Cloud Walls and a Kid-Proof Breakfast Nook Make This Whole Apartment a Playhouse
“Strategic mess” is key.
Updated Feb 10, 2023 2:33 PM
We may earn revenue from the products available on this page and participate in affiliate programs.
For many, decorating a family home can be like experiencing the Instagram divide of expectation (This mood board encapsulates my inner soul and outer aesthete) versus real life (We need crayon-proof paint). Or as Maria Dueñas Jacobs has asked herself: What happens when there’s slime on the couch? For Jacobs, former longtime accessories director at Elle magazine, founder of kids’ jewelry line Super Smalls, and seasoned mother of three, the design answer for her new apartment was to make it beautiful but not precious.
Upon entering the sunny home in New York’s West Village—which Jacobs shares with her husband, Jordan, a plastic surgeon at Mt. Sinai Hospital, and daughters Luna and twins Isa and Silvi—the overall vibe is streamlined and intentional. A neutral color palette mixes with lavender and dusty blush hues, and a few, well-chosen items ground the interior: an ash- and burl-wood credenza, a navy leather-front bureau, and a Theo Ruth shearling club chair. At a glance, the apartment doesn’t read as particularly child-centric. But look more closely and there are surprisingly family-friendly choices.
The loftlike floor plan is open and airy, where the kitchen, living room, and dining area boundaries blur, making it easy for Jacobs to see her daughters wherever they are playing. An expandable dining table tucks into a built-in banquette, which is covered in a stain-averse striped outdoor fabric. And a custom ottoman has curved edges and scratch-resistant mohair, so it’s amenable to both the girls and their British Blue cat, Frankie. The result is a space for entertaining, living, and raising a family, where adults can be adults and kids can be kids.
When Jacobs and her husband found the building preconstruction three years ago, they had a blank slate to exercise their creativity and craft their perfect home, with the help of Leroy Street Studio architect Marc Turkel and designer Jerry Cappiello. The challenge was making it work for their daughters in the near- and long-term. They created a versatile four-bedroom layout, the only one of its kind in the building. Like a repeating game of Lincoln Logs, they mapped out different room iterations for toddlers, teenagers, and beyond: The main bedroom could be shared by all of her children for now; the play area could function as a separate bedroom for her oldest daughter later; the guest suite could double as a temporary office (and did, for the 2019 launch of Super Smalls). With that flexible footprint in mind, Jacobs layered on smart—and often whimsical—decor picks, from spill-hiding, colorful patterned rugs to a custom daybed with built-in storage.
“Strategic mess was part of the design concept,” quips Jacobs. This rings true in the girls’ bedroom. It’s a dreamy 24-7 slumber party, replete with a teepee, cloud-painted walls, and a candylike Murano glass light fixture. The nearby playroom has a similar sense of freedom and joy. Everything is movable, from bookshelves and beanbag chairs to the arts-and-crafts table, as dance parties and scooter rides are encouraged with maximum floor space. Still, among all the toys and reverie, practical elements are woven in. The bunk bed has stairs (safer than a ladder), with the bottom steps doubling as hidden drawers, and the loft has flexibility to become a desk or game spot.
“It’s definitely a fun house, promoting play, imagination, and fantasy,” says Jacobs. “I wanted the apartment to enable that.” This creative sensibility extends to adult areas, too. The guest room has a custom pull-out trundle (because grown-ups also have sleepovers—namely for the in-laws). And in the living room, Jacobs had some fun of her own, creating a Moroccan rug mashup with two different purple and pink patterns that “felt cool and a little weird.” She leaned into the idea and had them cut and combined. Then there’s her bedside tables topped in rose quartz—a material as durable as it is beautiful and an extension of Jacobs’s love for gems. “Stones feel magical and have healing properties,” she notes. Meanwhile, the living room bookshelf is a chance to incorporate personal and collected finds: a Buddha statue, family photos, and ceramic vessels.
For all the levity in the home, there are plenty of investment items, as well. Accents high off the ground (and out of reach from small hands) were an opportunity to add jewel-box details—including a sparkling Kalmar chandelier found on 1stDibs and disc lights in alabaster and shiny brass by Apparatus Studio. Much like the finishing touch of earrings or a necklace with an outfit, lighting fixtures complete the look. “I felt like they were pieces of art,” Jacobs explains, noting how she invested in them in a way she wouldn’t have while living in a rental.
Then there’s the actual fine art, from a Warhol depicting three women (a Mother’s Day present and nod to her daughters) to a Robert Motherwell print above the main bed. They live harmoniously with other works around the house, such as abstract paintings by Jacobs’s artist mom, Rosaria Pugliese, and her children’s drawings. And that’s the key. No matter the design choice—up high or down low, fine or play, renowned or unknown—it’s all loved in the Jacobs household and put there for a reason. That kind of sophisticated-meets-sensible style comes from lived experience. “Someday we’ll have sharp edges again,” says Jacobs. “But for now there’s dance parties and toy horses and scooters.”
This story was originally published in our Fall 2020 issue with the headline “Play House.”