In Manhattan, outdoor terraces are rare and highly coveted, and one that is almost as large as the apartment it serves is almost unheard of. So when Westport, Connecticut-based interior designer Havilande Whitcomb approached this ultra-special space, she knew she had to establish a particular point of view.
Whitcomb had worked with the homeowner, a financier of boutique hotels, on many projects before, all in a contemporary style they both favor. “His design sensibility is tailored and elegant,” she says, “but he also has a playful side and likes color.” Such a daring aesthetic would not be in sync with the penthouse he wanted to serve as a pied-à-terre for himself and his family, who spend most of their time in Connecticut.
Six years ago, the penthouse was a raw space in the seven-story building built by architecture firm Roman and Williams. The design duo created the building to blend into the neighborhood’s architectural vernacular, which includes low-rise brick apartment buildings from the early 20th century. Whitcomb and her client saw the apartment as an opportunity to explore its origins, from the international style of the 1930s to the mid-century, and they allowed those aesthetics to inform every design decision.
As a starting point, Whitcomb chose a palette that employed a light green-yellow as a base, to which she added aqua. She carried that combination through all the public rooms, which can be viewed from one another. The first purchase, a Gio Ponti table from the ’40s, was placed in the master bedroom, setting the tone for the plethora of vintage furniture that would convey the desired accumulated-over-time aesthetic. “If we were going to buy older pieces, they had to be something significant,” Whitcomb says. “They all had to reflect the refined look we were after.” A few of the new furnishings, such as a Hudson Furniture sofa upholstered in an aqua linen by Loro Piana and the custom nightstands in the master bedroom, had to be scaled down to fit the apartment’s smaller size.
For the 1,300-square-foot L-shaped terrace, Whitcomb brought in Halsted Welles, whose firm specializes in urban gardens. “You have to figure out what the uses of the terraces are going to be and you design to that,” Welles says of his approach. In this case, as each of the two bedrooms opens up onto the terrace, the clients saw it as a literal extension of the living spaces. As the homeowners planned to use the outdoor area mostly as a home-away-from home, Welles replaced the builder-supplied hot tub with a dining nook near the existing fireplace, which he had rebuilt in basalt.
Because he often strives to create terraces that are “serenely enveloped in vegetation with a selected view of the outside world,” Welles added a steel pergola for vines such as wisteria, grape and clematis. Adjacent to the pergola, he bordered the outdoor dining area along the building’s edge with an evergreen plum yew as a natural privacy and wind shield. “It also acts as a formal screen, so when you sit down you have plant material overhead and around you,” he says.
In the northeast corner, Welles took out every other concrete paver, replacing them with green roof pans planted with sedum, lily grass and other ground covers. Viewed from the living and dining rooms, the resulting checkerboard creates a low tapestry whose colors echo the interior palette. “This was a way to create interest and to bring plant material up to the windows, so it would be viewed from the inside,” says Welles.
The serene outdoors seemingly mimics the inside, which Whitcomb describes as a true urban sanctuary. “It’s so lovely to open the French doors on nice days and have fresh air flowing in,” she says. “But at the same time, you can easily feel the buzz of the neighborhood below.”