Renovating a home is tricky enough, but when the home in question is a 30th floor duplex in Manhattan’s Upper East Side, the process is all the more difficult.
“Working in the city is kind of like a puzzle,” says Matt Miller of StudioLAB, the design firm responsible for the total gut remodel of this 2,500-square-foot penthouse. “You can’t change the exterior and you have certain things that you can’t move. So you’re really stripping down the floor plan to reveal those unmovable pieces, then you have to try and put the puzzle pieces back within [the new layout] to fit. That’s the challenge.”
[In this image: Arteriors Home Dallas Chandelier, $4,410; Calvin Klein Maya Etched Light Rug in “Mercury”, $1,058-$6,898; Design Within Reach Pelican Chair in “Plum”, $5,052.40; Poltrona Frau Group Miami Fiorile Coffee Table, De La Espada Autoban 227S Box Armchair; De La Espada Viewing Matthew Hilton 350F Hepburn Fixed 3-Seater Sofa.]
Despite any logistical challenges—including figuring out how to design a curved staircase, break it up to fit in the building’s elevator, then re-weld it back together—Miller and the StudioLAB team worked closely with the client to create a light-filled, modern apartment that’s a far cry from the poorly laid out space it was before.
The post-war apartment had good bones and even better views, but dimly-lit corridors and a master bedroom that took over the entire downstairs floor were holding it back from its full potential.
To fix this, StudioLAB blew out all the walls, demolished pretty much everything that could be demolished, and redid all the bathrooms. Reconfiguring the downstairs portion to include an updated master bathroom and a nursery for the growing family instantly gave the apartment a more functional floor plan.
“Upstairs it was really about opening it up; I remember [the clients] really hated the kitchen and they wanted to make it more clean and modern,” says Miller of the family’s wishlist. “Lighting was important, space for artwork was important, and in terms of the furnishings, they wanted a cleaner palette.”
[In this image: Artemide Talo Suspension Light Fixture; Design Within Reach Series 7 Counter Stool in White, $702.95.]
Custom wide plank white washed white oak herringbone floors and simple white walls contribute to the desired cleaner palette. Keeping the base of the apartment minimal allows for the stunning skyline view to take center stage—plus, it makes mixing in pops of color and artwork accents all the easier.
According to Miller, keeping the finishes and base palette neutral is key to decorating on a budget in a city like New York.
“In New York, everything is extremely expensive so when you’re renovating, you’re often putting in your life savings,” he explains. “We try to keep the finishes timeless; you don’t want to pick something something that could you out of style that you’ll regret. It’s much easier to put a pop of color on a piece of furniture and later reupholster it than paint a wall or paint the cabinets.”
The “simple with pops of color” decorating strategy manifests itself differently in every room. In the living room, a fuschia pink sculptural chair gives the cityscape view a run for its money (and it’s incidentally one of Miller’s favorite parts of the finished space). In the dining room, a warm-toned art piece dresses up the contemporary space. And statement-making light fixtures run throughout the penthouse.
“One of the ways in modern design that you can separate spaces without physical walls is by the use of ceilings: You can create separation just by how you design [them]. By dropping areas and creating decorative fixtures you create a visual understanding of what the rooms are supposed to be,” says Miller of using those statement-making light fixtures intentionally. “So here, the decorative fixtures are used to center the furniture.”