This time, it had to be extra special,” designer Amy Lau says. Not that the three previous residences she had decorated for two of her dearest clients weren’t memorable, but this particular New York apartment, with wraparound terraces that enjoy broad views of Gracie Mansion and the East River, would probably be these homeowners’ last big project with Lau, since they planned to stay here for good. “She’s a design junkie–she’s got the best eye ever,” Lau says of the wife. “So if this was going to be our final collaboration, I said, ‘Let’s take it to the next level.’”
The opportunity presented itself when the second apartment on the owners’ floor became available, and they snapped it up to transform it into their main living area, with the existing apartment reserved for guests and the husband’s office and piano studio. The new place hadn’t been touched in at least 30 years, the wife says, “so every single wall in the apartment came down.” While architect Robert Luntz worked on a new open-plan layout, the wife gathered inspiration from her vast collection of European design magazines–though after 16 years of friendship, she says, “Before I open my mouth, Amy knows what I’m looking for.”
Indeed, Lau knew where to go once the wife brought out a painting she had purchased but never hung: a midcentury abstract full of blue and turquoise hues. “I fell in love with the colors in this painting,” Lau recalls, “and I felt as though the entire design direction should be built around this artwork.”
Though blue had never figured in the owners’ other homes–their country home, paradoxically, is ablaze in orange and red hues–the wife embraced the cooler palette because she felt it would reflect the colors of the river and horizon outside the apartment’s sprawling windows. The wife also expressed a desire for Brutalist-style furnishings. “My mind was evolving to things that were more architectural, more sculptural,” she explains. “Here, it’s a city dwelling, and you’re looking at chimneys; you’re looking at factories across the river in Long Island City. That evokes the raw feeling of Brutalism.” Other requirements were to incorporate the Scheidts’ collection of African relics and sculpture and to bring more ceramic art and accessories into the mix.
In response, Lau commissioned a series of unforgettable site-specific artworks and decor. She first approached Fort Street Studio to create two Dandong wild-silk rugs for the long, narrow living area where that key painting now hangs. “The patterns in the rugs look like they were formed by brushstrokes, like watercolor,” she says. “They are basically an homage to that painting.” Custom cashmere, wool and mohair throw pillows by textile designer Lauren Saunders are a more literal translation of the painting, and the effect shows up again in a hair-on-hide rug in the nearby entry hall. Lau employed similar combinations in the master suite with luminous ombre draperies and handmade Italian tiles commissioned for the shower. From one end of the apartment to the other, she explains, “I love that you do one thing, and it echoes in different places with different materials and different forms.”
The designer was more judicious with the heavier Brutalist accents–most notably a Paul Evans coffee table with a sculpted black-metal base and an oversize floor lamp from Evans’ era, both which stand out against the living room’s neutral palette. She extended those neutrals through the dining area and into the kitchen, a study in white, beige and gray that is dominated by a Malcolm Hill mural. “I just totally wanted to do a mural, no ifs, ands or buts,” Lau says. “I thought one monolithic piece, rather than little pictures along the wall, would be fantastic.” She then arranged cloud-like lights over the island with help from builders Mark Dobbin and Breandan Timothy. “The design team had full-scale mockups and paper templates. From there, we were able to identify where the junction boxes would go,” Timothy says, noting that the designers’ meticulous preparation paid off. “The whole effect is almost lunar-looking.”
Equally meticulous was the way in which Lau sourced Italian and German ceramics to display among her clients’ African art collection on custom shelves in the master bedroom. “Each little piece is a jewel,” she says. The room’s custom Moroccan rug, custom bedding and upholstered wall complement the tableau.
The best part of the two-year renovation, as it turned out, came last. It took Lau nearly that long to persuade her clients to go for an installation dividing the dining and living areas: a lacy three-panel screen made from layers of cast bronze. “It’s the piece de resistance,” she says of metalsmith Silas Seandel‘s sculpture. A fitting tribute, one might say, to so many years of creativity and creation between a designer and her cherished clients.