June 1, 2014

Celeste Cooper: 1999 Hall of Fame Inductee

Celeste Cooper

Celeste Cooper approaches design with a truly modern sensibility. For her, modernism is an attitude, not a collection of correct, iconic objects. “Design is not about pretty things. It’s about problem solving,” she says. “There is a way to be modern-to live in the time we live in and have our environments reflect that. It’s important from a philosophical point of view that we don’t try to create something like Le Petit Trianon on the 35th floor of a new skyscraper.”

What a folly that would be, and Ms. Cooper does not create follies. What she does design-as creative director of Repertoire, the Boston-based design studio and importer of top-tier European furniture-are interiors that continue to surprise and delight. She celebrates space by adhering to a single axiom: “I do what the architecture tells me to do.” The principle applies to both her residential and commercial work.

During her career, including 13 years as president of the Cooper Group, she has designed houses in Boston, New York, Florida, California, and the Bahamas. She also made a splash with two decidedly modern rooms at the Kips Bay Decorator Showhouse in New York. Commercial projects include restaurants Mistral and L’Espalier, plus the bar at Rialto, all in Boston. In addition, she completed the XV Beacon. The 63-room boutique hotel in Boston is a complete Cooper creation. The designer was responsible for everything, from space planning to linens and china.

Ms. Cooper attributes her fascination with space to early training in modern dance. Dance addresses “shapes in space,” she explains. As a parallel, Ms. Cooper uses furnishings-both simple and luxurious-as “shapes within a built environment.” Following dance and theater studies, she earned a degree in English and art history from Tufts University. “I turned to design thinking I could use my background in art. Little did I know that I would find myself climbing over materials and equipment at construction sites. But I did, and I fell in love with construction and with the building of environments.”

“Good design has the power to move you just as a poem does,” she says. Her ultimate goal for each project: to have it evoke a frisson in the same way that a memorable piece of literature does.

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