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Photography by DOMINO

Interior decorator Starrett Zenko Ringbom and artist Happy Menocal are a match made in design heaven. Between their bright, playful attitudes and aesthetics, and their willingness to take risks when it comes to both art and design, the pair were automatically set up for a close working relationship—and lots of creative endeavors.

“Happy and I have a special rapport, I feel that she really understands me and my aesthetic point of view, and I trust her implicitly,” says Ringbom of Menocal.

Photography by MEGHAN MCNEER
So when that working relationship blossomed into a friendship, it seemed like the perfect partnership for creating a welcoming, whimsical mural in Ringbom’s Upper East Side Manhattan apartment—a focal point that would set the stage for the rest of the home.

The newly redecorated two-bedroom residence exudes tons of character, so the mural acted as a special final touch. Bold hues and the surrealist design of a Fornasetti umbrella stand that sits in the entry served as major inspiration for the home. Based on that piece, Ringbom describes her interior decor theme as neo-traditional.

“I imagined an Italian aristocrat that came upon hard times and had to sell his beloved family villa and squeeze into our small pre-war apartment,” says Ringbom. “He was still trying to live grandly and like a true eccentric aristo but with much diminished circumstances. Of course he would need a mural in his entry!”

And since small space never means you have to skimp on style, Ringbom was committed to allowing her dream of having a tailor-made, hand-painted entry come to life.

Photography by MEGHAN MCNEER

“One of my favorite rooms of all time is the entrance to the L’Institut Guerlain designed by Jean-Michel Frank with wall murals painted by Christian Berard. I have been looking forward to having a mural in my entry ever I first laid eyes on that room,” Ringbom says.

Enlisting Menocal to help dream up the design, the two began to think of how to incorporate the themes of the rest of the home in a personalized painting. Having previously worked together on Ringbom’s branding materials for her firm, the duo already had a rhythm when it came to working together.

“Starrett’s apartment and general aesthetic is such a great mix of zippy Italian mid-century and classic old-guard formality, so we tried to honor that,” says Menocal. “She also loves [writer and illustrator] Ludwig Bemelmans (she gave me a beautiful edition of his Traveling Incognito as a thank you present). I thought the topiary and cypress tree felt Italian, and the stylized color fields and limited palette felt kind of sixties mod.”


The result is a spirited celestial depiction of Ringbom and her family, complete with ethereal foliage and a muted background. Each family member peeks out from above in their portrait-painted medallions, reminiscent of the characters in Madeline, Bemelmans’ most famous creation.

Having achieved her desired aura of luxury and customization, Ringbom urges others to try mural painting in their own home. “I think it is a wonderful choice for a room where one might ordinarily use wallpaper, perhaps an entry or a powder room. As with any interior design choice, half-measures and fear will only restrain what could be glorious. Be brave!”

Photography by JESSICA ANTOLA

See the rest of Ringbom’s home here!

Photography by JESSICA ANTOLA

Love this space? See more home tours:

Inside a 1920s Storybook Home’s Major Modern Redesign Tour a British Designer’s Gorgeous Countryside Manor Whimsy and Design Savvy Strike a Happy Chord in This Colorful NYC Home

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