Seeing Red …. and Yellow and Green

Hi everyone – Happy New Year! I’m delighted to announce that one of my projects is featured in the new book Today’s Historic Interiors by E. Ashley Rooney. Here’s what I said last January in my first post for 2011:

My clients. They’re first on my list for a good reason. I create interiors for my clients. What happens from my perspective is that I really get into their heads and translate their feelings and desires, their visions for their homes, and articulate them in materials and colors and shapes to create a place that’s theirs. I can’t say it enough; it’s all about the client.

Let me expand on this to kick off 2012 by telling you about this apartment in New York City’s Beekman Place historic neighborhood (more on that below). This project was also a wonderful design challenge for me. The apartment is in a lovely nineteen-thirties neo-Georgian co-op that reflects the informal, low-key elegance characteristic of this neighborhood. My client’s taste is also elegant yet informal, so making design decisions in terms of style was an easy call.

The apartment has three main rooms that can be seen throughout, so the flow between rooms was important. The ceilings are relatively high with beams and molding, typical of a pre-war apartment in New York City. Each room is a nice size, although not overly large.

My challenge? My client’s favorite colors. Having traveled extensively, he had seen and experienced many rooms whose colors he liked and asked me to include in the project two very strongly-colored oriental rugs he owned. The colors in these rugs are a deep red and a deep green, both with a saturated yellow too. How to make these three strong colors cohere without overwhelming the other design elements in each room? My philosophy of course is to work with a client’s preferences, and I believe in keeping things of personal, sentimental, or indeed of any value. But …. the carpets were intensely colored and not my usual color palette! Wow!

My client loves the feeling of a really sunny room, and he has a living room facing south with a lot of wonderful light. The choice to start with yellow in this room created the option to use deep green in the bedroom and deep red in the adjacent home-office/library/guest room.

We chose to extend the yellow into the long, narrow foyer to link it with the living room. Now we enter the apartment into a formal yet relaxed space with yellow walls and contrasting white-painted moldings and wainscoting. A gorgeous crotch-mahogany cabinet anchors the room and stores wine too. I designed a mirror to hang over this cabinet to widen the space. A cut-crystal light fixture creates movement with a dance of reflections on the ceiling. I also designed a carpet that defines the space and starts the bold color dialogue. The red on the side chairs and the bold colors of the painting give a hint of what’s to come.

As we enter the living room, one gets the full impact of the yellow. I must say that I LOVE how this room feels. Here, I introduce touches of red and green through a new rug that we found and through fabrics on the furniture. I designed the two rounded tall cabinets, built in England, to house not only books and objects but files as well. The rounded tops also soften the room. Side tables and the freestanding chair already owned by the client work beautifully with the furniture we chose. A lovely marble-topped side table serves as the bar area, and we created a focal point in the living room by placing a taller sideboard table between the two bookcase-cabinets. Artwork and two deep-red lamps created a last perfect touch.

As we enter the library at the back of the apartment, you notice that it has very little light. In this room the deep red carpet must go! Here the cozy deep red actually makes the room seem bigger. My custom cabinetry lines the room and surrounds the existing desk that my client loves.

We created special stands for the artwork to be placed above the cabinetry, giving it the illusion of being suspended in space with up lights from below. This also heightens the room’s ceiling and adds warmth. We introduced a red sofa bed for the guest room function, and added yellow pillows for a touch of lightness and to refer back to the yellow living room.

The bedroom highlights the palette’s third color, green. The client’s second rug – predominantly green – is the centerpiece, and the other elements in this room are a riff on the three-color scheme. There is a red leather chair, warm wood tones in the furniture, and green walls glazed with a softening black strié. The headboard and bed-skirt are green Ultrasuede, matching the walls, helping to make the room feel larger. You’ll notice that the artwork is again placed in an unusual way to further enhance the coziness of this room.

A note on the historical aspect of the neighborhood: Beekman Place proper runs north-south for approximately two blocks on New York City’s East Side in the low fifties. Consequently, the surrounding neighborhood is also known as Beekman Place. It is named after the Beekman family, an influential family in the city’s early history. William Beekman came to America with Peter Stuyvesant in 1647, and his descendant, James Beekman, built a mansion in this area in 1764. His house, called Mount Pleasant, was taken over and used as British headquarters during the Revolutionary War. It’s said that patriot Nathan Hale was hanged as a spy in 1776 in Beekman Place.

By the end of the nineteenth century the area had become a slum, with industry at its water’s edge. In the early twentieth, however, the area began to revitalize itself, as so often happens in New York City. Beekman Place became a fashionable neighborhood in the nineteen-twenties, sought after by some of New York City’s wealthiest and most glamorous residents, such as the Rockefellers and the Vanderbilts. Ethel Barrymore, Irving Berlin, Max Emst, Peggy Guggenheim, Marcel Duchamp and Richard Chamberlain all lived in this area as well. Now the neighborhood is a lovely respite from the surrounding hustle and bustle of the city and my client’s home is a personal, colorful oasis.