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If someone left New York City for the country during the pandemic, it’s easy to imagine that they got really into gardening and cold plunging and never looked back. But for one couple who moved to Connecticut, it didn’t take long to realize greener pastures weren’t at their Litchfield County lake house—they were back in Manhattan. “After living in Connecticut full-time, it started to feel a little claustrophobic out there,” recalls the homeowner. “We just discovered that we were really city mice.”  

Luckily, the pair had hung onto their 1,800-square-foot triplex apartment in Chelsea, thinking they’d treat it like a pied-à-terre once their new life further north took hold. But after selling the country house they’d owned for three years and returning, they realized the home that was waiting for them back in the city was stuck in the past. Most of their furniture was of the starter-apartment variety, the brick fireplace was bright orange, and one of the full bathrooms could barely fit a grown adult. They turned to each other and agreed: “We gotta get Melissa in here.” 

Cabinet Paint, Brinjal by Farrow & Ball; Range, Bertazzoni; Stools, Normann Copenhagen; Faucet, Brizo; Hardware, House of Antique Hardware.

Melissa, as in Melissa Lee, is the founder of Brooklyn-based design firm Bespoke Only. She not only had designed the couple’s Connecticut home but also, years before that, their wedding. “It wasn’t reading as cozy and homey,” Lee remembers, recalling the first time she toured the apartment, “and certainly not a place that you want to come back in and be like, ‘This is where we grow.’” 

Vintage Chairs, Tobia Scarpa; Vintage Light, ASEA; Sculpture by Barney Bellinger.

Priority number one: Incorporate more storage. With her clients going from two homes back to one, Lee knew they’d be bringing in a lot of stuff that they’d prefer not to see 24-7. From the kitchen, the designer and the couple’s contractor, De Lux Construction, expanded cabinetry into the dining area, framing the now-crisp-white fireplace with floor-to-ceiling millwork for pantry items and, most important, small appliances like the KitchenAid mixer and sous vide cooker. “I hate having them on the counter. Even our coffee maker is behind closed doors; it’s really incredible,” says the client. 

Lee wanted to pay homage to the building’s prewar roots throughout the unit, so she added Art Deco–inspired light fixtures, fluted glass door fronts, and a rich merlot paint color. “We can leave this color up for 30 years and it’s going to look amazing the whole time,” says the homeowner. 

Medicine Cabinet and Towel Holder, RH.
Skirted Tub, Vintage Tub & Bath; Plumbing Fixtures, RH.

Similarly, the primary bathroom follows the same classic-with-a-twist approach. The walls are clad in creamy square subway tile rather than your typical stark-white rectangles; a bowl-shaped marble sconce illuminates the freestanding tub; and the black and white diamond mosaic floor tiles radiate heat. “The bathroom reminds me of a fancy midtown steakhouse,” says the owner. It doesn’t get more New York–y than that. 

Swing Arm Sconce, Susie Atkinson; Sofa and Stool, Soho Home; Rug, Nordic Knots.

The distraction-free living room isn’t dissimilar from something you’d expect to find in a nice boutique hotel: The focus is on sitting and unwinding. “They wanted this space to be an opportunity to reconnect with their friends and family, which is why they wanted to come back [to the city] after the isolation of being so remote,” says Lee.  

Desk Chair, Knoll; Chandelier, Muller Freres; Vintage Lounge Chair, Henry Hans Schubell; Floor Lamp and Side Table, Zara Home; Rug, Trnk.

Lee’s client also likes to joke that she and her husband are the only couple in the city who doesn’t have to fight for closet space. “We actually have enough!” she says. For Lee, the key to streamlining the place while still making it functional was avoiding “visual bulk” (i.e., no chunky dressers and imposing armoires). Upstairs in the primary workspace, she added custom cabinets that—moving from left to right—include space for office supplies, a built-in desk, and plenty of room for hanging clothes. To make laundry days a true breeze, the designer went so far as to integrate a pull-out ironing board and drying rack in one of the cupboards. Way up top, there’s even cubbies to stash suitcases. 

Bedding, Cultiver; Headboard Light, Original BTC; Wall Sconce, Studio Giancarlo Valle.

Lee continued the stained white oak in the primary bedroom, crafting a built-in headboard and nightstands from the wood. The slatted window bench is made of the same material, but it’s no ordinary reading nook: It’s part radiator cover, part extra-blanket storage. “I’m a believer that, whenever possible, there should be a chair in a bedroom,” says the designer. “You don’t always want to sit on your bed.”

Sofa and Cushions, Soho Home; Coffee Table, CB2; Light, RH; Pillows, Zara Home.

When the couple want to soak in the skyline and sip their morning coffee, you’ll likely find them on the roof deck, where a glass partition (added in a previous renovation) and bistro set offer uninterrupted views. Lee decorated the space the same way she would an indoor living room. “We gravitated toward heavier, cozier pieces that are generous and inviting,” says the designer. Ignoring the occasional siren and the water-tower-dotted rooftops, it feels as if they brought a slice of the country back home with them.

The Goods