Q: How did you come to the North Fork? A: I was born in Brooklyn, when I married we bought a house in Rocky Point, and we moved there 50 years ago. Then I moved to a historic house in Wading River, restored it in 1976. In 1980, I moved out to Cutchogue, married Jim Cross, had my fourth child, and built my current home in colaboration with my stepson Tim Cross and Bill Chalet.
Some images from Conni's house:
Q: That's quite a journey of building and rebuilding. Your company is Conni Cross Garden Design. How did you get into design?
A: I had a background in art, and I was raised in the era of radio, which developed your mine’s eye. You’d hear the fat man get on the scale, or the thin man… I feel like that developed my imagination, along with my mother who loved to tell stories.
Though my mother never graduated grade school, she went to trade school to make wedding gowns and was very into fashion and all things beautiful. She would play a game with me called ‘Rich Lady.’ She would pretend I was a rich lady and would interview me, ask me what my home looked like. She would ask me detailed questions—what about the drapes, the table, the wallpaper; she made me really see.
I think that gave me a brain that can see things done before they exist. As a result whether its landscaping, or decorating, staging a house, renovating, I can see it finished before we start.
Q: Wow, that’s so old school cool—the era of radio and a mother’s imaginative play with you gave you a powerful mind’s eye. How do you use that in your design work?
A: My job has evolved and picking from what’s in mind’s eye and putting it on paper, or making it grow, to taking what’s in other people’s minds and having it result. It’s a process of asking a lot of questions.
I’m a psychiatrist of interior design; giving people what they really want, by asking them enough questions to get them to express it. In the end people know what they really want, they just don’t know how to get there.
Q: What do you mean, asking people a lot of questions to figure out what they really want?
A: Everyone enters a conversation with a pre-determined set of ideas, but when you’re working for someone, you really have to hear them, it’s only by listening and really asking a lot of questions that you figure out.
I ask very intimate questions. A home isn’t just how it looks, it is also how it functions. If you drop things on the floor, a basket is the best I can do for you. If you’re not going to open a door and use a hanger, a closet is no good for you; you need a basket.
Q: Do you have a certain color or colors, or styles that your particularly like?
A: It’s evolved over time; I’ve learned a lot from clients. Originally my pallet was softer colors, pale colors. Then I have a client that really likes red, or orange or yellow, and I’m challenged to make something they like and I like. If I don’t like it too it’s hard to do it really well, put the passion in. So working with clients’ favorite colors, that I didn’t originally appreciate, broadened my pallet.
My aesthetic in general is pretty eclectic, and that again reflects my childhood, being raised in a middle to lower-middle class family with a mother who loved beautiful things.
Some of Conni's interiors; they include full renovation/redesigns
Q: How did your middle/lower-middle class upbringing give you an eclectic aesthetic?
A: You can’t just buy everything. You’re forced to look at things differently. I love things, I love objects. When you have little, it’s hard but enjoyable to observe what’s around you.
You’re able to identify the beauty in an object with a purpose not necessarily its original purpose. Making my place beautiful with the resources I have. I still do that with people. Look at what you have before you go buy something new.
So I often use found objects, repurposed objects. I lean towards to mid century, modern, shabby chic, bohemian…
Things need to look lived in, not rigid.
Q: What do you mean things need to look lived in, not rigid?
A: My design differs from many other designers’--imagine you have a throw. I don’t fold it just so, deliberately on the couch. You don’t want to sit on the couch because you might mess up the throw. I just toss it there.
Which brings me to the messy bed. It’s become trendy now. The messy bed is sensual, inviting, lived in. But it’s not an unmade bed.
It’s messy v. the motel look. In the motel, each pillow is aligned, everything just so. Some people require this order for their minds to function. To them, a messy bed looks like an unmade bed. But it’s not.
When doing a messy bed, it meaning arranging the covers just so—it’s the matador throw, to be able to get the coverlet to land on the bed right. It’s trying to make a house not look sterile, to make it inviting, where people want to sit, relax.
Q: You company is Conni Cross Garden Design, but we’ve been talking almost exclusively interior design. What are the range of services you provide?
A: I started with interior design, but I do all aspects of landscape and garden design too. I consult, I design, I work with engineers and draftsmen. The spatial elements outside are different outside than inside; I try to help people see what will be, how it will function.
Some pictures of Conni's landscapes and gardens:
I do big projects and small. Pools, patios, site planning, complete garden design, and interior design for home renovation or new construction. And if I don’t do the work asked for, I have a wealth of resources to direct people to.
In short, I’m a facilitator of idea, whether it’s related to your garden or home.