Before decamping to a prewar building uptown, fashion industry veteran Marcee Smith lived downtown for years. This change in scenery, however, did not change her desired aesthetic. “She wanted the Upper East Side in sneakers, not Belgian loafers,” says designer Robert Marinelli, whom Smith hired to fulfill her vision. “The idea was always yin-and-yang and push-and-pull.”
Achieving harmony between opposing visions required some serious creativity on Marinelli’s part. The existing apartment had undergone a few renovations over the years, resulting in cramped, dark spaces. “There was a little entryway with a passage leading to a dark room before you finally reached the living and dining rooms where the light was,” recalls the designer.
To remedy that he decided to completely gut the space, working with builder Peter Dimitropoulos to open things up and banish the gloom. During demolition, the duo uncovered an unexpected gift: plumbing infrastructure, not visible on any plans, that allowed for the incorporation of a powder room. “We built it out of nowhere,” says Dimitropoulos. And while adding a powder room may seem like a small gesture, it proved an essential element in the design scheme. The designer floated the room between the entry and living area, wrapping antiqued-mirrored panels around it and on one of the opposite walls. “It keeps the space open and reflects light so it’s not dark and oppressive,” he says.
Marinelli opted for large-scale moldings, a Jerusalem stone fireplace in the living room and oak floors laid in a herringbone pattern throughout, creating a classic, European-style architectural framework. To evoke the desired loft-like feel, however, he merged the living and dining areas, creating one continuous space. Glass-and-steel walls that define and separate the bathrooms from the bedrooms and the family room from the living area lend an industrial edge to the formal millwork. “They create a more casual feeling and let light in,” notes the designer.
Marinelli’s furnishing choices comprise a heady mix that spans centuries and styles. Populating the rooms are pieces by modern-day luminaries like Herve van der Straeten (the living area’s gueridons and the dining area’s sconces) and Dimore Studio (wall-mounted shelving in the living area), which serve as sculptural counterpoints to the collection of contemporary paintings by the likes of Cy Twombly, Jack Youngerman, Jorinde Voigt and others assembled with the assistance of art consultant Irena Hochman. Items the designer dubs “collector’s pieces” add a layer of history.
Marinelli says that while Smith was not previously a collector, she quickly “went from zero to 100” as they shopped, gaining confidence and a singular eye. Some finds were easy sells–the pair of 18th-century Italian armchairs that anchor either end of the dining table, for example–while others, such as the Andre Sornay chairs that join them in the space, took a bit longer for Smith to get comfortable with. “We looked at 20 other pairs of chairs, but she came back to the Sornays,” he says.
The unifying element here is the furniture designed by Marinelli, a key component of his practice. “My furniture is meant to assimilate and tie everything together,” he says, pointing to a pair of what he calls “long, low and lean” sofas in the living room. A kidney-shaped version has a Deco-meets-’50s vibe that has a kinship with the Sornay chairs, Andre Arbus armchair and Jacques Adnet sideboard, while the other skews more ’60s mod. Covered in a solid blue velvet and a geometric pattern respectively, they hint at the melange of rich textiles Marinelli employed. “The idea was to add a lot of texture, be playful and not be afraid to take a certain amount of risk,” he says.
The 100 percent-silk draperies in the living area feel anything but stuffy, since they hang from recessed tracks in the ceiling without visible hardware. “They’re like 18th-century ball gowns,” notes the designer. And in the master bedroom, Marinelli swathed a 1950s chair in an elaborately embroidered Italian fabric, leavening it with an ottoman in hot-pink hide.
A consistent palette was used throughout: Taupe in the living room repeats in the master bedroom moldings, the daughter’s bedroom door and the kitchen. Silver crops up on the entry’s hand-painted ceiling and columns and in the metallic threads woven into the living room rug. He then added brighter hues in different guises, like the peacock hue on the living room sofa, which also appears in the family room’s sofa pillows. “I love mixing colors,” says the designer, “but I want something to unite them.” His true achievement is making seemingly disparate elements and influences peacefully coexist. “Overall,” Marinelli muses, “the apartment is lush and maximal but edited in a modernist, laid-back way.”