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Gateway was the community newsletter of Pratt Institute published monthly by the Office of Communications, in the Division of Institutional Advancement through spring 2014. For current Pratt-related news, visit the News page on Pratt’s website.



Freya Block (M.S. Environmental Design '77)

A view inside the home of Interior Design alumna Freya Block

Interior designer Freya Block (M.S. Environmental Design ’77) recalls the moment she decided to enroll at Pratt.

It was the 1970s and Block had recently moved with her family to Park Slope, Brooklyn—then a neighborhood in transition. She recalls driving past the nearby Brooklyn Academy of Music.

“I’d see these kids on the curb, and the whole area seemed not well-cared for, and depressing, and I thought ‘I want to do something about improving the environment.’ When I started looking into graduate schools, Pratt was the only one with ‘environmental’ in the program title.”

Pratt had recently changed the name of its Interior Design department to the Environmental Design department. This reflected a wider trend in interior design education aimed at preparing students to design spaces with society and the greater community in mind.

Having studied English literature and worked as a potter for more than a decade, Block found the initial year at Pratt to be a challenge. Still, she says: "The teachers were terrific and the students were terrific. It was all very stimulating."

Hearing critiques from Professors Jim Morgan and Joe D’Urso also taught her an important lesson in the design field. "If one loved one of my projects, I knew the other was going to hate it," she says. "That taught me that there are many solutions to a problem, and our job as designers is to come up with the best one."
Block worked for large architectural firms for six years before launching Freya Block Design in 1986. Her projects include the transformation of a Connecticut house into a Japanese-style home; the renovation of a landmarked Brooklyn Heights brownstone that melded high-tech décor with 19th-century details; and the creation of a 23,000-square-foot open-plan corporate headquarters in Chicago. Her work has been featured in numerous publications, including The New York Times, Interior Design magazine, The Wall Street Journal, and House Beautiful. Block also taught graduate professional practice courses at Pratt from 20002005.
While Block mostly works on residential projects, she still holds fast to her original desire to contribute to society. She and her husband recently bought a home in Vieques, Puerto Rico, which Block designed and renovated. She also serves on the board of a non-profit youth group. Not only has she aided in renovating the group's community center, but she also mentors young people who are interested in design and other fields. 
Block remains extremely aware of the effect people’s surroundings have on them. “That’s what I find so gratifying about working with clients. People come to me to improve their environment. I translate their wishes into concrete spaces.” She says helping them realize their dreams creates a real intimacy with her clients.

“You are an observer of people’s relationships and you develop your own relationships with your clients.”

Among Block’s clients are Terry and Joel Cohen, for whom she has renovated two apartments.

“Freya helped us define and then refine our vision for each of our homes,” says Terry Cohen. “This can be especially challenging because my husband and I often have diametrically opposed ideas of what that vision should be! Still, Freya navigated us through our renovations with patience, professionalism, and good humor. The end result has been even better than what we could have imagined.”

Block credits Pratt with providing her with the foundation to master the art of translating ideas into environments.

“A good designer starts by listening, and when you hear what a client needs—you translate what they tell you, and in a sense you’re a catalyst for making these wishes come true. Pratt gave me the skills to do this.” 

Text: Abigail Beshkin
Photo: Jonathan Weitz