In an era of rapid change, there is comfort in tradition and formality, and those are the very qualities that the CEO of an edgy media company appreciated about a classic apartment in an iconic neo-Gothic building on New York’s Upper East Side. The media maven, her husband and two children had previously inhabited an East Village apartment, a Chelsea loft and an Upper East Side brownstone. “This is our alternative to moving to Connecticut,” the wife says. “We never want to leave the city, and this is the last stop.”
They were planning to be away for the summer, which offered a 90-day window to add some much needed pizazz to the stately but staid residence. The couple asked interior designer Elaine Santos, who designed their previous abode and knows their style well, to run with it. “They are a fun couple with younger children so they didn’t want it to feel too serious or formal,” Santos says. “Bold color does not scare them.”
Inspired by midcentury designers like Jean-Michel Frank, Santos brought in custom clean-lined furnishings that bridge the gap between the apartment’s classic bones and her clients’ more modern proclivities. “We were reverent of the architecture but we also tried to push the envelope,” Santos explains. This can be seen in the upstairs foyer where a jumbo sofa with curvaceous lines juxtaposes the rectilinear architecture of the space. The curves are also reflected in a custom brass uplight.
Removing one of the cabinets that flanked the antique fireplace, Santos points out, broke down the symmetry in the formal living room, which has classic Park Avenue proportions. In its place, the designer incorporated a custom settee with rounded edges and luxurious fur trim. Throw pillows covered in ochre, teal and other saturated jewel tones enliven the room’s pale gray-green walls and neutral fabrics. Adding another layer, the ceiling is covered with a gold metallic floral-patterned paper. “It glimmers,” Santos observes.
Illuminated by a whimsical brass chandelier, a reflective gold paper does the same for the ceiling in the dining room. The formal space is furnished with a cerused-oak Edwardian-style table surrounded by contemporary chairs, which are covered in coordinating velvet fabrics that play off of the coral-colored walls. “When it’s lit by candlelight, this color is very soft and complementary,” Santos says.
General contractors Michael Gerosa and Victor Paredes implemented Santos’ design for a custom built-in cabinet in the dining room. They also incorporated a new custom corner banquette in the kitchen, and built a handsome bank of shelving for the library, where Santos allowed herself to let loose.
Both the library’s new built-in cabinetry and the ceiling are painted in a dark green hue that matches the bold patterned wallcovering and velvet-covered tufted sofa. Yellow pillows and ottomans covered in vibrant fabric pop against the dark hues. “The wife wanted it to be playful,” Santos says. “There were no boundaries.”
That is most apparent in her dressing room: A bright pink patterned rug extends from wall-to-wall, and the ceiling is covered with a colorful floral-patterned paper. “In the context of the New York City jungle, walking into a closet with an overindulgence of pinks and flowers allows you to feel pretty girly,” the wife says. “Nobody who walks in there feels like it’s a joke, but there’s a wink.”
Serenity is just a few steps away in the master suite, where the metallic four-poster bed is flanked by cerused-oak side tables with white-lacquered drawer fronts. The room’s gray hues are balanced by layers of gold, most notably the grid of reflective hand-painted squares on the paper that Santos selected for the custom ceiling. “It’s a little unexpected, and I like that tension,” Santos explains.
As with any renovation, there were bumps along the way. For one, the building has strict rules about when work can be done, limiting the number of productive hours in their already tight timeline. Despite all that, the project was finished and staged by the time the family returned. “We were all high-fiving each other,” Santos says. “The wife was a very decisive person, and that helped us to meet a very aggressive deadline.”
As it turns out, the couple was right–this location is the perfect compromise between the city and suburbs. The sprawling apartment has space for everybody, including bedrooms that any child would adore (think lacquered walls and sophisticated wallcoverings) and a welcoming first-floor family room, where a large sectional covered in a deep burgundy velvet creates a cozy spot for the siblings to hang out with their friends (sans parents).
“There’s so much chaos, just the intensity of living in New York City,” the wife says. “We’re fortunate enough to come home to a place that feels like a sanctuary.”