Interview: July 25, 2023
It is hard for me to find words sufficient to fully describe Karen. She is one of the most unique and inspiring women I know.
Simply put, she is introducing a new standard of design to South Florida. She is able to do this because of her remarkable range of experience. From the time she spent studying in Copenhagen, to the approx 6.5M sq of residential work she has completed today, she is equipped to create bespoke and at scale.
This is a far reaching discussion where we touch upon her background, her business expansion, how Miami inspires her to create and her thoughts on the future.
Karen is one of the most inspiring women I know, and I learned a great deal from this interview. I hope my viewers enjoy.
In Collaboration With:
@luxnetworkmiami – thank you for connecting us and for putting together the production
@studiokaza – thank you for hosting this experience and congratulations on the beautiful showroom!
Yes, of course.
I went to Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York, and I'm a born and raised Brooklyn girl. I lived in New York my whole life. I went to Pratt's Sister School in Copenhagen. And I studied in Finland and Sweden as well. And after that, I went and I worked for an architect in Austria. And those were, like, the very early, very early days. So that was really interesting to get to see a totally other culture and how they approach design and sustainability, you told? Yes, yes, definitely. And just their use of warm natural just it was very interesting to me. After that, I worked for an architect, Scarano Architects, in Brooklyn, New York, and they were really focused on multifamily developments. And that was interesting from an interior perspective, because what I was looking at, I wasn't a designer yet. I was a kid, and they had me looking at code compliance and some zoning law things and just things kind of like periphery to the interior design experience. So I got to experience a lot of the technicalities before I actually got into design.
How fascinating. So you're able to one thing that's really interesting about Karen is that she has this great deep design background, but also understanding of how buildings are.
Yes, yes. I think that a lot of interior designers move into private home and, like, private residence design some hotels, boutique, retail. But I went into commercial interiors first. And when you do that, you really have to develop an understanding of the hierarchy of a commercial development project and all the moving pieces. And the many moving pieces. Yes. How the money flows through a project really directs how the project the process of the project. So once you understand that, it makes it much easier to select the correct materials. When you understand the sequencing of trades, how the trades come in, how everybody on the project gets compensated, and you can then gear your design towards the success of a project.
And that's a real hands on thing. You can't learn that from a book. Yes.
So throughout my career, from the very beginning until today, I think that I've racked up somewhere near six and a half million square feet of new residential.
Six and a half million square. That's a lot of square footage. That's amazing.
And has that been mostly in New York thus far, or where has it been mostly?
I had the great privilege to work for some amazing New York based architects that were really well known in the industry. I got to understand the client base and how these developers operated. So mostly in New York and then we started to branch out into New Jersey and Connecticut. Now I'm doing several towers in Miami. I just finished one in Sarasota and then I have private clients in the Carolinas, in Connecticut and here in Miami.
And when you say towers here, these are multifamily buildings.
Yes. Most of the projects that I'm working on are between 30 and 50 stories.
And what is your responsibility in these projects, these 30 to 50 story projects?
So the responsibilities kind of go outside of what the typical box, I think, is. We're designing the lobby and the amenity spaces and the residential apartments as well as the corridors, elevator, cabs, like anything that is front of house, public facing, part of the experience of the building. But I like to take it a step further and understand the competition within the market that I'm designing for. So I like to look at other buildings that would be considered competitive to whoever I'm working for, like whatever buildings that I'm designing at the moment. So we really kind of delve into the marketing, branding, coloration, scenting, how to set that building apart. Exactly.
You see what the standard currently is and you're elevating it exactly fair to say.
I think so. I think so.
And I think you're able to do that because you have both the design experience and this construction experience.
We can say, yes, I believe so. My company, we do all of our own construction documents. We really get into the meat of the details and we work with the contractors and the subtrades so that our detailing matches what they are actually going to build. And so that at the end of the day, we're not kind of chasing this.
You're removing this friction from the experience also.
We try our best to do that. I think that a lot of times what happens is that you get to a certain point in a project where everybody goes, oh my God, we've gone over the budget and now we have to value engineer. And I hate the term value engineering. I want to say that I'm value adding. We're bringing value. And the value of that is that we don't have to go through this reduction of scope and scale and beauty of the project when we're three quarters of the way through.
My brand, my studio is set up so that we get to collaborate with all of these larger architecture firms. We're a boutique studio. We have eight, nine people maybe like if we have to bring somebody in for some emergency. But we really are set up to collaborate with bigger.
shift that's happening. It is a shift that is happening. You're not doing this in some other place. You're not doing it in Ohio, not to say anything bad about Ohio, but she's not going there. It's all part of the flow.
It is part of the flow. I think that there's been a tremendous flow of creative energy into South Florida specifically know I know that COVID certainly impacted a lot of New Yorkers. I know this on a personal level as well. They started coming down here to Miami. I have a lot of developer clients who are New York City based, who over the past two and a half, three years, have been buying land in Miami. So I opened up a studio here, kind of a satellite for now. We're going to expand that into you're.
Part of the wealth and talent migration. This thesis playing out. I love it.
I can point everyone. As an artist, you must keep creating new things in order to satiate your desire to be creative. I would not want to stay in the same place all the time creating this, because you hit a ceiling. You hit the edge of the box at some point.
I love when you said the box is bigger. That made so much sense when you said that to me.
That's exactly what it is. The box is bigger. And I think that as you continue, if you are open to continuing to evolve as an artist, the box continues to get bigger and bigger. Right. And this is the next iteration of what you're doing.
And we're so excited to bring our level of precision, expertise, and everything that we've done in New York here to Miami, and to work with the developers here, know, create something really curated and bespoke for this market.
You told me something interesting once, that there is a difference between someone who is a designer and somebody who has this construction background when they come and they undertake a project of doing a house.
Yes. So I know that a lot of people, when they're doing their own private homes, a lot of times people will hire a decorator.
A decorator? Yes. Okay.
And what decorators do is incredible. They can take a built space, and they will outfit it with accessories and furniture and a lot of soft finishes that just they finish off the space and they pay attention to the lighting and the detail and everything in the space that you would touch and hold and sit on pillows.
All of the softness and all of the organic shapes inside of an architectural space. We do a little bit more than that, where we're getting involved in the architecture and the constructability of the homes and the buildings that we work on. What's?
The six and a half million square feet that you've done in the past is mind boggling.
That's where it all comes together, I think. Yes. After you've done it a few times, you can kind of go on a vibe so you know where things go. You're like, oh, I know where that riser pipe is going and it'll affect this apartment over here. What lets you see things others don't see? Well, I think that people bring in interior designers who have a stronger construction background because we see what they can't. Right.
You know how things work.
Yes, exactly. Like we understand the inner workings of the building, the HVAC system. That makes so much sense to me.
And then having that in your head will allow you to take that framework when you're designing.
Exactly. So our design work goes beyond being ornamental, in a sense. And it's holistic to the land that it sits on and not the space that it sits within. That makes sense.
If that makes sense, that makes a lot of sense to me. Because you see it, you know what's behind it. Right. Exactly.
And sometimes we renovate large scale condominiums like ten, 15,000 sqft. We're doing one North Miami right now. It's a full gut renovation, but it's inside of a 50 story tower. So with the knowledge and understanding of how these towers get built, it makes the process of designing the renovation a little bit easier. It makes perfect sense. And also explaining to the contractor what needs to happen and like writing tradespeople, the whole thing.
That makes sense.
Well, there's much more flexibility with the budget, of course. And then we can bring in materials that are extremely rare. Sometimes we can use materials that we don't get to use on.
Sounds like more of an art project.
Yes. And there's a little bit more freedom with the timeline. Most of the people that I'm designing for, it's their 2nd, 3rd home, vacation home. So it's not like they're in an extreme rush to move in.
And it's not a business.
Exactly, it's not a business. And also hearing the family's stories and designing for a whole family is a much more personal experience than designing a multifamily building. Because when you design multifamily yes. The project needs to be bespoke and it needs to be competitive in the market. But it also needs to appeal to masses. Right.
Because if you have three or four, there's a utilitarianism that has to go into them also.
Exactly. At scale.
At scale, exactly.
The design needs to be scalable, it needs to be elegant and there needs to be a timelessness to it because these investors, developers, they're making a large investment in an asset that they're going to hold for an extended period of time. And the lifetime of an interior of a new building is between twelve and 13 years. And so we need to be cognizant of that. On the private home front, you're creating a masterpiece for a family.
Exactly. I mean, most of my work is coastal on the yes, correct.
And of course, one great thing about Miami that it's so obvious to me when I look at the map and then the trajectory of the city's growth and the speed of the city's growth. We have all this waterfront zoned for water for single family waterfront land that is essentially within the urban core of a rapidly growing city. And when I look at those maps, it's a little bit mind boggling because you see how fast the city is growing, and it's like buying on Central Park West 80 years ago.
Right? It's there. It's on the water.
Downtown is right there.
The ocean is right there.
I'm looking at it and I'm like, this is amazing. It's an incredible market. Yes.
And it's early days. This is the thing.
It's very early days.
If we look at the speed at which the city is growing, and it's like you have residential zones, single family land, waterfront within an urban core.
And this is something we've spoken about together previously, and I agree with you 100%.
It's super exciting. I hope that more people come into Miami and start to understand this about Miami.
It's like, you can have a beautiful home right on the waterfront and be 15, park your boat in front. Park your boat and also be 15 minutes away from the center of the city and 20 minutes from an international airport right.
That has the most direct international flights of any airport in America. And it's like you go from your waterfront home to that, right?
Yeah, it's pretty cool. It's actually a very convenient place to be. You could be comfortable, very convenient. Warm all year round.
The climate keeps everything kind of like stasis. The landscaping here is always lush. There's so many beautiful things and so many positive things about being it's a very healthy place to live, aside from the business aspect and all the businesses moving here, just in terms of just quality of life. It's so healthy.
It's true. I mean, I see that the light rail is going in now, and the city people that have vacated their cities and have come here are excited about this because we don't drive.
We're learning how to drive.
You might be.
Can you drive? I can't.
A native New Yorker with 17 years in the design industry, Karen Asprea creates spaces that are meant to evolve with time, use and human interaction. She believes the daily impacts of our spaces being lived in, sat on, and touched aids in the natural aging process and enhances the beauty of natural materials over their life cycle.
Karen uses tonal palettes that are sensitive to nature and contextual to her project surroundings. Karen’s studio is focused on bespoke design for private residences, luxury developments and custom furnishings. The studio has a strong focus on use of natural materials and how they interact with peoples daily lives, whether in a private setting or a lobby space.
Karen launched her boutique studio in late 2018 after spending 13 years in a corporate design setting. Asprea’s studio has been operating from a row home in TriBeCa and in 2021 KAS opened a second studio location in Wynwood, Miami. The studio is currently designing private estates in Connecticut, South Carolina and Miami, as well as multifamily developments in Sarasota, Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Brooklyn, and Manhattan.
Bringing a wealth of design knowledge from her commercial and large-scale projects to intimate settings such as private residences, gallery showrooms and luxury workspaces. Karen has curated a small team of fierce design professionals all who have unique and interesting backgrounds, all in an effort to add as value and innovation to the design process. Karen and her team deliver a streamlined approach to design with a curated process to bring ideas into built reality.
With prior experience working alongside some of the most sought-after Architecture and Design firms in New York, Karen brings a timeless feel to all of her highly curated designs. Clean lines, natural tones, and strategic planning of circulation all add to the success of the studio’s projects. Asprea and her team are now entertaining international projects in the Middle East and the UK.