It was a family adventure: Together, a mother and her adult daughter purchased a well-appointed duplex in a new building on the Upper East Side that would serve as their pied-a-terre for gatherings. Because they were its first owners, the apartment was a blank slate, presenting both an opportunity and a challenge to decorate in a way multiple generations would embrace. So the duo turned to designers Heather Wells and Stephanie King, who had worked on the family’s other homes in Cleveland and the Florida Keys, to help them create a glamorous city getaway that walked the line between the mother’s traditional instincts and daughter’s edgier leanings. “Trying to keep things current but also relatable to both of them was an interesting challenge,” Wells says.
To begin, the design team added architectural definition to rooms where there was none. “We changed every finish in the house,” says King, who served as project manager with assistance from Lily Hanssens. “It was a heavy face-lift. Every wall, ceiling and floor finish was touched.” Overseen by King and carried out by builder Keith Kirkpatrick, installations included moldings, wall paneling and ceiling details. “Rather than taking walls down, we added layers,” Wells says. The new touches afford the homeowners time to build an art collection, King explains. “Adding these beautiful treatments to the walls allowed the apartment to feel very full and finished, even if the clients didn’t have art right away,” she says.
Once the structural changes were in place, Wells identified the common decor denominators: Daughter and mother–along with her husband–love color and share a passion for Oriental rugs. “We started with the rugs,” the designer says. “Once you pick that, you have your base, and everything can come from it.” First came the massive living room rug, full of rich pink and blue hues. This set a bold tone for the other main-floor rooms, as they are all in view of one another. As such, the interiors are flush with dusty pink in the living room, high-gloss blue in the dining room and deep aubergine in the family room.
Selecting the furnishings and fabrics was a matter of finding the sweet spot between the two client visions. The stair-hall chest, Wells says, gave her the direction she needed. “We originally had an antique piece the mother loved and the daughter hated,” she recalls. In its place, she designed a custom cabinet with an ebonized-oak frame and silver-leaf paneled drawers centered on antiqued-mirror tiles. “That became a turning point, because it had to look old but be young and fun,” Wells explains.
This set the track for the remainder of the design. “We discussed the concept of putting old and new together–a balance of everything,” the daughter says. “My mother is such a trooper. She branched out on things she wouldn’t have done on her own.” Case in point: the youthful leopard-print stair runner, which Wells paired with a timeless cascading crystal chandelier. In the dining room, an antique sideboard and a traditional dining table and chairs live happily beneath a modern Lindsey Adelman light fixture. And the adjacent bar area is anchored with an antique table under a trio of chic pendant lights. “The clients love the faceted quality of the lights, and the chains look like jewelry,” King says. “That’s what this apartment was to them: something beautiful with a twist–and lots of sparkle.”
Indeed, sparkle and sheen are evident in elements like the foyer’s plaster walls, streaked in a pearly pink glow; the champagne-gold paper coating on the ceiling of the dining room; and the living room’s silk Fromental walls: one a custom-designed embroidered panel with metallic thread, and the others lined with a beaded trim. Wells and her team hung large mirrors in each public space to reflect all the shimmer and light–an effect that is especially lively at night, the designer says, creating a beautiful ambience for the family’s frequent gatherings and receptions.
“I think the apartment overall is more glamorous than the clients’ other homes,” Wells says. “That makes sense, because it’s in New York.” The best part of the finished look, the daughter says, is the time she spent with her mother as they worked with the designers to decorate it. “Everything we picked, we chose together,” she says. “There are fond memories of the whole process–it was really special.”