Susana Simonpietri has had so many projects going on — among them, a lakefront home in Connecticut, a new-construction house on Long Island’s North Fork and a recently completed 12,000-square-foot ground-up project on 250 acres in Upstate New York — that if the pace keeps up, says the 38-year-old designer, “I may have to clone myself.” What’s remarkable is that her Brooklyn design firm, Chango & Co., with 13 full-time employees, is only a decade out of the gate and only two years out of the Brooklyn brownstone Simonpietri shares with her husband and business partner, Josh Kay.
Lately, work has been nonstop, with projects being completed as fast as Domino and Architectural Digest can publish them. Last year, Chango opened a 1,600-square-foot retail store, selling distinctive textiles, ceramics and other home goods, in the same cast-iron Williamsburg building where its offices are located. The firm’s profile was raised still higher by an article that appeared in April in the New York Times real estate section about the 1970s East Hampton saltbox Simonpietri and Kay bought for themselves last summer and renovated in three weeks, while also working on their Bed-Stuy brownstone and having their first child — Oliver, who will be a year old in August.
Every so often, a design force appears whose work is markedly different. That is certainly true of Chango’s distinctively graphic interiors, often created for young families for whom tradition is not top of mind. But neither are the firm’s homes trendily modern. They’re punchy, fresh and tailored to their owners — “client-specific as well as site-specific,” as Simonpietri puts it. Adds Kay: “We’re never going to repeat ourselves. We’ll invent something new every time.”
Even the company name is a departure in a field where design firms are frequently eponymous. Chango, explains Simonpietri, is a grackle found in her native Puerto Rico: “a bird with a playful spirit that seems to find itself in the middle of everything.” It’s an apt mascot for a busy young firm whose projects confidently deploy bold colors, bright stripes and patterns and that is becoming known in particular for outstanding children’s rooms.
And that’s not the half of it. Chango is a full-service operation, involved in everything from architecture and interiors to landscaping. It often works with outside architects from the get-go on new construction and is responsible for layouts and finishes — even roofing choices.
Simonpietri grew up in a 1950s house in San Juan with parents who were serious collectors of modern art.“The house was covered from floor to ceiling in art — mostly abstract Latin American paintings, sculpture and works on paper — which was a great influence on me,” she says. “The house was a revolving door of artists coming in and out.”
There were early inklings that interior design was to be her calling. As a child, Simonpietri recalls, “I would move my bedroom furniture around in the middle of the night. Nobody could figure out how I did it, I was so little.” But she didn’t initially consider the field as a career, instead studying comparative literature and modern languages and spending time in England and France. She was on the verge of sending off her application to NYU’s graduate program in creative writing when “something in me said, ‘Don’t do this.’ ” She shifted gears and enrolled at Brooklyn’s Pratt Institute, where she got a master’s degree in interior design, then gained real-world experience working for top New York firms, including those of Benjamin Noriega-Ortiz and architect Mark Zeff.
Among Chango’s recent commissions is a weekend home in Westport, Connecticut, where the task was to make a historic farmhouse feel modern and bright. The homeowners “were looking for a Scandinavian lightness,” Simonpietri says. Counterintuitively, she went with dark walls and woodwork in some of the rooms, using deep blue gray, for instance, in the study and the living room, which is used mostly in winter. “By contrast, it makes other areas feel so much lighter.”
In a Greek Revival on five acres in Litchfield, Chango combined several small rooms to create one great kitchen with a fireplace and Aga range. The owners, an English couple, wanted to preserve the house’s historic character. To that end, the firm kept the wood floors as they were, without refinishing them and intentionally leaving some worn spots. Inspired by the beauty of the surrounding landscape, Simonpietri pegged the decor to the changing colors of the foliage through the seasons. “The living room is pale and summery, the library more of a cozy winter room. The green and white kitchen is very much spring,” she says. The russet-colored dining room, which the family uses most around the holidays, is richly autumnal.
In Park Slope, Brooklyn, Chango set about restoring a 19th-century brownstone’s soul, which insensitive developers had stripped away. The firm added moldings and wainscoting to the plain walls, along with extensive built-in storage, and created a plan for all-new furnishings, lighting, window treatments and art. Fourteen-foot-high mirrors on either side of the front parlor’s fireplace mantel are a typically bold stroke.
As always in Chango projects, the overall effect is of a breath of fresh air, upbeat and uplifting. In doing what she does, says Simonpietri, “I want to have fun.” It shows.
Chango & Co.’s Quick Picks on 1stdibs