A Renaissance couple: There’s no better way to describe the husband and wife who hired designer Lisa Tharp to renovate their recently purchased, turn-of-the century urban apartment in the Northeast. In fact it was their passion for literature, science and art that guided Tharp’s concept. “This was an opportunity to showcase who they are–to reflect their intellect and quiet sophistication,” Tharp says. “In every room, there’s something to stimulate conversation and inspire curiosity.”
Which is exactly what happens as soon as one steps off their private elevator: Lustrous brass doors open to a moody reception gallery with glossy black-lacquered walls and a ceiling whose hand-painted tortoise-shell finish adds warmth and interest to the existing black-and-white checkerboard floor. “We were going for maximum drama,” Tharp says.
The glamour continues in the foyer, where the walls are clad in blush silk velvet and a brass-and-opaline-glass Venini chandelier hangs from the ceiling. “I love to mix in European lighting to make our projects more unique and special,” she says. “It’s classical, but it’s midcentury at the same time, so it lends a fresh edge.” In the same spirit, 1940s-era sconces from a Parisian hotel illuminate the yellow-lacquered ceiling in the long gallery, a hue taken from a painting displayed in a newly created wall niche at the end of a long corridor. “It’s a color pop to add excitement and anticipation before you enter the main public spaces,” Tharp says.
That anticipation is rewarded upon entry to the living and dining areas, where Tharp eliminated faux Roman columns and cupcake millwork that didn’t reflect the clients’ easy elegance and prevented open sight lines between the two rooms. Vintage lighting appears again in the form of antique brass-and-glass sconces on either side of the living room fireplace, which was reimagined in Calacatta marble. A large hand-carved silk rug–Tharp calls it “the crÃ¨me de la crÃ¨me”–shimmers beneath a pair of custom serpentine sofas covered in silk mohair, one of which features an open back, allowing the view from the dining room to remain unobstructed. “It feels almost like you’re floating in a cloud,” she remarks.
The dining room is equally light and bright. Instead of one table, Tharp incorporated a matching pair in black walnut veneer. Atop each, tall library-style table lamps supplement the light from an alabaster chandelier. Designed to be pulled up to the table, a pair of Venetian silk velvet-covered settees await large soirees. “The goal was to have a space that’s flexible,” Tharp explains. It’s also a space that reflects the couple’s intellectual pursuits. Along one of the walls, new built-in floor-to-ceiling cabinetry with library lights and glass-front bookcases surrounds the entrance to a windowless “map room.” In that room, a silk wallcovering reflects the natural light, while a dark celestial-style mural draws attention to the ceiling. Even the stark photo of a soccer ball above the room’s cozy built-in banquette takes on a planetary quality when viewed in this context. “Everything in this room was inspired by geography, geology, time, nature and history, but it’s not overt,” Tharp notes, pointing to the map she inlaid into the writing surface of the custom secretary. “It doesn’t wander into the clichÃ©.” Another example, behind the sofa in the family room, is a console with an acrylic display case housing millions-year-old rock specimens, antique magnifying lenses and other curiosities.
Newly adorned with period-appropriate wall moldings, the family room’s pale aqua lacquered walls coordinate with the lattice-like pattern on the carpet, its orange accent color an ideal complement to the leather swivel chairs and to the sofa covered in silky linen. “My homage to Milo Baughman,” Tharp explains, referring to the renowned American midcentury furniture designer. Along the back wall, a nearly 20-foot long built-in banquette, which was commissioned in two pieces for ease of transport, creates a space to eat, enjoy the views or play games. There’s even a chessboard lacquered into one of the tabletops. “It’s the client’s favorite hangout,” Tharp says.
The project was a year-long endeavor, but the final result–a sanctuary filled with carefully curated art and objects–indicates a home that has evolved through the years. “Each room has a bit of soul, a story to tell,” observes Tharp. “It feels collected over time.”