A 1980s New York Duplex Gets an Overhaul


The apartment had a closed-off feeling, a mishmash of Colonial-style rooms and dark narrow halls that didn’t take advantage of the spectacular views and natural light,” says designer Deborah Hancock—a partner at interiors firm Rees Roberts + Partners along with Lucien Rees Roberts—recalling the original circa 1988 split-level New York home she helped renovate for a couple and their four kids. Overlooking Central Park West, the spacious L-shaped duplex housed the potential for enviable picture window panoramas along three sides—a possible feature that was ideal for the homeowners who bought the place with a remodel in mind. “We have four kids,” the wife says. “We wanted an open and light family home, and to be able to host social events and not feel cramped.”

Facilitating the overhaul was architect Steven Harris, who joked about needing breadcrumbs to navigate the former space. With the help of New York-based general contracting firm Uberto Construction, Harris gutted the apartment and opened up the floor plan, uncovering more windows in the process. “Our clients have a ritualized life,” the architect says. “They also observe a kosher household and have large, multigenerational Shabbat dinners every Friday night.”

To accommodate this lifestyle on the main level, Harris had the much used kitchen moved to a central location. With it now acting as the hub of the home, the public spaces, such as the formal living and dining areas, branch off one end of the kitchen, while off the other end are private spaces for casual meals and family gathering. Still, among all the rooms there remains transparency, which was paramount for the homeowners. One notable feature of the interiors that accurately narrates the design story the clients, Hancock and Harris hoped to tell in this home is an open floating staircase suspended from above by steel rods between the living and dining spaces. “It’s such a dramatic centerpiece,” the homeowner says.

“It might sound unusual to have stairs in the middle of the room, but from the stairwell, there are great views of the reservoir and the Upper East Side. The kids also perform shows on the stair landing, which doubles as extra seating when we have a crowd.”

Upstairs are the family bedrooms, as well as a play hall, with built-ins for the children’s toy storage and study needs. In the latter, the ceiling features circular alcoves. “The upstairs ceilings aren’t particularly high, so we created recessed shapes to lend relief and interest wherever possible,” adds Harris. “They read like skylights and are lit from within.”

For home furnishings and architectural materials, Hancock worked with the homeowner to select family-friendly pieces that possessed clean-lined midcentury aesthetics. “It was all about striking a balance,” Hancock says. “There needed to be practical places where the kids could do messy art projects. But there also needed to be sophisticated spaces for receiving guests.”

Now, the floor plan directs flow via the elevator hall. One opening leads to the kitchen and den by way of a mudroom with resilient stone floors, the other to the living and dining room with elegant rift-cut solid white oak flooring that was stained on-site. Throughout, the furniture is a marriage of American and European vintage midcentury-modern forms and warm contemporary custom-designed pieces.

“Texture and richness are introduced through fabrics,” Hancock says, “those that suited the family’s active lifestyle, but didn’t read as practical as they really are, like mohair velvet or silky viscose.” Even the dining room, with its multi-leafed custom-made table, has chairs in durable coated linen. Glamour is plentiful, too. The light fixtures, many of which are midcentury treasures, are especially decadent, such as the sprawling Jeff Zimmerman piece crowning the dining room. Metallic and glass accessories also abound, adding sparkle.

“Most importantly, the neutral palette and simple lines keep the focus on the beautiful cityscape, but we also accented with rich jewel tones, like turquoise and amethyst,” she says.

Whether relaxing at home alone or hosting a houseful of guests, the family could not be happier. Adds the homeowner, “Our home really reflects who we are and how we live.”