HOUSE TOUR: New York's Museum Mile Has Nothing On This Art Aficionado's Personal Collection
Peytons, Cattelans, Koons — all inside one gorgeous Alex Papachristidis-designed Manhattan apartment.
When you own a brilliant collection of blue-chip contemporary art, assembled slowly and deliberately with your heart as well as with your head (the elusive true collector), it can be difficult to create a setting with the aesthetic brio to match.
But this native Manhattanite in her 50s did not have to look far to find a simpatico partner: Interior designer extraordinaire Alex Papachristidis has been a family friend since childhood. They both grew up in (perhaps unsurprisingly) art-filled households on the Upper East Side during the late 1970s. In fact, it was she who, during college, told Papachristidis that he should become a decorator. “It was so obvious to me,” she says, decades later. “And now, the really beautiful thing is that everything has come full circle.”
The home that Papachristidis radically transformed for her is imbued with significance for them both: She has lived there since her 20s, the last 10 years or so with her second husband, and the gracious building is just blocks from where, as teenagers, she and the nascent designer snuck into such hot spots as Dorrian’s Red Hand and gossiped over hamburgers at Jackson Hole, still an important hangout for private-schoolers.
Swathed in shades of white, with sculptural furniture by some of the most rarefied design talents of the 20th century—and embellished with strong gold and silver touches that catch the light flooding through picture windows—the apartment is a dazzling locus for the couple’s art collection.
They own several major works each by Rudolf Stingel, Elizabeth Peyton, George Condo, and John Currin, which they have amassed throughout the artists’ careers. But despite the two-year process it took to create the glamorous dwelling, the experience for the homeowner was one of joy. “Doing a project like this with your best friend,” she says, “makes your life richer on every level.”
Her husband found the process just as pleasurable. As a young man, he had bought midcentury furniture by Prouvé and Perriand but had grown disenchanted with how ubiquitous their work had become. “I’d seen enough of that,” he says. Redoing the apartment gave him a chance to explore rare works by monumental figures including Maria Pergay and Gabriella Crespi.
In fact, it was a Crespi Z desk, which now commands a corner of the library, that set the tone for the entire project. Once they found it, ideas began to flow. The apartment had the requisite classical bones, but the couple wanted a clean, more modern environment. The wife loved the haute-1980s way Mark Hampton had decorated it (during her first marriage) and appreciated the freshening Papachristidis had provided 10 years ago, but it was time for an entirely new era. “Everyone was surprised, because I am such a creature of habit,” she says, “but once we decided, I found myself going even further than Alex wanted.” Among the only things they kept from the previous decor was a small table by Diego Giacometti. (Really, who could blame them?)
Papachristidis fashioned geometric moldings and mantels inspired by the designs of the 20th-century French modernist Jean-Michel Frank. He stained the original oak herringbone floors gray and had carpets made to suggest African motifs.
Some decorators, faced with this caliber of an art collection, might have played the decor safe with demure sofas and chairs that don’t compete with what’s on the walls. Papachristidis took the opposite approach. He created contoured seating in the manner of Ward Bennett, the influential American midcentury furniture designer, and commissioned a pair of Andrea Koeppel lamps in gilded ceramic and parchment trefoil that hold their own in the space, even with a striking Condo canvas hanging nearby. The front door is flanked by trompe l’oeil consoles in white, gray, and black opaline glass by Roberto Giulio Rida; the couple found them in an antiques shop in the Carlyle hotel, where they stayed while their home was under construction. “We just knew they would really set the tone,” the wife says.
Papachristidis, who himself lives in a color-saturated, maximalist apartment nearby and spends weekends in Bridgehampton, also pushed his clients to temper the rooms with a few well-chosen traditional elements, including the dining room’s rock-crystal chandelier. “Bringing a touch of the Old World into the mix,” he notes, “creates a home that will never feel dated.”
he couple may have come into the project with a rich knowledge of art, but working on their apartment with Papachristidis helped to broaden their horizons. On shopping trips to Europe, he introduced them to the whimsical and much-adored designs of François-Xavier Lalanne, whose animal sculptures they fell in love with. Such elements provide a bridge in their home between art and design, worlds with increasingly porous boundaries. “The best thing,” says the husband, “is that the thrill of this place hasn’t worn off one bit. Every day I walk through the door, sink into the Ward Bennett sofa, and pinch myself that I live here. I’m not the least bit jaded. I’m still in awe.” Indeed.