The year 2018 was a firecracker time for interior designer Cate Caruso. Between trips to see clients along the East Coast and beyond, Caruso flew to London to pick up an International Design and Architecture Award, presented by design.et.al. All the while, she continued her work at her home base, STUDIO C in Manhattan, including designing a few pieces of jewelry for Shah & Shah in Washington, D.C. At the end of the year, she flew to Sri Lanka for a bit of creative downtime.
By all accounts, Caruso is generating enough star power to light up another dazzling year. At age 30, she is making a name for herself in oceanfront interior design, often in collaboration with esteemed architects. Her interiors achieve just the right balance of frisson and calm.
More important for Caruso than professional recognition is the opportunity to dig into her well of creative expression. The joy, she says, lies in stitching a thread of her life’s creative fabric into her designs. A perfect evening for her is meeting up with her friends in fashion and art and talking about colors over a table of great food and wine, intuiting her clients’ needs throughout the process. As Caruso says, “It’s about creating homes that are the canvas for people’s lives.”
Whether she is conjuring a snappy, veering-to-edgy design for a Florida bungalow or an elegant space for a historic waterfront home, Caruso’s interiors exhibit a luxe fluidity of artful understatement and creature comforts.
When a couple in Naples, Florida, approached the designer, she could see they needed a dose of tranquility. “They have another house in New York City, so they enjoy art, culture, and visual saturation there,” Caruso says. “They just love the peaceful calm of the west coast of Florida.”
At the same time, they wanted to bring the luxurious feel of their New York home (and references to their world travels) to the Naples house, now the retired couple’s main residence. “We wanted the interior to be fluid, both in comfort and design sensibility,” Caruso says. “It could be in Bali, California, the European coast.”
Warm yet sleek, the Naples home is divided into four pavilions, connected by limestone-clad hallways and bathed in neutral shades. The quiet walls double as display space for texture-rich details, such as a contemporary Italian chandelier reminiscent of a pattern of barnacles, which hangs over a custom rosewood and polished stainless steel dining table. “I thought it was a wonderful, subtle reference to the seaside location and local boating culture,” Caruso says of the fixture. Millwork in the office is mahogany with a bronze inlay; doors between the living and dining rooms consist of thin sheets of bronze around a wood core for a seamless, weightless effect.
Up north, on the island of Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts, Caruso collaborated with architect Patrick Ahearn to give new life to an 1840s Greek Revival house. The house had been moved to a location across from Edgartown Harbor in the 1950s, and 60-odd years later it was suffering.
“It was kind of dilapidated and had been overlooked for a generation,” Caruso says. The challenge for the team was to create an interior with open space and flexibility, within the confines of the historic district’s restrictions. General contractor Gerret Conover of Conover Restorations in Edgartown was also key to the transformation, she adds.
Today, the kitchen, dining room, and living room gently segue toward a terrace and pool. “It’s a cool summertime flow,” the designer says. Driven by the couple’s English antiques and furniture and the fact that it’s primarily a summer home, Caruso didn’t want the obvious palette. She did, however, want to incorporate multi-seasonal character. All the upholstery was redone in English countryside colors—heather blue, rust, sage green, antique rose, and chestnut—in natural fiber, silk, and linen fabrics.
Caruso also introduced 1920s French style, including brass-and-walnut bar stools in the kitchen. Curves in the 19th-century English and French furniture gently carry the eye with their graceful movement. Jonas Upholstery in New York City built many of the wood pieces, including a set of four art deco chairs placed in the dining room’s cozy cocktail seating area. The sumptuous bed in the master bedroom is by Savoir, with upholstery fabric by Rose Tarlow. Wood surfaces were treated with English lacquer to match the couple’s antique English furniture.
Caruso’s background reflects the same rich texture. She started STUDIO C several years ago—and has purposefully kept it small—after receiving her design degree at Parsons School of Design and working in the boutique firm of Pepe Lopez Design in New York City.
“I’m a creative across the board,” she explains. “I love to cook and develop recipes for friends, draw, and experiment making cocktails.” She also percolates custom furniture, lighting, and millwork designs.
Everything, from her ventures to her creative pursuits, connects in one vision. “I think creativity is fluid,” Caruso says. “It’s not just interiors; it’s across the spectrum. All the areas inform and support each other. It all blends together.