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Nora Schneider: A Study In Contrasts

“I always say opposites attract, and that informs all of my design decisions,” explains interior designer Nora Schneider. “It’s what I most love to do, I love dichotomies.”

Call it contrast, balance or yin and yang — the principle is clearly at work in the expertly layered spaces interior designer Nora Schneider creates. “I’m not a big fan of rooms that have all one style,” says the Chicago-based creative. “I like to mix it up — I love smooth with rough and old with new — that tension is something that I concentrate on. I have always been attracted to the combination of ancient and modern and how they compliment and elevate one another.”

When designing the sumptuous bedroom pictured bw (her own, as it happens), Nora used the wallpaper as her jumping-off point. “I knew that I wanted the wall behind the bed to be great-big oversized, exaggerated blooms. Once I found the paper, it became the inspiration for the wall color and the rest of the room. I wanted it to be dark and moody. I often do bedrooms in dark saturated colors, if the client will go for it. Bedrooms are rooms where you can really do that. Your bedroom is your sanctuary, and when you shut the door it sort of envelops you,” she says.

In addition to a pair of antique Chinese chests used as sleek bedside tables, Nora brought in a stone garden stool. Part elegance, part ergonomics, she placed it an exact arms-length from bed, creating the perfect book perch.

When kicking off a new design project, Nora often counsels clients to start by choosing one thing that they really love. “I don’t care if it’s a vase, a chair, wallpaper, or a rug that we find — we use that as a starting point,” she says. “They fall in love with something, and then the inspiration comes from there. I advocate starting with a rug. People always want to paint everything first, when actually it should be the the last thing that you do.”

A life-long treasure hunter, Nora credits her mother with sparking her passion, by taking her along to estate sales and antique shops as a child. She learned early to spot a piece with potential. “It used to be so much fun. We would walk up and down the alleys and look for people’s [cast-away] furniture to repurpose. I’d take a piece home and paint it purple or something crazy,” says Nora. These days, her searches are often conducted in service of her clients. “Wherever I go I’m on the lookout for beauty and unique pieces. Whether it be junk shops in Mexico or antique shops in Paris, I’m always looking for treasures for my clients.”

When it comes to designing for high-rise apartments, Nora is skilled at taking spaces well beyond the  “white box” look. “What I try to do is build character. Adding an antique, whether it’s Asian or French, is such an easy solution and it feels so right,” she says. “I like other antiques as well, but Asian antiques, in particular, for their clean lines — and when it comes to patina, nobody does it better. They really are the perfect fit for most rooms I design.”

Another of her signature tools for delivering rich, storied-looking spaces, is the high-contrast power of black. “I like using black as a backdrop, and then contrasting it with a vivid color, in front. That contrast is very dramatic and that’s what I like.”

“You only need a few beautiful things,” says Nora. “I love to create collections, but I like them to feel very curated. People love to buy a lot of beautiful stuff, but then it can feel like clutter — you can’t see the forest for the trees. Choose carefully and choose only a few special items. If you have a lot, none of it matters.” Pictured above is Nora’s personal collection of beaded African heads from Cameroon. She’s assembled a similar collection for a client.

“My clients are a consistent source of inspiration, I always look to them first,” says Nora. “I also love Instagram, it’s a never-ending resource. You have to build a great group to follow, and I’m always inspired by my peers.” Fashion, textiles, museums, and travel are just a few other favorites that top her list. “I do find that I come home from someplace and see myself doing things that relate to where I’ve just been,” she says.

Photo by Anthony Tahlier.

Hero shot: Design by Nora Schneider Interiors. Photo by Anthony Tahlier.

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