Stephen Knollenberg Gives a Fresh Look to a Classic Colonial

Stephen Knollenberg’s interior designs tend to feel as light-filled and airy as a Lake Michigan beach on a blue-sky day. “I gravitate to pale blues and pale greens, not bold colors,” Knollenberg says. The lavish application of white also adds luminosity to many of his interiors.

So it comes as a bit of a surprise when he mentions his affection for the use of black in his work.

“I like a certain harmony in the layout,” he says. That balance comes with shots of black. “There’s a graphic element; the dark gives a pleasing juxtaposition and energy.

I like to work a lot in those contrasts; black and white create a pop.”

Knollenberg also blends eras of furnishings, as is visible in the classic 1920s American Colonial pictured on these pages. A modern coffee table beside toile fabric upholstery, for example, “provides some tension,” he says.

Because he was designing the home for a Birmingham family with young, active children, the design needed to be functional. Beginning with a clean backdrop that had classic detailing, Knollenberg added upholstery with cool blues and “threw in” a modern piece here and there.

“It was an American classic that I contemporized,” he says. In a main-floor hall, he papered walls with a traditional scenic mural, one that’s purchased in panels. He wanted the bucolic scene to be updated, however, so he had the “inhabitants” (people and animals) removed.

Making a quieter landscape fits with Knollenberg’s desire to create edited spaces with a controlled color palette and minimal accessories. “There’s a point in every project, in each room, where there’s enough; there’ a sweet spot where it’s clean and livable,” he says.

Knollenberg’s career also seems to have found that coveted sweet spot. This year began with Architectural Digest naming him as one of its AD100. He had a project featured in the same publication this past summer. A month later, he traveled to Seattle to advise a metro Detroit client on the selection of finishes for a new yacht.

But Knollenberg, who was named a Detroit Home Design Awards Rising Star in 2005, says, “I don’t consider myself a fancy designer. There’s a comfortable, livable element to a lot of the rooms that I do.

“I want my work to be relaxed.”

Photographs by Beth Singer