Ask anyone about the keys to a successful relationship and it’s a safe bet trust will be high on the list. For designer Kati Curtis, trust was paramount as she helped her clients realize a dream they had first conjured up decades ago. Back then, as newlyweds living in a beach apartment at the foot of the Andes Mountains, they imagined an apartment in New York City located close to the Museum of Natural History. Fast forward some 25 years, and, after securing a place in a new-construction building–sight unseen–they were ready to move ahead. After finding Curtis online, and meeting her just once, they entrusted the designer with the job. “That’s what made it special,” she says. “They told me, ‘We know your style, we know what you do, and we know you’re going to do something wonderful for us.’ It was such a gift.”
So complete was the homeowners’ faith in Curtis that they expressed only a few wishes. In South America, their home was traditional with heavy draperies, fabrics and trims, and the wife had presented Curtis with samples from a trip to the D&D Building that leaned in that direction. “She wanted to express that depth and quality and detail,” says Curtis. “Our job was to do that in a New York-modern way.” Achieving that required laying the right foundation, since, says the designer, “New construction apartments can be cold and gray. The standard finishes are beautiful but without richness and depth.” So she and general contractor Tom Oakley, of Razzino Renovations, rolled up their sleeves, installing custom crown moldings, swapping in new doors and adding millwork all in the pursuit of the of the more traditional underpinnings envisioned.
Wallcoverings throughout imbue spaces with that longed-for richness, tradition and detail. In the master bedroom, the wife had found a Chinese-inspired Gracie paper of birds and flowering branches on a solid ground. To keep it from being too traditional, Curtis paired it with the contemporary forms of the concave bedside tables, marble lamps and the headboard upholstered with a block-printed design. “That gives it an edge,” she notes.
But perhaps no other wallcovering stands out the way the one in the main living spaces does. “Based on the paper in the master, we knew the wife liked that hand-painted quality,” says the designer, “and we established early on in the design process that we wanted something like that for the great room.” After experimenting with multiple options, Curtis remembered seeing Fromental’s Rockface pattern. Its design checked multiple boxes: Drawn from Chinese mountain landscapes and scholar’s rocks, it hinted at the clients’ base near the Andes; its abstract feel made it skew modern; and, being hand-painted, it appealed to the wife’s desire for traditional flair. “This was a standard colorway,” says Curtis, “but the golds and blues drew us because that’s what the clients had been drawn to.” To complement the wallpaper, she chose other elements with faceted details, such as the fixtures in the entry and over the dining table, which tie back to the jagged motif of the mountain.
Show-stopping furniture adds yet another layer to the condo. A turquoise bar cabinet in the dining area is a case in point. Curtis had originally chosen a cream version, but on a visit to the showroom with her clients, they spotted the cabinet in the bold hue. “We looked at each other and agreed it had to be that color,” the designer recalls.
But boldness doesn’t overtake the softness that permeates the apartment. Fabrics covering the seating are soft and inviting, and, along with the rugs, run more toward neutrals. The cast bronze Laverne cocktail table combines style with purpose and durability. “You can put your feet on it or spill wine on it, but it’s still stunning,” Curtis says. The dining table is on casters and can be easily expanded to seat 12, while the generous dining chairs have a lounge-y feel that encourages guests to linger over meals.
The clients’ trust in Curtis paid off. “They didn’t have to lift a finger. They just had to show up and be home to realize their dream,” the designer says. “They didn’t try to control everything from thousands of miles away.” And once they arrived from the airport and were sipping champagne and enjoying their new digs, they mentioned something to the designer that still deeply touches her. “They said the colors were actually the same colors of the beach apartment they had 25 years ago when they first had the dream of a New York apartment,” she remembers. “I didn’t know that–it was totally coincidental.”