Wonder Twin Powers
How the sisters behind 2Michaels designed their way out of a Park Avenue style dilemma
Kimberly Goad -- Interior Design, 9/1/2006 12:00:00 AM
Before Jayne and Joan Michaels began work on this Park Avenue pied-à-terre, they followed standard procedure and showed their clients a portfolio to get some insight into the couple's taste. Right away, he responded to club chairs upholstered in distressed leather, while she lit up at the sight of anything clean and minimalist. It was perfectly clear to the designers—twin sisters who head the firm 2Michaels—that these two clients sit at diametrically opposite ends of the design spectrum.
What might have presented itself as a conundrum luckily turned out to be anything but. Though Jayne and Joan Michaels share an aesthetic—spare yet luxurious—they often interpret it in different ways. Accustomed to dealing with issues that arise from separate points of view, the sisters weren't the least bit fazed by their clients' seemingly incompatible tastes. "They create a dialogue of endless possibilities," Joan Michaels says.
The apartment occupies the top floor of a four-story brownstone. By the time 2Michaels entered the picture, the 1,400-square-foot one-bedroom had already received a gut renovation and a new cherrywood kitchen.
The couple live in New Jersey, but they work in the city, he as an investment banker and she as a math tutor. "They have busy lives, so we went for homey and warm. And they're both intellectual, cultured, and refined—so nothing trendy," Joan Michaels says. The half of 2Michaels that focuses on textiles and color schemes, she built a soft palette of beige and brown, punctuated by the occasional surprise of strong color, such as the sedate bedroom's maize-yellow chair and the den's espresso-brown walls.
Jayne Michaels is the half that's fascinated by furniture; she and her sister collaborate with Larry Weinberg of the Lin/Weinberg Gallery on many of the firm's projects. Here, he helped them search out contemporary and vintage furniture and accessories. "New can be sterile. When you add older items that have a history, the space becomes more interesting," Jayne Michaels says. "But the shapes have to work together."
That they do. In the living area, the klismos-style backs of two French 1940's leather-upholstered lounge chairs seem to embrace the circular forms of the cocktail table's glass top and a floor lamp's parchment shade, which looks like a storybook Chinese peasant's pointy hat. The lamp itself is a simple vertical arc of brass. The zebrawood table base has a crisscrossing form 4 feet across—large enough, Jayne Michaels realized when she saw it, to make buffet-style meals an option, since the apartment lacks a dining area.
Bridging the gap between old and new wasn't the only challenge. The sisters had hoped to showcase the couple's art books on shelves flanking the living area's fireplace, but hollow walls put an end to that. Plan B entailed installing floating oak shelves and using them to display Swedish 1950's pottery, which is lighter.
The sisters went gently masculine in the den, a narrow room next to the bedroom in back. By the door, a wooden desk and chair are as sturdy as they come. At the other end of the space, a glass-topped cocktail table's serpentine cast-aluminum base is planted on a fluffy white flokati.
Arguably the best feature of the apartment is a roof terrace where the couple indulge in that rarest of New York happenings, a quiet dinner outdoors. Access, however, is via the building's fire stair. To make the top two private flights distinct from the ones below, Weinberg suggested hanging a-series of silk screens showing architectural or geometric white forms against a blue or yellow ground. The arches are vaguely neoclassical, while the triangles and chevrons couldn't possibly be more classic modern.
Previous spread, left: Jayne and Joan Michaels furnished the bedroom of this Upper East Side pied-à-terre with a 1940's console by Edward Wormley. It's topped with a functioning TV from the 1970's and a photograph by Wingate Paine.
Previous spread, right: The bedroom's skylight was existing.
Opposite top: Cherrywood cabinetry distinguishes the kitchen, where French 1940's stools line up along the island; the brass pendant fixtures, also French, date to the '50's. Opposite bottom: The kitchen's ink drawing is by Angelo Testa.
Top: Next to the living area's fireplace, oak shelves showcase Swedish 1950's pottery. John Boone's iron bench sits beneath Betsy Eby's encaustic on panel. Bottom: Seating also includes a French 1940's leather-covered chair and a sofa upholstered in velvet. Bronze sconces flank a mixed-media painting by Andrea Shapiro. The table's zebrawood base is French 1950's.
Opposite: In the den, a wooden desk and chair are paired with a 1935 lamp by Kurt Versen. A 1970's glass-topped cast-aluminum cocktail table sits on a flokati.
Clockwise from top left: The den's chrome stabile by François Colette. A bedside lamp by Dorothy Draper. An African sculpture in the living area. Curtis Jere's brass sculpture on the bedroom wall. An oil on linen by Frank Veteran in the den. The parchment shade of the living area's German floor lamp, circa 1950. A custom headboard upholstered in linen. An African mask in the living area.
Opposite top: Set beneath a French 1950's woven textile, a velvet-upholstered sofa bed allows the den to double as a guest room. The 1930's lamp is aluminum. Opposite bottom: Silk screens by David Roth dress up the fire stair to the roof terrace.
Top: The bedroom features an American 1950's chair and, above the bed, a photograph by Sam Samore. Bottom: A teak table and chairs furnish the roof terrace.