified the carpets and the paints. But when I looked at the floor plans, I thought they could accomplish what they wanted with less furniture. So I redesigned the interiors and called the library director up and said, ‘I know you didn’t hire me to do this, but I just want to spend a couple of minutes with you and show you where you can save some money.’ They saved enough on the first building to pay my contract, so they hired me for three more libraries with expanded responsibilities.

What’s the difference between decorating and interior design?

Interior decorating is just on aspect of interior design, which involves space planning, ergonomics, lighting, environmental concerns — a lot of aspects besides just,’ Oh, it looks beautiful’ or ‘I really like it.’ It encompasses all the knowledge available to create a specific environment.

How does library interior design differ from any other kind?

To me, library design, especially public library design, is so exciting because there’s no ‘standard’ client. Users range in age from infants in carriages to senior citizens, and they have different information needs. You have to design with universality in mind. Some people come to the library just to be around other people, or because it’s a safe haven. You need to create a variety of spaces so people with all needs and from all walks of life can feel comfortable.

Realtors say the second-most-asked question, behind ‘How are the schools?’ is ‘Is the library good?’ I just think that’s so telling. People really take pride in their community, and many feel that the library represents the epitome of their town.

How did you get involved in this project?

Through the architectural firm of Kaplan, Gaunt & DeSantis. They asked us to team with them on doing a feasibility study. We did some work together before at Brookdale on the Performing Arts Center.

What is the foremost physical asset this library had that you wanted to take advantage of?

The location. It’s a waterfront location with a million-dollar view. That really drove the design. There are a limited number of waterfront properties with public access in this town.

Did you think the original design wasn’t highlighting that?

It could have been improved, just by creating better sightlines. So we redesigned and reconfigured the first floor to create that immediate visual access to the water. And in fact, the water theme drove some of the aesthetics of the designs in the color choices and finishes.

After that, what did you most want to accomplish?

We wanted to increase sightlines for the staff, to enable them to do their jobs better to be able to communicate with each other and with users better. Always, you want to support the staff in their function, because the better the staff works, the better the services will be for the public.

So we interviewed the staff and observed them to determine what their needs are. And we looked at how the building is used. We looked at circulation statistics, demographics, the history of this building — to try to understand, even though I work in this town, to really dig down and understand what this building was and also to understand the library board’s vision of what it should be.

We were interested in creating a really welcoming space that would draw people in, where they could relax and do what they needed to do.

What were some of the key choices you made?

We kept a traditional feel to this building, but also updated materials, updated spaces so that it’s a more contemporary take on a traditional building.

Tell me about a couple of choices in particular. We have some new chairs here on the first floor that look like fun.

They are fun. The armless chairs are for young adults; an older person may need to have not only arms on a chair but arms that come forward so they can push themselves up. A younger person most likely wouldn’t need that assistance, so we wanted to put something specifically in that area which wouldn’t attract an adult. Not to say an adult might not think it’s the greatest chair in the world and go plop down in it. But after school, when teens are there, adults are less likely to go there, too, because you’ve got those social concerns. We created an area for teens that is in a corner, because studies show that they like segregated space, which is impossible in a big room, but we tried to create it by putting it in a corner and giving them a sense of, ‘This is our space.’

We also like the tiny little block tables and chairs in the children’s room. They’ve got these bold stripes that really pop. You can’t look at them without smiling.

That was the nautical theme we used. We just had fun down there. Children’s rooms are something that I’m especially proud of in our designs because they are playful spaces, probably because we’re all children at heart.

I think we’ve really transformed that space. It’s the lower level, and we tried to allow as much natural light into that room as we could. People are like moths; they’re really attracted to light. That’s why we dropped pendants over the front desk. People just think, ‘Oh, light. I should be here.’

You mentioned environmental considerations earlier. How do they come into play?

Well, the first thing is, don’t knock it down and build something bigger. You’ve heard the expression, ‘first, do no harm’? If you can use an existing structure and repurpose it or make it better, that’s a huge first step. If surfaces and finishes can be used or made better without throwing them into a landfill, then you try to do that.

For designers and architects, it’s kind of a relearning, that you don’t have to destroy something that’s already here, that’s got that embedded energy — the gas it took to heat the furnace that made that object. So you start thinking in those terms.

Everything that is manufactured to be in an interior creates an environment where human beings have their most intimate exchanges with that environment. So every piece of furniture that we’re sitting on, the flooring that we walk on — I don’t want to get too technical but they contain materials that off-gas to affect the air that you breathe, which effects employee efficiency, rates of absenteeism. The wood for tabletops may be harvested locally, versus around the world and trucked in, which means burning energy. You can specify fabrics, furnishings, finishes that will create healthy environments, and it goes right through from the method of manufacturing to how it’s transported to how it goes back into the earth when it’s finished.

Is the design work here unique?

We don’t repeat designs, if that’s what you mean, because I like to help a community create a sense of place that’s unique to the community.

You hear that more in residential design: ‘I ike that designer because of their style.’ I don’t really believe in that concept. I don’t believe that I will ‘color’ each project in a way that will be identifiable with me. ‘I saw this chair in another library’ is not something I ever want to hear. It’s just not fair to the client.

So in a sense, you’d like to remain anonymous?

Absolutely. It’s not about me. It’s about the community. It’s about the library and who it’s serving.

How is this job looking, now that it’s completed?

I love to come to grand openings, because I like to see people’s faces. Then I like to come back about a month later to see how they’re using the space. Because people will make space their own. People will congregate and move furniture to make the room responsive to them. So I like to come back and see how that’s happening, why it’s happening, and learn from that.

The library’s usual opening hour of 9a is being pushed back this Saturday for the grand reopening celebration, with doors opening at 11a. A ribbon cutting, tours, refreshments and music by the Red Bank Middle School Ensemble are planned.

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