Julie Salles Schaffer

Julie Salles Schaffer ’89 lets D+EA students flex creative muscles

Julie Salles Schaffer D+EA ’89 knows building design inside and out. The former interior design major has constructed a career in architecture on the foundation of creativity, flexibility and hard work – skills she hopes to nurture in current Cornell undergraduates through generous donations to the College of Human Ecology.

“My background in interior design is unusual for an architect,” said Salles Schaffer, who chose her Human Ecology major because – unlike pure design schools – it allowed her to flex her creative muscles while taking classes across a wide array of disciplines. “I consider the interior of a project to be as important as the exterior. The inside and the outside inform each other.”

At her firm, Salles Schaffer Architecture, Salles Schaffer and a handful of employees have been applying this marriage of function and aesthetic to a wide-range of projects in Manhattan and beyond since 2001. Her designs for interior family spaces, offices, exterior projects, her family’s Connecticut vacation home, and even furniture, have earned her steady word-of-mouth recommendations, coverage in such publications as Architecture Magazine and Vogue, as well as the Matthew W. Del Gaudio Award from the New York Society of Architects.

Salles Schaffer attributes her success not least to a core lesson she internalized as a D+EA student: “I was taught to focus on what a client is really saying, know how to record it, and work it into the design,” she explained. “For example, many kitchen renovations require some intense understanding of the way my client lives. The cabinetry guts can be a puzzle to solve just as fascinating as regarding land on a site.”

In 1996, she earned a Master’s Degree in Architecture from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation and went on to work for architect Bernard Tschumi. “I learned the importance of developing and holding on strongly to a concept in your own work,” Salles Schaffer said.

Thanks to her recent donation to the department of D+EA, several students got to experience firsthand the flexibility required to make such original ideas jibe with outside requirements.

Under the tutelage of Associate Professor So-Yeon Yoon, undergraduates Brendan Elliott, Jialin Ke and Jonathan Pao were selected to create Pulse, an installation in an 8x8x8-foot cubic space. It provided visitors with an immersive, therapeutic musical experience and awareness of their heart beat.

“The students had set out to do one installation in concept, and when the exhibit needed to be tailored to the experimental space, they learned to transform their initial plans,” Salles Schaffer said. “I’m happy that the show enabled the students to experiment with some interesting ideas about human perception and space and get some outside feedback on their work. I think it’s important to give back to Cornell and the department that taught me so much.”