Steven Gambrel tailors a chic Manhattan apartment for designer Liz Lange and her growing family.
Julia Lewis -- Interior Design, 4/1/2001 12:00:00 AM
THE MOTHER OF a two-and-a-half-year-old son, a five-month-old daughter, and a three-year-old clothing empire that caters to the rich and pregnant, Liz Lange has a bit of an irreverent streak. Deeply comfortable with the unexpected—some might even say the oxymoronic—Lange believes that a pregnant woman can wear a tube top and a family apartment can be uncompromisingly chic. In her interior designer, Steven Gambrel, Lange evidently found a kindred spirit, and together they created an inviting home that not only accommodates her growing family but also reflects her personal flair.
"I'm incredibly controlling," admits Lange, designer and founder of Liz Lange Maternity, in a moment of flippant self-evaluation. "I am very opinionated when it comes to matters of taste and style." Confident in the realm of fashion, Lange confesses, however, that she was less certain when it came to the design of the Upper East Side apartment that she purchased with her husband, a financial services entrepreneur. Gambrel, she says, was able to interpret her vague ideas and incorporate her specific requirements into a clean, tailored look. "Steven put it all together," she says. "I can't pinpoint the style, but it's very me."
According to Gambrel, the avoidance of a period look or even a definitive style was very much intentional. "The apartment's clean 1930s architecture played into the creation of a rather pared-down, modern scheme," he says. At the same time, the designer drew inspiration directly from Lange's honed fashion sense. Her clothing ensembles, Gambrel noticed immediately, reveal an affinity for clean lines, clear colors, and luxe fabrics. Ultimately, the designer concerned himself with developing a mood rather than a specific decorative style, creating a comfortable, flexible interior that, according to his client, "has a lot of charm and elegance without grandiosity."
Working with a gracious layout and the added benefits of spacious, well-proportioned rooms and four exposures, Gambrel's architectural interventions were limited. Having suffered an unfortunate 1980s renovation, the kitchen and bathrooms required remodeling for both practical and aesthetic purposes. Otherwise, many of the unit's 1930s details were intact. "We basically cleaned things up," says the designer. Gambrel replaced an overscaled French limestone mantel in the living room with a more restrained, architectural surround, and simplified the library's cherry wood paneling to be more in keeping with the apartment's streamlined detailing. In addition, wiring was brought up-to-date to support modern-day conveniences, such as multiple phone lines and computers, while walls were replastered to achieve a smooth, uniform finish throughout the space.
When it came to planning the rooms and selecting furniture, Gambrel was mindful of his client's emphatic wish for a child-friendly interior that worked with the family's casual lifestyle. "We didn't want an over-decorated Park Avenue look," says Lange. "We wanted the family to be able to use every room." Gambrel devised informal furniture arrangements that provide flexibility and take full advantage of the available space. The living room, for instance, offers three distinct seating areas but still has enough room for Lange's desk. Gambrel placed two tables—a large rectangular piece and a smaller, circular one—in the dining room. "These rooms can work in different ways. They can contain two people as comfortably as twenty," he says. Attuned to axes, views, and scale, the designer's deft planning fosters a variety of experiences and options within a single room.
With Lange's input, Gambrel assembled a tasteful mélange of mostly 20th-century antiques that are sleek and stylish but ultimately utilitarian. "Everything can be used by adults and kids," he says. Although designer pieces appear throughout—a Jansen desk and Paul Frankl coffee table in the living room, a pair of Tommi Parzinger table lamps in the master bedroom—Gambrel insists that decisions were not based on pedigree or provenance. "We selected items that fit Liz's aesthetic," he explains. "We were interested in shape, texture, and contrast." The slender silhouettes of French 1940s designs, including a pair of Hermès benches in the foyer, add a soupçon of glamour. Vintage pieces blend seamlessly with numerous custom designs, such as the living room's long, silk-velvet sofa, to create a coherent composition. "There is no one theme, just things I like," says Lange. "In that sense, there is a consistency that allows it all to work together."
Gambrel skillfully utilized color and pattern to keep the design fresh and young. "Serious" furniture is enlivened by unexpected upholstery choices, such as the lime green linen that is paired with the living room's 19th-century settee and the sporty white nylon blend that covers a pair of carved slipper chairs. While the apartment is dominated by a pale, tonal palette, Gambrel introduced shots of color in key spaces to preclude any sense of monotony. "There is a pinwheel effect," explains Gambrel. In the foyer, walls are painted robin's-egg blue and a graphic, Billy Baldwin-esque rug covers the floor. Here, color creates a bold first impression and establishes "an attitude." The blue, he points out, comes up again in the other rooms—in a striped pillow, for example—and softens as it evolves into the dining room's subtle, pewter-leaf wall covering and the generous master bedroom's pale blue patterned curtains.
Another key element in Gambrel's design is contrast. Compared to the apartment's pervasive light and airy feel, the wood-paneled library is a darker, cocoon-like room. With commodious, over-stuffed furniture upholstered in richly hued and textured fabrics, the library, says the designer, accentuates the adjacent living room's understated style. Densely layered with orange, yellow, and red patterned fabrics and carpet, this warm, intimate study has become Lange's favorite room and the de facto family room. "We spend a lot of time in this room; we often eat dinner here." Its dark palette, elaborate patterns, and durable pieces, such as a horsehair-upholstered ottoman, can withstand kids with toys and adults with t.v. trays.
Lange credits Gambrel for understanding her family's needs. "Above all, we wanted to be comfortable and not feel as though we live in our parents' apartment," she says. "The apartment is simply appropriate for the way we live. It has a modern look and the clean lines I like, but it is in no way formal and isn't designed for entertaining we don't do."
The Lange residence was completed in six months.
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