Family Duplex

This project for long-time clients began in the early 1990s, when, with their growing family, they lived in a four-bedroom apartment with high ceilings, “great bones” and views of Central Park. The living room was double sized, but there was only a small service kitchen at the back. When they bought the apartment upstairs, there was suddenly wonderful space as well as superb structure to work with. It became possible to accord sophisticated design thinking and dignity to every room, including utilitarian ones: the bathrooms, kitchen, wine cellar, service areas and an expanded family room.

We moved all the bedrooms downstairs. Upstairs, the new kitchen, transplanted to the front and converted from what had been a parlor, became an important, spacious place for family and entertaining as well as a design statement. We reconfigured hallways and doors, essentially creating from what had been two apartments a family “house” in the midst of Manhattan, with all the comforts, amenities and technological advances one might expect in a townhouse.

The clients’ taste in furnishing might be described as “venerable simplicity”: the dark, polished woods of the 19th and early 20th century antiques coupled with velvets and linens–in one case we used the reverse of a printed linen for more subtlety–but all used sparingly. If the furnishings exhibited the contours and patina of an earlier century, our approach to space was almost severe, as in the master bedroom where a splendid expanse of dark stained floor, coupled with an installation of artist Kiki Smith’s custom silk wallpaper are the main protagonists. If less is sometimes more, then what isthere must be of the highest order of aesthetic value and craft.

Golden light suffuses a palette of wheat and honey tones, with a deep sofa in cinnamon velvet and a strie carpet. Curtains in pale gold silk and parchment lampshades add to the luminous quality of the living room, along with a large abstract painting in the same colors.

A massive hall table upheld by a carved figurative base, is laden with Aesthetic Movement ceramics, including pieces by Christopher Dresser. Nearby is a classic Liberty Thebes stool, another icon of the Aesthetic Movement in England.

A view of the dining room from the Entry reveals, at right, an important ceramic, a dark green two-handled urn by Dresser atop a tall Regency cabinet. Views from the dining room are of Central Park. Over the table hangs a 19th century iron chandelier; chairs are studded with decorative brass tacks.

The kitchen is one of the glories of this home, fitted out with the latest technology yet inflected with early 20th century design traditions. The pale grey-green painted millwork is trimmed in gleaming stainless steel. Even the light fixtures, simple shaded bulbs, are arranged on the ceiling in a grid pattern, as one might see in an Edwardian kitchen.

A long muscular antique table and chairs are lit by a double shaded fixture. The doorway opens onto the family room, with leather furniture and bookshelves.

Comfort, elegance and durability cohabit in this family room equipped with boxy studded leather chairs and generous library shelves filled with art objects as well as books.

A mahogany writing desk and distinctive U-shaped chair against the dark-stained floor are balanced by the pale cream of the built-in closets (at left) and buoyant light-colored Roman shades.

A sparkling white-tiled dado and washstand of white marble with polished nickel supports are complemented by cafe-au-lait upper walls.

In the den, embroidered pillows and framed dried ferns add texture against a chocolate wallpaper.

A handsomely appointed Master Bathroom, with wide Uba Tuba granite sink is enveloped in a rare, pumpkin-colored wallpaper with a stylized pattern of slender leaves, designed by the great Viennese designer Dagobert Peche.