Occasionally, in the wilds of New York City, a downtown girl’s gotta move uptown. But she doesn’t have to be happy about it. “I was nervous about moving to the Upper East Side,” says Erica Samuels, an art consultant whose decor tastes run more Etheline Tenenbaum than Charlotte York. There was only one designer who could translate her experimental sensibilities to the family’s new four-bedroom co-op: Fawn Galli.
“People come to me because they know what they like, but they want to be challenged or pushed,” says Galli, whose first book, Magical Rooms: Elements of Interior Design (Rizzoli), hit bookstores in March. Her interiors exude a blissfully unrestrained confidence. After all, Galli lived without electricity or plumbing on a houseboat in Northern California until she was seven, and then there was Paris, where she spent two years post-college inhaling the flea markets and discotheques. So when she moved to New York City, armed with little more than a degree in international relations, she got a job at Robert A.M. Stern “as a professional pencil sharpener, assistant to the assistant.” But not for long, she recalls: “Five years later, I was his personal decorator.”
Her reimagining of the apartment where Samuels lives with her husband and their two daughters is every inch a mash-up. “At first,” Galli says, “she wanted it to be very contemporary—no window treatments!—then it evolved into something more her, in a maximalist-minimalist sort of way.”
Take the living room’s custom S-shaped, cobalt-bouclé sofa, which comfortably seats multitudes during the couple’s frequent parties, or the Alexander McQueen skull rug from the Rug Company that counteracts a ladylike circular settee in the entry hall. Samuels’s art collection includes more than a few museum-worthy stunners, like David Shrigley’s Fancy Room above the dining table, and a Keith Haring that graces the homework area. “There’s a lot to take in, but at the same time, it’s clean and it’s restful,” says Galli, who used gray and white paints to keep bolder pieces from reading as frenetic.
Given Samuels’s children, the design also had to stand up to sleepover-level wear and tear. Instead of glass for a coffee table, Galli used Lucite. Rather than swathing a seat in a precious fabric, she placed it on the less-likely-to-take-a-spill backside. The canopy bed in a daughter’s room is upholstered, “so they can jump around and knock their heads on it, and they’re fine,” the designer says. And there is durable indoor/outdoor fabric everywhere.
Tour the rest of the house:
Now that Galli has given the digs downtown cred, Samuels is obsessed with her new neighborhood. “I said I was never going to live uptown, I was never going to live on a cross street, but I live up here now, and I love it. So never say never!” she laughs. “Who you are isn’t where you live.”
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Producer: Robert Ruffino