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The Secret to Styling Surfaces

Posted by Sarah Garrison on

Designer Annhy Shim-Morel of SHIM PROJECTS is an expert on styling surfaces to balance function and beauty. Learn how she does it.

All of us at Studio DUNN get a thrill when we see our pieces featured in client images. When a designer posts a project that includes our lighting or furniture, there's a rush of pride and humble awe. We love passing a computer around our conference table to "ohh" and "ahh" over the latest Instagram-tagged shot.

When I came across a particularly serene image of our Sorenthia Lights in an interior by SHIM PROJECTS, another feeling surfaced - let's call it an "ah-ha" moment. Ah ha! Here is a modern space that is warm and inviting, livable and approachable, yet free of clutter. I stalked SHIM PROJECT's Instagram page, and more inspiring images surfaced. Somehow, this designer manages to achieve that intangible balance of incorporating personality (also known as "stuff") while retaining a minimalist, functional aesthetic. I was overcome with an insatiable urge to learn her secrets.

Shelving with vases, books, and objets d'art

So I reached out to talented interior designer Annhy Shim of SHIM PROJECTS, located in Miami, Florida, to glean what I could. Luckily for me (and now, for you), she was more than forthcoming with her tips and tricks for styling surfaces. Read on if you, too, have ever argued with your significant other that yes, although you use the blender every morning, no, it shouldn't live on the kitchen countertop. (Vindication awaits!)

Q: Please tell us a bit about yourself and your work.

A: I am an Interior Designer/Design Director born in Toronto, Canada, and have been living and working in Miami, Florida, for 15 years. My work is strategy-based. I see design as an essential function of business especially in today’s visually savvy and starved world where first impressions and ‘instagrammable’ moments have the power to drive commerce. 

I like to delve deeply into the purpose of a project to understand as many aspects of it before putting pencil to paper. I love to sketch my thoughts - I went to design school pre-CAD - and I love working with clients who understand that design is a special function and not just the act of matching things and making things "look pretty."

Sketch by Annhy Shim of SHIM PROJECTS

My work is pared down, cohesive and clean, regardless of the style or function and I get very anal retentive about specific details because to me, it’s the little things that count, whether people are conscious of it or not. I like to incorporate natural materials (wood, clay, stone) into all of my designs and keep the details timelessly modernist.

Inspiration board by Shim Projects

Q: Once the main design elements are in place, how do go about making selections for styling surfaces (countertops, consoles, accent tables, shelving, etc.)?

A: Once I understand the function and purpose of a space or area, I always like to balance "beauty" with "function." For instance, on a kitchen island, I’ll place a stack of utilitarian cutting boards, a grouping of sculptural bowls (both functional elements) and then a vase or vessel for fresh cut flowers or greenery (a beauty element). What these items look like is driven by the overall design of the space - but it really all comes down to having an eye.

Kitchen counter with books and utensils

Kitchen stovetop with coffee maker and plant

Q: So many of us struggle with shelving. What tips do you have for styling bookshelves and built-ins to be functional and interesting, but avoid looking cluttered?

A: Pick your favorite framed memories and select 1-2 frame styles and keep those consistent. Throw away dust jackets from hardcover books. I like the feel of a naked hardcover book (that sounds bad…but I do!). Stack books in odd numbers (3, 5, 7), and keep like sizes together. Always maintain negative space - you don’t have to cram everything onto one shelf. Keep smaller items to the top and larger heavier ones to the bottom of the shelf. And add in some greenery; a plant always softens a bookshelf and gives it a natural, lived-in look.

Shelving with framed art and photos and plant

Books stacked on shelf with silver vase and clock

Q: Keeping the kitchen countertop clear is a constant battle in every household I know. What are the key objects for a counter, and what needs to be tucked away out of sight?

A: The size of one’s kitchen is a driving factor. A good cutting board, knife block, beautiful cook books, a beautiful Espresso maker, bowls of fruit and a vase for flowers or greenery are all allowed. If you live in an apartment/smaller space, small appliances cannot be left on counters. Remember that kitchen counters are for cooking and kitchen functions. It should be clean and ready for cooking! Not for storing things like junk mail or blenders and mixers.

Kitchen with walnut cabinets and counter with cutting board and canisters

Kitchen Counter with cutting board and books

Kitchen counter with open cookbook

Q: How do you incorporate a client’s favorite photographs, collectables, or objet d’art in your designs?

A: There are many ways I like to do this. Depending on what these items are, they can be framed to become part of a story wall or gallery wall; or they can be placed amongst books on a shelf; or they can be displayed in a tasteful manner in a table shadow box mixed in with a coffee table scape.

Shelf unit with plants, books, and white coral

Q: Who do you admire today in the architecture and/or design fields, and what are they doing that you admire? 

A: I am constantly inspired by Interior Designers Glenn Pushelberg and George Yabu for expanding their aesthetic onto furniture, lighting and accessories; I’m obsessed with architect Patricia Urquiola’s coveted rug collections from CC Tapis and GAN; and the incredible Tadao Ando for having the passion to become one of the most noted self-taught architects of our time.

I admire people who have strong creative vision and passion.

Bathroom vanity with sinks and vase with white flowers

I want to extend a thank you to Annhy for sharing her expert ideas in what has now become my rulebook for styling. Now I must get home to tuck all those kitchen appliances away in the cabinet where they belong. Score one point for me (sorry, hubby!).


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