This Globetrotter’s London Apartment Is a Study in Contrasts

Footwear designer Nicholas LaRusso opens the doors to his Chinatown aerie.

May 10, 2024
“My home is like a little laboratory,” says footwear designer Nicholas La Russo Jr. of his flat in London, where he displays treasures from his travels, like a collection of finials from Indian stupas.Nacho Rivera

What Nicholas La Russo jr.’s apartment inLondon’s West End might lack in physical space, it certainly makes up for with oodles of well-travelled style. Within its modest proportions (a bit more than 1,000 square feet, including two bedrooms and two bathrooms), La Russo has mastered the art of curated restraint. “I have closets and drawers full of stuff,” laughs the footwear designer, who has worked for brands including Jimmy Choo, Tod’s, and Ferragamo, and now Louis Vuitton. “Every once in a while, I move everything around, including furniture, and I put some things away and bring out others. It gives the space a facelift every time.”

Although packed full of treasures collected on La Russo’s many journeys from souks in Turkey to street markets in India, the feeling is one of light, uncluttered airiness, with a backdrop of neutral hues, from blond wood floorboards and whitewashed walls to the gently veined marble-topped tables and cosseting creamy bouclé upholstering classic 20th-century chairs. “I deal with color all day and wanted to return home to something serene and calming,” La Russo explains. “Here, texture was like my color. It allowed me to mix many styles together in a harmonious way. I don’t like spaces that feel too overwhelming.”

  • La Russo updated the Bertoia chair in a heavy cream bouclé. The bookcases are actually IKEA finds—“They’ve traveled the world with me, but I’m afraid they might not make it through the next move,” laughs the designer.

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  • Perched atop a Knoll coffee table, an antique French altar candle adds warm a patina to the space. The 19th-century wedding cabinet comes from the Chinese province of Shanxi. Floor lamp, Ralph Lauren Home.

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Nicholas La Russo
  • The portrait of an unknown man was a flea-market find; “I always envision him in some brasserie in France in the 1940s,” says the designer.

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  • A charcoal sketch of a female nude.

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Each room has been designed to allow one space to flow seamlessly into the next. La Russo’s love for Bauhaus and midcentury designers—“Ludwig Mies van der Rohe is my idol”—teamed with French and Asian antiques has created a dynamic dichotomy. “To me, a house full of midcentury modern furniture feels very, very cold, and a house with only Asian antiques looks like a curiosity shop,” he laughs. “So, I thought, I’m going to take the things that I really, really love and put them together so that it looks like neither one nor the other. It creates a balance that feels fresh and new.”

“The whole idea of the apartment is based on bringing together the things I love in a harmonious way,” says La Russo. He had the sofa custom-made by an upholsterer in Rome (“I wanted something with a smaller proportion knowing that the space wouldn’t be very large,” he says) and fashioned the pillows himself using suede from a shoe factory. Tables designed by Warren Platner and Eero Saarinen and armchairs by Charles Pollock and Henry Bertoia (all from Knoll) are among his midcentury treasures, which he mixed with 19th-century Indian teak columns, a Chinese horseshoe chair, and a Japanese tansu chest.

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Every space oozes soul and meaning. Antique Indian columns—“I have a weakness for architectural pieces anchoring a space”—mingle with a centuries-old Chinese wedding cabinet and ancient ceramics, Thai chofa temple finials, and a West African Dogon loft ladder, while midcentury gems like an original Barcelona chair and Saarinen Tulip side tables sit alongside sleek floor lamps and monochromatic artworks. “The modernity of a Harry Bertoia steel-framed Bird chair next to a 19th-century Japanese tansu merchant chest creates a composition that’s so interesting to me,” he explains. “It’s about the contrasts—rough versus sleek, old versus new.”

For La Russo, Diana Vreeland’s famous line “the eye has to travel,” is a sort of mantra: “It’s really true,” he asserts. “It shows you culture and people and colors, and I always feel better for having had that experience of going somewhere new and bringing back pieces that represent a time, a place, and an adventure. They might not all be valuable, but each has a story to tell. To me, that’s the joy of living.”

A recent trip to India yielded these antique pillars, which La Russo found in the city of Jaisalmer. The apothecary chest hails from northern China.

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  • A small wooden horse head from India, traditionally displayed in doorways to bring prosperity to the household, hangs over a print purchased at Portobello Market.

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  • Tucked into the corner of La Russo’s all-white bedroom, a chofa—a Thai architectural ornament that adorns the tops of many palace roofs in Southeast Asia—provides a grounding element. The 19th-century German prints are framed in thick black lacquer.

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