EMILY EVANS EERDMANS: This is definitely not your typical decorating fare — it feels as if we've gone through the looking glass and come out in a Manhattan penthouse Wonderland.
HARRY HEISSMANN: I think of it as "High Line Fantasy" — not only for its proximity to the city's elevated public park, but also because the entire project revolved around imagination. It was a dream collaboration with the clients, a couple with children and grandchildren, and the many amazing artisans who worked on the apartment.
The faux-agate-painted wall and felt boulders in the entry certainly set the mood.
The apartment is a two-level loft in an old factory building. The owners wanted to retain its industrial character, which meant leaving the AC ducts visible and keeping as much exposed brick as possible. The few walls that I could do something with I saw as an opportunity for a special treatment. One of the things I learned from working for Albert Hadley is that you don't want to give away everything the apartment has to offer when you first walk in. So we actually constructed a wall in the entry. It's a defining moment, and it also provides a special space for a piece of art, in this case a Peter Beard photograph of a lion. You walk through, and then the rest of the apartment is unveiled, including a stunning floating staircase. It all comes as a marvelous surprise.
Did the art influence your design decisions?
No, because I think that's entirely wrong. When people say, "I want to find a painting that matches my sofa," that's not the point.
And don't match your sofa to the painting.
Right. There wasn't any color matching! The art these clients have can be put any place, and it will work — which is the case with all good art.
Were there any other musts on their list?
There were a few parameters: They wanted a disco ball that actually turns, a "personality" fireplace, and a bed in the middle of the living room.
In the living room?
It's actually perfect because it's like a huge daybed — at parties, people can lounge on it. And that was exactly what the homeowners wanted. Then I found this digitally printed fabric at Studio Four, and they loved it. It's like blown-up pieces of fashion jewelry. It's funny because you don't necessarily know what it is — you have to look twice. This is what I like, because it creates a dialogue. And then you look beyond and see the fireplace. So even if you had nothing to talk about — I don't know why you would know a person like that — but even if a person like that entered the apartment, there would be enough to talk about by just looking around.
Tell me about that outrageous fireplace.
I had just read an article about the Bomarzo Gardens, near Rome, which were designed in the 16th century. It's also called the Parco dei Mostri, or park of the monsters, after all these fantastical sculptures carved into the bedrock. Then I found a photo of a 16th-century Italian fireplace, which is what we eventually copied, but in a different scale. When Artgroove, the artisans, were making the surround, they stopped when they saw the original had warts around the nose. I asked the client if she wanted to keep them, and she said, "Absolutely. I want those warts." So that tells you what a quirky sense of humor the couple have, and how they really fell in love with the fireplace.
I have to ask — do they actually sit on those stools at the dining table?
We were all crazy about this table. One of the reasons it was chosen is because it's reminiscent of the building's era — the kind of table that factory workers would sit around to have their lunch. And to answer your question, the couple entertains a lot, but more often than not they prefer to do buffet-style parties. So seated dinner parties are rare.
The host and hostess chairs at the ends of the table remind me of Chewbacca-meets-Snuffleupagus. They're a conversation starter.
They're just downright funny. They make you smile the minute you look at them, with those feet and little horns. They're Hairy Beast chairs by the Haas Brothers.
The loft has concrete floors throughout. Did you ever feel like the space was too industrial and needed to be warmed up?
We did use a lot of colors found in nature — greens and brown — throughout the space. Also, the chevron cowhide area rugs in the dining and living rooms add a cozy layer. But it's not so much about creating warmth. It's more about playing with textures and having a different experience as you walk through the apartment.
This is a big departure from your more traditional work with Albert Hadley. What would you say to people who are surprised to see you do something like this, considering your background?
I just added to my name the little subtitle "client-centric interior design," which I think is something that I have always done and always will do. I don't want to be in any drawer, and I think clients appreciate that, too. Ultimately it's all about what the clients want — although sometimes they might need a little push in the right direction!
This story originally appeared in the November 2015 issue of Natipernavigare.