When this couple approached us to decorate their Upper East Side apartment, there was an instant meeting of minds. The pair, who are devoted contemporary art collectors, wanted to integrate their art into rooms with color, instead of the more typical all-white backgrounds used with modern art. One of them is an art curator who has amassed a collection of works by artists ranging from Warhol to Hockney and wanted that art to speak to their surroundings. In the end, we provided the perfect backdrop to set up their pictures, allowing them to eschew conventions like the typical large piece of art over the sofa in favor of smaller works placed in a casual but balanced way. The quality of the apartment is the works of art, or as Thomas Jayne noted, “In this case, the decoration is subservient to the art.”
We painted the walls a sunny yellow and arranged miscellaneous furniture for function and sculptural effect. With the help of architect Ben Olson, the space gained definition: the kitchen was remodeled, the dining room became a sitting room, and the living room became a place to entertain and dine. The warm, comfortable decor skews contemporary but still has some of the stricter idioms of the mid-20th century.
“I think decoration in the 21st century is analogous to collage,” Jayne says. “And the design of this home is somewhat like a collage in the sense of arrangement.” This makes sense as both the designer and the homeowners felt the art was the impetus for design. A prime example of this approach is the jewel-box entry area, where sculpture and paintings are combined with a modernist chest from the 1930s and a Persian carpet.
The adjoining sitting room is a study in contrasts, filled with striking objects and forms. By the entry, a David Hockney lithograph sits “leg to leg” with an African stool. A sumptuous set of striped curtains made of yellow and grey silk is unexpected against the simple architecture of the windows. Adding a steer skull and a lush potted plant at the window furthers the dialogue.
The architect Ben Olson manipulated the bedroom space—which in its original state barely had room to place a bed—into a spacious suite off the living room. Wall-to-wall carpeting, a Chinese bedside table, and Scandinavian chairs add comfort while the Baldessari lithographs set the vibrant tone for the room.
The small terrace is a lovely setting to appreciate the greenness of Central Park during breakfast. Here, the art is the dynamic skyline and view.