Craig Nealy of Dineen Nealy Architects designs a camera-ready pied-à-terre for fashion photographer Wayne Maser in Manhattan.
Jen Renzi -- Interior Design, 4/1/2001 12:00:00 AM
"I enjoy reading people," muses Craig Nealy, co-founder of Dineen Nealy Architects, in defining what most endears him to his profession. "Being sensitive to the client and extracting salient information about him—that is the central challenge of interior design. Our firm's work is very much about translating the client's individual personality," he asserts. Nealy was thus thrown for a bit of a loop when celebrity photographer Wayne Maser approached him with an unusual request for his new apartment in Manhattan's distinguished Hotel Carlyle: to create a look that was deliberately impersonal. Although Maser is the creative force behind steamy advertising campaigns for Guess? and Calvin Klein underwear, as well as covers for top-40 albums and international fashion magazines, he wanted his home to be low-profile. "He wanted no giveaway about who lives there," says Nealy, "a place that communicated little information about its inhabitant." Accordingly, Nealy's design plays off the anonymous aspect of hotel habitation, while including a cheeky allusion to the less seemly connotations of a brief hospitality visit: "We wanted the apartment to look like the kind of place where unmarried people would come to have sex in the afternoon," says Nealy, only somewhat in jest. "Very louche, very sensual. But restrained nonetheless." Restrained, yes. Inhibited? Hardly.
The 1,200-sq.-ft. space, which has a bedroom and study flanking a central living area, was originally a hotel suite (the Carlyle, built in 1929, converted some of its guest rooms to co-op apartments in 1970). Since Maser was only renting, Nealy relied primarily on surface treatments to develop the requested attitude. Structural alterations were limited to the addition of a sleek, stainless-steel Pullman kitchen tucked into a miniscule chamber off the main foyer: "very generic and utilitarian," Nealy offers. Otherwise, the suite's original state was preserved, including the pre-war moldings, the hotel's original swinging-arm lamps in the study and bedroom, and two "fabulous, 1970s-era travertine hotel bathrooms." Following the logic that a paucity of patterns and a near-absence of color would best uphold the requested anonymous look, walls were painted ivory throughout and, in the foyer, draped with panels of plain, ecru-toned muslin. To complete the monochromatic backdrop, matching wall-to-wall carpeting was installed throughout.
Next, Nealy embarked on a shopping spree with Maser's then-girlfriend to select furniture and objects appropriate to the desired mood of reserved sultriness. He describes their complete synchronicity of taste: "We would walk into stores and run across the room to the same item, both yelling 'I love it! I love it!' She was very easy to buy for," he laughs. The duo culled a combination of vintage and vintage-inspired pieces with clean profiles, dark woods, and textured fabrics, resulting in a look that is part mid-century modern, part midday liaison. In the study, a Verner Panton chair and mirrored Parsons table just this side of decadent join a custom Macassar ebony desk. An aluminum folding screen and a cluster of Danish steel-and-rosewood cocktail tables populate the living room, where low seating encourages relaxation and other activities best accomplished when prone. Nealy found a classic Knoll lounge and matching chairs, which he had upholstered in a gunmetal-grey Thai silk for a dash of luxe. He also designed custom pieces, including the matching chaises in the study and living rooms, which recall the modernist lines of Mies van der Rohe's Barcelona couch. Hinged, five-panel screens of painted plywood, which conceal unsightly HVAC units below the windows throughout the apartment, are Nealy's "modern riff on Jean-Michel Frank." Rooms are lit by table and floor lamps rather than overhead fixtures, fostering a soothing vibe.
Although walls were left bare and unembellished by artwork save for a single framed photograph, Maser installed a projector in the living room to cast a slideshow of moving images. "The wall becomes a screen and the whole room becomes theater," explains Nealy. Cool and funky, but with an absence of personal effects and adornments, the pied-à-terre itself functions similarly—as a stage set, a theater for unfolding action.