Heiberg Cummings: Blending Scandinavian Elegance With Contemporary Flair

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In the rarefied world of luxury interior design, where artistry meets meticulous attention to detail, few firms have carved out as distinct an aesthetic as Heiberg Cummings. The New York and Oslo-based company, founded in 1990 by Bernt Heiberg and William Cummings, has become renowned for its ability to blend neoclassical Scandinavian design with modern, innovative elements.

This deft fusion of timelessness and of-the-moment sensibilities is particularly evident in the firm’s work in the Hamptons. Discerning homeowners are drawn to Heiberg Cummings’s commitment to preserving the integrity of architectural structures while imbuing the spaces with unique, client-specific designs.

The accolades have followed. Heiberg Cummings has been featured in prestigious shelter publications like Architectural Digest, Luxe Interiors, and The Wall Street Journal. British House & Garden named them one of the Top Ten designers in the United States, and their design philosophy is chronicled in the book “White Light.”

As its influence expands globally, the firm remains rooted in a philosophy of fusing classical elegance with modern sophistication, bringing Scandinavian grace to 21st-century living.

Heiberg & Cummings. Photo Glen Allsop

Can you tell us about the origins of Heiberg Cummings and how the firm was established?

William Cummings: After having met in Warsaw in 1990, we decided to try a collaboration with interior design. Bernt had had an antique furniture showroom for years, and I was working on interior photography. It seemed like a serendipitous evolution into interior design.

What inspired your move from Oslo to New York, and how has that influenced your design approach?

Bernt Heiberg: After having established a successful design company in Oslo, we decided to expand our reach into the USA in 2000. I had always loved New York City, and being that Bill was American, it seemed like a natural next step.

Your designs have a unique blend of neoclassical Scandinavian elements and modern eclecticism. How do you achieve this balance?

WC: We have always had a passion and fascination with history. We were challenged by the idea of creating new design ideas out of old or historical thoughts. We did not have an attraction to 20th-century minimalism but wanted to create a contemporary aesthetic that incorporated humanity using textures, organic objects, historical motifs, and ideas all put together in an eclectic mix.

The Osprey House on Shelter Island is one of your standout projects. What was the vision behind this design?

BH: Yes, I would say that it is our magnum opus. We took great inspiration from the Post-Modern architect Hugh Newell Jacobsen, who had always inspired us with his use of classical motifs in new and surprising ways to create really beautiful structures. His interiors, however, were much more minimal than our aesthetic, so we threw in our usual dose of texture and eclecticism into the mix to create this house. We are thrilled with the resulting cocktail.

What are some key features of the Osprey House that you are particularly proud of?

WC: The house has a really strong narrative. From the moment you come into the house through the 18th-century French front door, you are led on a journey of open, versatile spaces that incorporate different scales and proportions that keep one curious about what is in the next room. The water view, which is a big part of the appeal of the property, is also presented in a variety of different ways through the use of different windows, terraces, patios, and open staircases.

How do you ensure that each project maintains the integrity of the building’s original architecture while incorporating modern elements?

BH: In this case, we did not cultivate much of the original structure other than the foundation and some of the room configurations. This is unusual for our practice. We focused rather on taking our cues from the architecture of the East End. We used elements such as clapboard, board and batten, and stucco on the exterior surfaces to give a feeling that the house grew organically in very much the same way that a small village would grow over time.

Osprey House. Photo Glen Allsop

What was the biggest challenge you faced while working on the Osprey House, and how did you overcome it?

WC: The biggest challenge was the permitting of the project. Not that we faced any particular opposition, but more the sheer number of governmental entities that had jurisdiction over the site. The way we got through it was just to “stay calm and carry on,” as the English say.

How do you collaborate with clients to ensure that their personal tastes and preferences are reflected in the final design?

WC: Our starting point with any project is concept. After getting to know a bit about a client, we like to construct a concept that suits their aesthetic. We focus a lot of our energy on this phase of a project. Once you have established a concept, the process becomes much more fluid because it is usually quite evident the things that suit the concept and those that do not.

Heiberg Cummings has been recognized internationally for its work. How does such recognition impact your approach to future projects?

BH: First of all, it is hugely gratifying when you are recognized by respected peers, but what it also does is help filter clients to our work that have an understanding about it even before we ever meet. It makes for better working relationships.

Osprey House. Photo Glen Allsop

What role do sustainability and environmental considerations play in your design process?

WC: I think that our passion and focus on the use of reclaimed materials is a cornerstone of what we do. The idea that used things are without value is abhorrent to us. We love to take old objects and materials and bring them to a new use and environment. That is what gives a soul to our work.

How do you incorporate the unique characteristics of different locations, such as Oslo and the Hamptons, into your designs?

BH: Design work, like life, is an evolution. As we mature with our practice, we inevitably bring influences from our past work and travels. Every place and culture has its own “feng shui,” and we pull a bit of all of them into our practice.

Can you share some insights into the types of materials you prefer to use in your projects, especially those seen in the Osprey House?

BH & WC: On the interior, we have used the following:

  • In the ceiling and some millwork with used reclaimed barn wood from two barns that we preached in Maine
  • The sinks in all the bathrooms are reclaimed stone sinks from Istanbul and  were purchased from Ani
  • The floors are all milled of reclaimed oak and left raw so that they gain a natural patina
  • The fireplaces are constructed of bricks with a hand-troweled stucco surface
  • The lower level floors and patio are polished concrete
  • The windows are a mixture of paned and picture windows placed in strategic locations to reinforce the overall narrative of the house.
  • Use of organically inspired art from Beth O’Donnell

On the exterior, we used the following:

  1. Board and batten
  2. Clapboard
  3. Hand troweled stucco
  4. Raised seam metal roofs
  5. For the waterside gardens, we used a mixture of indigenous wetland plant species that will thrive without the need for artificial irrigation.
  6. The street-side gardens are very structured to enhance the symmetries and asymmetries of the structures.
Osprey House. Photo Glen Allsop

How has your team evolved over the years, and what are you looking forward to in the future for Heiberg Cummings?

BH: In our design practice, our team has developed an intuitive understanding of our process so that many times, conversations don’t even need to be had to achieve our desired results. Our brilliant internal team consists of Katie White, Jess McCool, and Sophia Kahn. We also have a collaborative team of wonderful architects, Shawn Leonard (who worked on Osprey House), Raymond Renault, and Ozmar Alexander Martinez Suares, for our work in New York City. We also have an important collaborative relationship with real estate agent Stacey Cohen of Saunders Real Estate, who plays an important role in identifying and developing our personal development projects. Our public relations and social media are all beautifully orchestrated by Pamela Eldridge.

What advice would you give to up-and-coming interior designers who are inspired by your work?

WC: Focus on your passions and talents and find collaborations with others who have skill and passions that you may not possess.

Where can people see more of your work or get in touch with you for potential projects?

hcd3.com is our website. @heibergcummingsdesign on Instagram. Call us at 212-337-2030 or visit our Atelier on Shelter Island at 183 N. Ferry Road. Our NYC showroom is at 655 Washington Street in the West Village.

Ty Wenzel

Co-Publisher & Contributor

Ty Wenzel, a recent breast cancer survivor, started her career as a fashion coordinator for Bloomingdale’s followed by fashion editor for Cosmopolitan Magazine. She was also a writer for countless publications, including having published a memoir (St. Martin's Press) and written features for The New York Times. She is an award-winning writer and designer who covers lifestyle, real estate, architecture and interiors for James Lane Post. She previously worked as a writer and marketing director for The Independent. She has won multiple PCLI and NYPA awards for journalism, social media and design, including best website design and best magazine for James Lane Post, which she co-founded in 2020. Wenzel is also a co-founder of the meditation app for kids, DreamyKid, and the Hamptons social media agency, TWM Hamptons Social Media.

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