I love wallpaper and upholstering walls. It’s something I do a lot in my work, but this is the first project I’ve done where every single wall is covered. The clients are a young couple with a tween daughter. They are businesspeople who work for their families and are based in Singapore, but they travel all over—they also have a home in Los Angeles that I designed for them in 2014. They found me through Million Dollar Decorators, the Bravo TV show I was on years ago. Because they live in a really warm, tropical environment, the wife wanted her New York space to feel very different than the ones in L.A. and Asia—heavier and more layered, with deep, rich colors. I remember her telling me that when she was in college, she collected Carolyne Roehm’s books and loved that ladylike aesthetic.
The apartment is downtown, in a prewar building in the West Village, but it has more of an Upper East Side floor plan. It was a shell; we were in construction with Dean Fine Building for nine months renovating bathrooms, putting in custom cabinetry—things like that. The wife and I went on a two-week-long buying trip to Europe together during which we purchased almost everything in this apartment. Having had an antiques store in Los Angeles for 14 years, I followed my normal route: We started in London and did a couple of auctions, then went to the flea markets and the Left Bank in Paris, and then took the train to Belgium, which is small but packed with great stuff. We found a 19th-century English cabinet there that was perfect for the living room—they wanted a television, but I didn’t want it to be seen, so we hid it inside. We also traveled to L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue in Provence. Do you see that hallway of mirrors? I knew it would make the apartment feel grand. I found the 27 gilded mirrors, all from the 18th century with original glass, in L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue.
Once I got all the furniture back to New York and started plugging things into our floor plan, I focused on the textiles. We had heavier pieces, dark woods, black, and stone in the living room, so I chose Nicholas Herbert’s Coromandel cotton to offset them. The master bedroom is wrapped in a fabric called Lu-Si from the Turkish company Tulu, and the daughter’s room is in a Pierre Frey safari print, which felt both sophisticated and super cheerful.
The ceiling of the hallway is a matte gold Ralph Lauren Home wallpaper, and the walls are upholstered in a Kravet velvet: With the light reflecting from the mirrors, it all glows. There is an acrylic painting that looks like an emerald by a South African artist, Kurt Pio, whose dealer is in New Orleans. I loved the idea of seeing that glittering gemstone at the end of the hallway.
It took four people two weeks to upholster and wallpaper the whole apartment. There was so much fabric used in this project—it felt like miles. I joked that I was going to make a suit out of one of them and blend into the walls.
This kind of eye-popping decor isn’t for everyone. I told the clients, we’re going to go very bold with this apartment, so let’s commit to it. And to their credit, they did. The mixing and layering of textiles was a highlight. For instance, in the master bedroom, I wanted the bed to be a strong moment so it would stand out against the highly patterned floral walls. That is how I landed on that crisp raspberry mohair velvet for the headboard.
I think people are surprised to see me work in this style. Since I’m from Northern California, most people equate me with the West Coast aesthetic—laid-back, beachy—and it’s true, I love that look. But I’m also a total traditionalist. Growing up in the Bay Area, we had lots of upholstery at home—we even had batting behind the walls to make them look puffy. My childhood bedroom had hunter-green toile de Jouy on the walls and curtains that I picked out—actually, the room is still intact. And my English great-grandmother had a bedroom that was all lilac floral chintz. I’ve loved the Anglo look ever since, and this project shows that side of me.
Vanessa Lawrence, the Senior Editor at ELLE Decor, writes about home, design, style and the arts and was previously at W Magazine and WWD.