I have always admired the spare and comfortable elegance of this Manhattan apartment decorated sometime in the early 1990’s by Stephen Sills and James Huniford before it was published in Maison & Jardin in 1995. I assume it must have also been published in an American magazine, such as Elle Decor, but I don’t possess it or recall if it were. As the design world was taking notice of their classic, sculptural, edited and serene aesthetic, this project represents Sills & Huniford’s swift trajectory into the annals of America’s greatest interior designers.
If you’ve been reading my blog for some time you will know that, for me, the achievement of creating rooms with atmosphere is the highest compliment one can receive. It isn’t in the selection of one or more show stopping pieces that contributes to a sense of awe, but the designer’s ability to envision a space like a canvas, “painting” in the varied nuance of form, color and detail.
Here, Sills & Huniford were provided with one directive: to create a blue Manhattan aerie. To that order they selected an ethereal, foggy blue for the walls of the living room, which is entered via a long and narrow barrel-vaulted hall painted to resemble the chiaroscuro of a Turner painting. Color, contrast, form and texture — not pattern — inform the decorative compositions of this apartment’s rooms. While the results may appear natural and effortless their success owes to the discerning eyes of an artist … or two, in this case.
There is a sense of delight and harmony achieved between the juxtaposition of unusual and unexpected combinations. Who would have thought of pairing an Arts & Crafts reclining ratchet chair with a Louis XVI mantel? Here furnishings take on a sculptural form, floating in space. Further harmony is achieved in the living room through the layering of the coolly elegant color of the walls and banquettes, the creaminess of a Louis XVI mantel, cornice and simple rush matting, and the dark contrast of the humbler Arts & Crafts chair, wicker furniture and English library-dining table. While the generous proportions of the living room could easily entertain more formality I am drawn to its sculptural simplicity, as though the designers were channeling Eugenia Errazuri, muse to Jean-Michel Frank. The artful distribution of color, texture, material, form, weight, style and period is rather seductive and imparts balance and order to the scheme.
I have always loved rooms that are not easy to label, that surprise. One part American Revival, one part “An American in Paris”, there is a sense of versatility and experimentation in the casual arrangement of disparate styles and the curious collections of decorative objects. It’s as though we were entering the salon des artistes of an American expat living in Paris, surrounded by an Anglo-American heritage that had been dropped into a classical setting. You don’t encounter rooms like these much these days … those that possess the soul of an artist and a studied yet effortless ease. Nothing showy, just pure style. Timeless!
Photography by Thibault Jeanson featured in the March, 1995, issue of Maison & Jardin and Dwellings: Living With Great Style by Stephen Sills & James Huniford, 2003.