In The Zone
With feng shui principals and a unifying vision, Clodagh turned four Flatiron District condominiums into one harmonious whole
Jane Margolies -- Interior Design, 9/1/2005 12:00:00 AM
In the beginning, there was just a two-bedroom apartment on the 39th floor. That was the first purchase Sandy Leong and her husband made in a Flatiron District condominium tower. With a little remodeling, the place suited the young couple just fine. Shortly after their daughter was born, they bought a two-bedroom next door and merged the two spaces. Then along came baby number two, a son, and the couple acquired the pair of smaller apartments directly below.
The idea was to combine all four units into a cohesive family residence, but, says Leong, "I kept looking at the plan and not feeling happy about it, especially the kitchen." (She loves to cook.) Having admired a bathroom that Clodagh designed for the Kips Bay Decorator Show House, the couple called her for a walk-through of the premises.
"It was more like a wiggle-through," Clodagh recalls of the disjointed spaces, which nonetheless totaled a generous 4,000 square feet and offered far-reaching views in all directions. "The living room was in the wrong place, the bedroom was in the wrong place, and everywhere I turned I knew there'd be a wet wall."
Before the renovation even got out of the planning stage, Clodagh Design and the couple spent a year in negotiations with the condominium board to get permission to break through the floor, something never before attempted in the building. Construction also took a year—a job ultimately involving the most complicated engineering that Clodagh has ever undertaken. "It was like sculpting space," she says. As the work progressed, the family moved from one section of the apartment to another.
Overall, she treated the apartment like a conventional two-story house. The lower level holds the public spaces: the living and dining areas, the kitchen, a bathroom, and a library that converts into a guest room. On the upper level are the master suite, an office, and the two-bedroom children's wing. An angular suspended staircase connects the two, serving as the backbone of the duplex.
Keeping in mind the safety of the children, Clodagh spaced the balustrade's stainless-steel cables just 4 inches apart. Childproofing considerations went into materials selection as well. "When clients have kids, I use the same materials I use in hotels," she says. The dining chairs are covered in a sophisticated taupe microfiber that can be sponged clean, and the walls are Venetian plaster, a very forgiving finish. "When you ding it," she says, "it looks older. . .and nicer."
Leong's favorite spot is the tranquil 38th-floor bathroom, with its limestone floor bordered in smooth river stones. Not that she has any complaints about the highly personalized kitchen. It has a limestone counter where the kids do homework while she makes dinner, a drawer next to the stainless-steel cooktop for her sauces and oils, and another one just for spices. And the entire space is veiled in a shimmering curtain of stainless-steel mesh, so dishes in the sink are hidden from everyone seated at the dining area's maple-topped table.
Her husband, an ex–Wall Streeter who's now started his own business, originally gave Clodagh a wish list of three items: a fish tank, a recliner, and a big-screen TV. She supplied them all in the living area, where he can gaze at the built-in aquarium's school of Dogface pufferfish—or the Knicks game—from the comfort of a leather-covered lounge chair, which Clodagh modified with extra padding and a new cushioned headrest. "At my firm, we're demons about upholstery," she says. "We do absolutely everything we can to make people feel good."
Taking that goal a step further, she virtually always recruits a feng shui consultant, Sarah Rossbach, to advise on the harmonious placement of furnishings and art. "With the apartment being up so high, there were some issues of balance in the space," Rossbach notes. Every visual axis now terminates at an object of beauty, whether it's a moody abstract oil on canvas by Esteban Vicente, hanging at the top of the staircase, or the dining table perfectly lined up with a red-lacquered Chinese wedding cabinet, a symbol of family happiness and prosperity.