A Grand Idea pix
When the time came to refurbish a New York institution called the Campbell Apartment, who better to choose than Nina Campbell?
Fred A. Bernstein -- Interior Design, 3/1/2007 12:00:00 AM
At the Campbell Apartment bar in New York, Nina Campbell installed a chenille-upholstered banquette under walls painted to resemble travertine. Her tub chairs are covered in chenille on the inside and faux leather out.
Campbell tartan lines the walls of the foyer.
Like the tub chairs, Campbell's bar stools get a glamour boost from faux leather and chenille. Her back-to-back benches, meanwhile, are covered in velvet and faux leather.
Campbell's rug is solution-dyed nylon for durability.
A brass plaque at the entry.
The Campbell wool-cotton tartan, woven to order in Scotland.
Station architecture by Warren & Wetmore in collaboration with Reed & Stem.
John W. Campbell's steel safe, which still occupies the fireplace.
Campbell's watercolor rendering, looking away from the fireplace.
The original ceiling, restored when the Campbell Apartment opened in 1999.
The mahogany bar, a 1999 addition.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY ERIC LAIGNEL
The Campbell Apartment may not have as much history as some of the projects Nina Campbell has worked on—including a Scottish castle that dates to the 14th century. Still, by U.S. standards, this plush New York bar is practically Buckingham Palace. Back in 1923, John W. Campbell, whose credit-reporting business later became a part of Dun & Bradstreet, converted the space at Grand Central Terminal into an office where he entertained clients in style. A 25-by-60-foot room with a 30-foot ceiling, the baronial corner was a tiny San Simeon, complete with pipe organ and baby grand piano.
Campbell died in 1957 and, during the next 40 years, the space served the Metro-North Railroad in various unstylish capacities, some of which required dropped ceilings and fluorescent lights. It wasn't until 1999 that Mark Grossich, who had grown up working in his family's restaurants in Chicago, turned the space into a bar. His company, Hospitality Holdings, undid the damage, spending more than $1.5 million to restore the faux-stone fireplace, the leaded-glass windows and the beamed ceiling, painted with brilliantly colored designs resembling heraldic motifs. "We had painters lying on their backs, Sistine Chapel–style, for months," he says.
The bar was a success, and the club chairs and sofas needed regular reupholstering. But even with the constant upkeep, the place was ready for a change by 2006. As Grossich explains, "It was the seven-year itch."
Grossich has become increasingly focused on design—in 2002, he hired Interior Design Hall of Fame member Arthur Casas to design the World Bar at Trump World Tower. Now, Grossich began looking for someone to "ratchet up" the Campbell Apartment. The designer would have to be capable of "military precision," getting the job done without closing the bar a single night. Grossich's wife, Elizabeth, whom he describes as a "very stylish woman," suggested Nina Campbell. Campbell's name was a nice coincidence, Grossich says. But what really mattered was her version of English country-house style: witty, not dowdy. Besides, with her own furniture, fabric, and rug lines, she could meet Grossich's need for rapid deployment.
Campbell says she found the idea of doing a bar in a train station "odd but intriguing." On her next trip to New York—en route to a project in Greenwich, Connecticut—she checked out the Campbell Apartment. In addition to finding Grand Central "mind-blowingly beautiful," she was astounded by the corner room: "It's a hidden jewel. And, to me, jewel suggests red." So she chose banquette upholstery in bright red striped chenille and a rug in red, blue, and gold.
She increased seating capacity from 50 to 62 by specifying dozens of pieces from her collection, including club chairs with extra-wide arms. (With the arms as perches, she observes, the chairs are roomy enough for three.) She also covered cocktail tables in a soon-to-be-discontinued plastic laminate that resembles beaten brass. "I absolutely love it," she says, adding with a laugh, "although I may be the only one." The tabletops will reflect light from several new lamps as well as sconces with new shades—although, for the sake of ambience, lighting will remain low. (Another reason she chose bright colors.) In the entry, she covered the walls in the traditional red Campbell tartan.
While a trusted staff member from her namesake firm installed the furniture—virtually everything but the delayed laminate tables—Campbell herself was on a trip round the world. The stops included Phuket, Thailand, where she presented plans for a resort; Australia, where she judged a competition; and San Francisco, where she's refurbishing a house high above the Presidio. By the time she was scheduled to arrive in New York, the tartan would be hung, the banquettes spruced up, and the bar stools waiting. "I'll walk in the door," she says, "and Mark will offer me a drink."