Stroke of Brilliance

Meet Krista Ninivaggi, the Inspiring New York Designer Redefining Hospitality with a Fresh Approach to Color

Manhattan Park, the 22-story apartment building on New York’s Roosevelt Island, provides stunning views of the city. For residents whose units overlooked the pool and deck area, however, the view was less than stellar—not before Krista Ninivaggi and her design firm, K&Co, entered the picture. Before long, the wide swath of gray concrete adjacent to the 60-foot pool became a sweeping kaleidoscope of color, a grand mural as brilliant as the New York City skyline on a sunny summer day.

“I think there’s something really amazing about when you grow out of your comfort zone and you do something that’s a little unknown,” Ninivaggi said about the project. “People notice.”

Krista Ninivaggi
Images via Krista Ninivaggi. The future looks bright for Ninivaggi and her design firm, K&Co.

People have certainly noticed Manhattan Park Pool Party, the title of her aforementioned project. Among those taking note are the editors of Interior Design, who nominated K&Co, together with Pliskin Architecture, as a finalist for its 2016 Best of Year Award. This is not the first honor Ninivaggi has received. During her stellar career working for such notable firms as Rockwell Group, AvroKO, and SHoP Architects, the New Jersey native and Rhode Island School of Design alumna has been lauded with Contract magazine’s 2014 Designer of the Year award and Curbed’s 2013 Young Gun award.

During her tenure with other firms, Ninivaggi played critical roles in many noteworthy projects. As director of interior design and senior design associate at SHoP Architects, she was in charge of the interior execution of Barclays Center, Brooklyn’s famous sports and entertainment complex, from its main concourses and suite levels to its exclusive vault suites. Another noteworthy project Ninivaggi headed while at SHoP was the interior redesign of the NYC headquarters for Shopbop, an online retailer of women’s designer fashions. According to New York Design Agenda, SHoP “took the task by storm, completely gutting [the space], then recreating an open office environment reminiscent of a feminine yet modern loft, complementing the philosophy of the brand.” The executive offices of Google were another design notable for Ninivaggi (among others) while at SHoP.

Images via Krista Ninivaggi. Shopbop was one of many projects Ninivaggi loaned her architectural and interior design eye to while with SHoP Architects.

People and Spaces

Now—with K&Co, the company she founded in 2014—Ninivaggi still focuses on hospitality, in addition to large-scale, multifamily residences, such as Manhattan Park. Having degrees in both architecture and fine arts, Ninivaggi brings an all-encompassing vision to her work, which is aimed at making people feel comfortable in any given space.

“We’re always trying to find a balance of making spaces feel welcoming and creating touch points for the customer experience,” said Ninivaggi, who sees every project through the eyes of both interior designer and architect.

“Touch points,” she explained, are the interactions people have within a space, and these interactions can be heavily influenced by the space itself—and it is at the cross-section of interiors and architecture where K&Co redefines space. “We’re not just selecting finishes at the end of the day. We’re manipulating the way the building is put together to get the exact feel we want out of the space.”

America Copper
Images via Krista Ninivaggi. Ninivaggi’s work with American Copper Buildings demonstrates her masterful use of space and color to imbue luxurious comfort into her residential projects.

It is K&Co’s holistic approach that makes hotels, restaurants, and other hospitality spaces visually appealing and conducive to human engagement. Ninivaggi told us each project takes into consideration “how our clients want their guests to interact with each other.” The hospitality design aesthetic in general is gaining traction in other business sectors, she added.

“We’re seeing a big conflux of design types influencing each other. Hospitality is influencing everything across the board,” Ninivaggi said. “You’re seeing hospitality influences everywhere—from residential to office to healthcare, even education. Every industry is influencing each other because the boundaries are becoming blurred between work and play.”

Candy-Coated

Much of K&Co’s work evokes a sense of play, particularly in its use of color. “If you look at a lot of my work, it’s either all stone and wood and concrete or tons and tons of color,” said Ninivaggi, whose passion for color hadn’t been fully realized until she started her own business. Through K&Co—the origin of which she described as growing out of a rather fortuitous opportunity: She accepted an offer to do a multifamily project in Philadelphia by herself and “that was kind of it”­—she adopted a pure palette.

“I have a very interesting relationship to color,” she said. “Whenever I’m using color, it’s very candy-coated. I love to use pure color in an almost artificial way.”

Manhattan Park Pool
Images via Krista Ninivaggi.

Manhattan Park Pool is a fitting example of Ninivaggi’s bright, pop-hued palettes. We were so inspired by these vivacious colors, we curated the Pratt & Lambert mini-palette below.

Chesapeake 17-8

Tempera Blossom 8-9

Azurean 22-5

Hollyhock 31-4

Snapdragon 15-8

She first became aware of her color sensibility in a freshman painting class. Her teacher noted, “Your palette is very candy-coated,” which Ninivaggi always felt was a compliment. “I never stray from that aesthetic when it comes to color,” she said, though she also points to her frequent use of color through natural materials. “It’s a strange duality I have.”

Ninivaggi’s color aesthetic recently caught the attention of Tarkett, the worldwide leader in unique flooring. As part of a specially selected group of internationally renowned artists, Ninivaggi was asked to create her own flooring solutions for Tarkett’s Collections Infinies using a specially selected palette.

The result was Glow, feature flooring highlighting the natural pure-color properties of plank materials and pattern possibilities. “It was really exciting and such a valuable experience,” Ninivaggi said. “I hope we have the opportunity to do more work like that moving forward.”

Boutique Without Boundaries

The “we” Ninivaggi refers to is her talented 10-person staff. K&Co is proud that it has maintained a boutique feel. Projects ranging from a thousand square feet to a million get equal treatment.

“We never want to do a large project and lose the intimacy you would get in a one-thousand-square-foot project,” she said. “That’s very important to me.”

Inherent in Ninivaggi’s boutique philosophy is a hands-on approach. In the case of Manhattan Park Pool, she and her cohorts joined urban artist Hot Tea (Eric Rieger) in painting around the pool area. When they hatched a scheme to take a time-lapse video of the project, Ninivaggi found herself in a rather unusual place: on the roof of the building attaching a GoPro camera to a light post with duct tape.

“I love all of my projects for different reasons,” Ninivaggi said, “but I think the pool project was probably one of my favorites because it was very hands-on.”

So what’s next for the Lower Manhattan design firm that’s made phenomenal progress in just two short years? “When I think about what’s next, I realize that I just have to put my head down and work,” Ninivaggi said, “because you never know what comes next and you can’t really plan for it.”

With several large projects in progress, Ninivaggi sees K&Co advancing with time. “[The projects] are going to be a lot to talk about, as part of our design aesthetic, our capabilities, our group makeup—all of that. I think it’s going to change the discussion of where our office is going, and these are all projects we’ve been working on for nearly three years.

“I’m really excited that finally the million-square-foot buildings are going to be opening up and people can see how we can take the same design ingenuity we put in the pool and put it into an entire building. I’m very excited to show the world all of that.”

All things considered, the future promises to be bright for K&Co—candy-coated, you might say.