nyc pied a terre renovation by richard rabel interiors + art


This stylish NYC pied-a-terre project was completed for a power couple in the art and museum worlds that hired my studio, Richard Rabel Interiors + Art, to re-envision, renovate and decorate what was once Paul Newman’s 450 sq./ft. pre-war bachelor crash pad in Turtle Bay (Midtown Manhattan). When I first saw the apartment I imagined Paul Newman strutting around in his boxers from one room to the next with a half-cocked cigarette between his lips. This type of apartment pedigree is something one seldom encounters outside of NY or LA.

So, in keeping with the nonchalant coolness of someone like Newman I envisioned a NYC pied-a-terre where a worldly couple with a sense of nonchalant chicness would live today. I presented the clients with a proposal for a masculine, tasteful and sexy NYC pied-a-terre with a nod to the 20th century. The plan incorporated a color palette of gray and purple, coupled with accents of black nickel and bronze that do wonders to complement the beauty of the warm Brazilian walnut in the new and vintage furniture. Because of space limitations, furniture pieces were bespoke to fit the proportions and scale of the studio and serve the dual purpose of beauty and practicality.



Upon entering this NYC pied-a-terre there is a tiny vestibule with entrances to the bathroom directly in front, walk in closet to the right and the rest of the apartment to the left. A number of tiles in the bathroom were carefully replaced with new pieces that had a similar patina to them so as to not detract from the original 1930’s tiles on the wall. Electrical enhancements and replacement of the overhead light kept the bathroom practical for today but maintained its vintage masculine aesthetic of the past. I placed “Bathers”, a very cool and voyeuristic photograph by NYC artist Cynthia Karalla as a centerpiece because it helps tie in all the colors in the space, and I accented the sink with a black 1920s vase by Danish ceramicist Sven Hammershoi with sprigs of fern to bring a touch of natural beauty to the space.




The walk-in-closet was completely gutted and converted into a bijou of a home office with shelves and file cabinets, new flooring, and an overhead pendant. It became the cable and Wi-Fi nerve center for the whole crash pad. But don’t think for one second it is a boring space! The desk chair is one of 4 midcentury Danish rosewood dining chairs covered in purple wool that I used in the apartment. The paper basket, by Fornasetti, was a great find at Barney’s New York. The desk supplies were all from Hartman Rare Art and are antiques I adapted for present use; the pencil holder is a 19th century jade cricket cage and the envelopes are kept in an 18th century Korean mother-of-pearl box. The small black Japanese lacquer and coral topped cigarette box now holds paperclips!

At the top of the bookshelf, there is a contemporary sculpture in bronze by Basque artist Zigor accompanied by a 1930s burnt-orange stoneware vase by Maurice Bisson both from Maison Gerard. And color wise, everything is tied together with a geometric terracotta-colored collage by Ben Shahn from the owner’s personal collection.

The larger space of this NYC pied-a-terre is the living, bedroom, and dining room that all meld into one – a true mini loft! New electrical plugs and outlets were added to support the strategically placed furnishings. Sconces are placed on either side of the wonderful north-facing window and a floating/built-in bookshelf was re-imagined to better fit the nook and its use.




So for the space to work, it HAD to be multifunctional and I had to make the space feel larger than it actually is. The furnishing had to fit the proportions and space of the room, so in order to get it just right, most of them are tailor-made. Pieces also had to be relatively lightweight to make them easy to move.

For example come evening, the luscious made-to-measure sofa, upholstered in a fabulous aubergine silk-velvet from Kravet, turns into a full queen-size bed. The circular dining table which expands to seat 6-8 is from StillFried Wien. A custom-made console – with its antique parchment and geometric patterned doors and aged bronze hardware – whispers French 1940s glam and serves to smartly ground the living space (and provides necessary storage to this NYC pied-a-terre).




To make the room seem larger, the picture rail is painted the same beautiful gray color of the walls and a fantastic, but hard to find, striped rug running the length of the space, is also a homerun from Kravet.

While the apartment does not showcase the clients’ core art collection, artwork and design pieces covering 300 years of art history are all intermingled to provide this NYC pied-a-terre with stylish soul. A drawing by the great French 18th century artist Watteau sits on the bookshelf accompanied by brass bookends by mid-century Austrian designer Carl Aubock from StillFried Wien and minimalist Song Dynasty ceramics found at Hartman Rare Art.




The small bespoke walnut cocktail table in front of the sofa adds a bit of unexpected geometry to the space (I’m told it’s the all time favorite of their visitors!) and it’s topped by vintage Art Deco vessels by Arne Bang and a small gilt bronze box by contemporary artist Aldus.

Above the console is a drawing by David Hockney of the client’s wiener dog and on the credenza is a 70s inspired, uber-cool, table lamp by English artist Stephen Johnson, a one-of-a-kind ceramic vessel by Susan Goodelman from Cocobolo Design and another Zigor sculpture sitting on a stingray box from Flair Home Collection.

On the opposite wall hangs an intriguing work on paper by Howard Hodgkin over a rare walnut George Nelson bench displaying a small and unique mirror artwork by Kiko Lopez from Maison Gerard. On the patinated bronze pedestal to the right sits a ceramic sculpture by the very “in” contemporary artist Susan Bleckner-Heller. Unusual works like this add another layer of interest and texture to the room.




Wood sculpture by Mario dal Fabbro from Maison Gerard adorns several spots in this NYC pied-a-terre apartment. First, a wonderfully organic and delicious honey colored work on the dining tabletop. Then another, more cubist example is perched outside on a corner of the apartment’s Juliet balcony, a wink to the neighboring midtown glass towers and a chic nod to the artistic heritage of the apartment.

In a corner next to the kitchen door, I placed a rich cognac colored, 1950s leather wrapped Jacques Quinet chair that allows for confortable reading and occasional daydreaming. Nestled behind stands another patinated bronze pedestal with an ecru colored, faceted, cubist ceramic work by Brooklyn artist Colleen Carlson that reminds me of another NYC landmark that has been carefully updated and brought into the modern era – the Sir Norman Foster designed Hearst Building on Columbus Circle.



As for the galley kitchen, the counter space was substantially increased by adding open, oak-stained shelves – the same color as the main room’s oak floor for continuity – over and under a new stainless steel counter that mirrors the sink opposite, and ties the entire tiny kitchen together.

This NYC pied-a-terre project turned out to be a very pleasant one to work on. It’s the difference between night and day when you work with a client who trusts your instincts. In the end, it’s what I call “hands-off” collaboration – it’s not quite carte blanche, but it’s as close as it gets these days!!!!

Richard Rabel is a New York Interior Designer and Principal at Richard Rabel: Interiors+ Art, a studio offering residential design, decorating and art advising.

image credits: NYC pied-a-terre: copyright Joshua McHugh

With thanks to selected suppliers and galleries to this NYC pied-a-terre project in no particular order – Kravet, Lee Jofa, de Le Cuona, Maison Gerard, Cocobolo Design, Barney’s New York, Hartman Rare Art, Flair Home Collection, StillFried Wien, Baxter & Liebchen, DuVerre Hardware and Mondo Collection.



I am tremedously grateful to Elle Decor España for featuring this project in their September 2015 pages.