“It’s sort of a city mouse-country mouse story,” says empty-nester Jill Lasersohn of the New York City pied-à-terre she and her husband Jack purchased after raising their two children in the sun-and-salt-air Xanadu otherwise known as the Hamptons. “But we did a switcheroo, because the city is our vacation.” The plug-and-play allure of Manhattan was irresistible to the textile historian, whose museum-quality collection of centuries-old fabrics inspired an eponymous line of romantic (and occasionally cheeky) toiles for Schumacher. And the right jewel box of an apartment presented the opportunity to be an ideal showcase for them—not to mention a design laboratory for dreaming up new ideas.
The space they landed on, though, wasn’t quite the “five-star hotel suite” of Lasersohn’s imagination. “It was a complete wreck,” says designer Marshall Watson, who reinvented the diminutive 600-square-foot apartment. “It was an 80-year-old space that had never been renovated and never properly considered.” It was also dark, cramped, and boasted little architectural detail. But it was in a prewar building that gave Lasersohn the old-world vibe she craved, and the location, on a tree-lined Upper East Side street, was irresistible.
“We redid every single molding, every single wall, and every single door. It’s basically a brand-new apartment,” says Watson. “The largest challenge was to expand the space as much as possible with every trick in my sorcerer’s book.” Watson is being modest, because the tricks he pulled could fill a whole library. He gave the space more integrity with paneled moldings, some of which he mirrored to give the minuscule living room abracadabra grandeur as they reflect sunshine and expand the space. Then he made the most of the meager UV rays that make it past the windows by painting all the walls a high gloss: “It reflects what little natural light there is and gets refracted in the mirrors, so the apartment itself shimmers.”
Cue the artful layering and the careful calibration of scale. “In a small space you’re close up to everything, so you notice every detail,” says Watson. “The proportion of the furniture was paramount.” Elegant late 18th-century silhouettes were a natural choice. “I’m a big fan of neoclassical lines,” says history buff Lasersohn. They found a pair of Louis XVI bergères with glinting, gilded frames at auction, and Lasersohn pulled gleaming 18th-century mirrors and a Directoire writing desk from storage. The custom sofa is a lesson in decorating legerdemain. “A sofa in a small room needs small arms,” says Watson. “Fat arms waste space.” A thin profile and wide seat create a cushy perch with a minimum of space.“A single cushion on the seat makes it look even broader and more luxurious,” the designer adds. He also worked his magic on the floors: “Wall-to-wall to carpet further blurs boundaries. Area rugs can shrink rooms and make them look cluttered, especially in a traditional environment.”
“When you open your eyes in the morning and see these gorgeous figures flitting in the air above you, it’s magic.”
- Jill Lasersohn
As for the fabrics, Lasersohn was understandably well versed—and opinionated: “Our house in the country mines classic Colonial Americana, so I wanted this to be more sophisticated and buttoned up, just like how I dress differently when I am in the city than when I’m out East.” Sumptuous, glittering silk velvets supply a rich depth; Watson gilded the lily by upholstering the foyer walls in a graphic toile from Lasersohn’s Schumacher collection. Nailhead-trimmed leather on the front door helps muffle the comings and goings from the building’s busy entrance hall outside.
In the bedroom, branches of the tall, sculptural canopy bed reach nearly to the ceiling. “You feel that the room is a foot taller than it is,” says Watson, which gave him leeway to install a king-size bed without making it seem like the room is bursting at the seams. The pièce de résistance is a bold mural wallpaper, also from Lasersohn’s Schumacher collection, which was re-created from an 18th-century toile de Nantes, but blown up for a decidedly modern effect. “We placed it so that the figures themselves would peer over the bed,” says Watson. It’s truly the stuff of Lasersohn’s dreams: “When you open your eyes in the morning and see these gorgeous figures flitting in the air above you, it’s magic,” she says. Consider us spellbound.
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THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED IN THE WINTER 2023 ISSUE OF FREDERIC. CLICK HERE TO SUBSCRIBE!