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Gifts in Small Packages: Our New Office
Earlier this year, when our lease ran out on our old office, we felt it prudent to move to a smaller office. We ended up finding one smaller by half, a modest 1,200 square feet to fit the seven of us. In the end, I think this new studio is an improvement. It is wonderfully located overlooking MadisonSquarePark in an historic building dating from 1901 with many aspects of its original architecture. We are on the third floor, right at tree level with the park with views of the Flatiron building, Augustus Saint-Gaudens’ Farragut Monument, and both of the gold-topped insurance towers, New York Life, and Metropolitan Life, on the opposite side of the park. Our building once housed the august leather goods establishment of Mark Cross. Delmonico’s was next door and Edith Wharton attended church down the street.
Our new space consists of one large room with three windows; the center, a bay window with curved glass side panels facing onto a small terrace with a very beautiful Beaux Arts grille. Inside the room there is a frumpy fireplace surrounded by Mexican onyx with a serpentine-shaped firebox. There are also the remains of a plaster cornice. These elements give the room a novel character.
The layout proved to be an interesting design test. We called up many of our decorating tricks and economies to make it work. I think the results are handsome and create a special place. We completed the interior in time for a Christmas party last week. We had much to celebrate including the space itself. Here are some pictures and notes about the design.
To create an entrance, we painted one corner of the space a dark grey color called Downpipe from Farrow & Ball and then hung two “walls” of linen curtains in a very Victorian shade of red, echoing the neighborhood’s heyday in the Gilded Age. To make this entry work, we literally had to float the furniture and artwork in the middle of the room in a balanced but asymmetrical composition. We placed a German commode from the great dealer Karl Kemp in front of one of the linen panels, one of my favorite objects from our old office that I knew I had to fit in. As with our clients, we always try to reuse things whenever possible—it is good manners and often makes the room better. With our limited storage, it also provided utility by becoming the holding place for our collection of antique fabrics.
To anchor a piece of such large scale, we hung a mid-century watercolor from my family’s house in Los Angeles (it is an almost ghostly view of downtown on Bunker Hill) and placed a bust supposedly of the King of Rome on the cabinet top. I like the suggestion of home rather than office that the painting and these objects bring.
In the main area of the office, we supplemented the architecture of the room with relatively simple freestanding bookcases that were mostly recycled from our old office (which incidentally was featured in an old issue of Interior Design magazine I am proud to say.) They are painted dove white to match the trim color but have green interiors. A pair of lamps on the bookcases, a slightly unusual location I know, gives the arrangement a decorative presence.
On the sidewalls near the windows we installed floor to ceiling sheets of mirror to expand the view. Yup, that old mirror trick in a small space.
On the fireplace side of the room, we reemployed our Saarinen conference table two club chairs centered by a stylish table originally supplied by Jansen to the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, and my retro surplus “tanker” office desk, also painted green. Over the fireplace is a drawing by David Sena whose media are paper and fire. The arrangement is compact, but comfortable. I think David’s drawing in combination with the fireplace has an expansive effect. On the other side of the bookcase dividers, the area is furnished with desks for each designer. This side is largely about function. It also has several nice works of art including a Polly Apfelbaum flag purchased from ACRIA’s yearly art benefit, which always draw a crowd and raises money for an important cause. Good art always improves a space.
The centerpiece of the office is the bay window, again furnished in red linen. I think it is a fine moment when I can sit there with my cordless phone and gaze on the Flatiron building. The area is also furnished with two stools designed by Macintosh for the Glasgow School of Art. I mention the benches and other furniture in particular because I think their quality is key to the decoration. Like art, a few important objects are often winning ingredients in a room. In my case, I have collected them for very little investment so it is not about the cost but the quality they bring to the room.
For me, the most important lesson about these new surroundings is that positively facing change (combined with the benefit of good decoration) very often leads to improved circumstances.
Happy New Year.
Photos and plan by Nancy Romeu.