Cristina Peffer’s Spirit of Design

The interiors maven channels the beauty and calm of nature, along with the talents of her brilliant ancestors.
Cheery items at Peffer’s shop, Ram Design Home. Photo: Madison Fender

By Julia Szabo

What happens to the descendants of history’s highly imaginative people? If interior designer Cristina Peffer is any indication, they work to do their forebears proud. A relative of one of the co-founders of a Boston fashion school, Peffer creates engaging spaces that are dynamic portraits of the individuals who live and work there. Plying a signature palette derived from the wilderness, Peffer achieves “the inner calm that comes over us when we’re out in nature. How calming is it to contemplate flowers in a meadow?” she asks.

There’s a lot of spirit in a Peffer space. Since she began pursuing design as a career, she has channeled her great-grandmother Carolyn L. Dewing, “an amazing, creative, strong, fun, deep, intelligent woman,” who died in 1971. “I began channeling her when I opened my first shop in Southampton, when I was 27,” says Peffer, “and I continue to do so to this day.” A Boston Brahmin and Radcliffe alumna who co-founded the Modern School of Applied Art, where she taught fashion, Dewing was an aesthetic force. Annoyed by how the Filene’s windows looked, she volunteered her design services to the store (which took her up on the offer). She evolved her traditional tastes to embrace modernism, acknowledging it as “an expression of our age.”

Peffer’s spaces reflect the personal tastes of each client. Photo: Glen Allsop

Peffer is a design leader in her own right. Many of her colleagues are also her clients; she’s hailed as a “designer’s designer.” A curated selection of special items—“the things that bring us peace in this chaotic world,” she says—are for sale at her Shelter Island Heights store, Ram Design Home, named for the animal symbolizing Aries, Peffer’s sun sign, plus one of her favorite places, Ram Island. Now, aficionados of chic living welcome Peffer’s latest venture, an interior design studio located in the business district of Shelter Island.

Candlesticks face out to the courtyard at Peffer’s new studio. Photo: Glen Allsop

Peffer loves creative collaboration, and her new team includes Santiago Campomar and Iris Zonlight of Blue Ocean Design. “It’s a collaborative space for interior design projects and custom millwork,” Peffer says. The studio features “1867,” an original artwork co-created by Peffer along with son Alden Peffer, her friend Jon Reeves of TAD Associates, and Robert Linker, of East Hampton’s The Irony, who created the custom burnished brass frame. The 54-inch-square LED light “moves with an ombre effect through all 1,867 Pantone colors in their gradient,” Peffer says, proudly adding, “which has never been done.” 

Peffer enjoys working with clients whose different tastes “really challenge and stretch me,” she says. “I like spaces to be very personal to each client, never formulaic. My designs boomerang the eye back to the spirit, the same way nature does, creating spiritual calm. To me, design is nothing without that spiritual component.”