Design Inspiration Home Tours

How a Designer Turned an Empty Hallway into a Library

This NYC apartment may inspire you to restructure your floor plan.

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For designer Gideon Mendelson, a home’s original floor plan is largely a suggestion.

“Architecture is the beginning. After I meet with a client and get to know them—which is the most important thing—I look at the architecture and isolate opportunities,” says Mendelson, the Creative Director of design firm Mendelson Group. “I think about the relationship between rooms. They may be minor adjustments, but those minor adjustments can really make an impact in terms of how my clients live.”

[In the lead image: Nada Debs Pebble Table; Farrow & Ball Skylight 205 Paint]

[In this image: Matthew Fairbank Design Osiris Chandelier]

The clients in question are a young family with a 5-year-old son, who were looking to transform their 2,000-square-foot apartment on Manhattan’s Upper West Side into something a little more customized. Working closely with the clients, Mendelson and his team aimed to preserve the classic prewar elements of the apartment while layering in more contemporary touches.

[In this image: Restoration Hardware Rectangular Linen Shade Pendant, $435; Design Within Reach Eames Molded Fiberglass Chair in “Parchment” $549-$598]

“When I’m given something classic and beautiful like this I try and keep the integrity of what’s there alive,” says Mendelson of striking the balance between old and new. “Wherever we could we kept moldings and detailing that was there, and where we couldn’t keep it, we had custom parts made to match it. I think that’s what makes a space interesting, when you mix things. It gives the space character and spirit.”

Over the course of a year, the team made extensive interior changes to better suit the needs of the young family. The clients didn’t want a formal dining room, instead favoring a more casual setting perfect for entertaining. Mendelson opened up the common areas and carved a nook out of the artist formerly known as the living room to accommodate a banquette.

[In this image: Waterworks Resin Soap Dispenser, $245; Waterworks Henry Low Profile Mounted Faucet, $1,348; Circa Lighting Calliope Tall Bath Light, $525]

They also enlarged the master bathroom, and knocked down a wall within the kitchen to create more counter space and let natural light stream in through two windows. The final kitchen definitely errs on the side of modern, thanks to a contemporary light fixture above the kitchen table and a minimalist white motif, but doesn’t feel out of place in the more classic apartment.

However in terms of reconfiguration, the crown jewel of the space has to be the library.

“We stole some space from the two bedrooms and the boy’s bathroom to create this library,” says Mendelson of the nook, which ended up being his favorite part of the whole project. “From an architectural standpoint, the library is a really fun moment. Your eyes just sort of light up when you walk in there.”

[In this image: Benjamin Moore Van Deusen Blue Paint]

The deep blue lacquered area is an instant focal point, exhibiting some of that old-new balance via the elegant light fixture set against the contemporary finishing. And the library itself is a prime example of Mendelson’s approach to reconfiguration.

[In this image: Newel Rectangular Coffee Table, $6,250; O’Lampia Small Reflect Lamp]

“It’s one of the first things I do, actually,” he says of how he goes about restructuring a space. “Whenever I look at a floor plan, I’m looking for opportunities—how can I make adjustments to what’s there to solve problems or satisfy a client’s wishlist? In Manhattan, every inch really counts, so I’m looking for moments where space isn’t being used as efficiently as it can be.”

[In this image: Modern Living Supplies Del Court Cocktail Table, $3,960]

In this case, the clients wanted more space for their book and art collections, as well as a more functional layout that was personalized to their taste. After opening up the floor plan, Mendelson’s second focus was adding elements of their favorite hue—blue—around the home to provide a colorful backdrop for the family’s collection of unique vintage decor.

“Whenever I’m designing, I try to have an overall palette that runs through a home. It doesn’t mean that every room is blue, but there’s a cohesiveness to a palette so that when you’re moving through a space it doesn’t feel disjointed,” says Mendelson of implementing a set color palette. “In this case, it was about creating an interesting mix of shades of blue and marrying that with other things.”

[In this image: Schoolhouse Electric Isaac Sconce, $139; Rejuvenation Galaxy Wide Chandelier, $999]

For example, in the boy’s bedroom, navy upholstery on the walls provides an unexpectedly dramatic pop of color, and is a timeless enough shade that they won’t have to worry about updating as he grows older.

[In this image: Les Ateliers Courbet Kriest Lamps, $2,200]

The living room is almost entirely coated in blue, with the sky blue paint reflected in the custom-made club chairs designed by Mendelson, the throw pillows, and even the decorative vases. The result is definitely statement-making, but at the same time makes for a design that’s comfortable, fun, and truly reflective of the family rather than just something impersonal.

“This is a really good example of a client who understood very quickly that this was a great opportunity. They bought into the idea that it’s not just about the stuff that’s going into their apartment,” says Mendelson. “My whole schtick is really about what good design can do. Unfortunately, in today’s world, I think we’ve lost our way a bit and become too much about the stuff [we have]—the clients quickly realized this was going to be a wonderful home for their family to grow in, and to me that’s the most important thing.”

[In this image: Global Views Antique Table; Lost City Arts Club Chair, $65,000; Vaughan Designs Knox Swing Arm Wall Light]

Photography by Eric Piasecki.

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Elly Leavitt

Writer and Editor

Elly enjoys covering anything from travel to funky design (tubular furniture, anyone?) to the latest cultural trend. Her dream apartment would exist on the Upper West Side and include a plethora of mismatched antique chairs, ceramic vessels, and floor-to-ceiling bookcases—essential to her goal of becoming a poor man’s Nora Ephron. You can probably find her in line at Trader Joe’s. You will never find her at SoulCycle.