Anatomy of a Home

Tour a Spacious Manhattan Triplex That Balances Elegance with Comfort

DHD triplex
Portrait of David Howell and Steffani Aarons of DHD Architecture and Interior Design
Husband and wife designers David Howell and Steffani Aarons — founder and creative director, respectively, of the New York City firm DHD Architecture and Interior Design — recently remastered a penthouse triplex in Manhattan’s Flatiron District. Top: A bar area with a built-in recessed banquette opens to a study and media room. Photo styling by Tessa Watson

The New York firm DHD Architecture and Interior Design, which was founded by the architect David Howell in 1995, has created numerous interiors for apartments, houses and townhouses, as well as designing new-build freestanding homes, apartment buildings, hotels and commercial and retail projects, in the U.S. and internationally. The firm’s style is both elegantly contemporary and comfortably welcoming, with plenty of texture, luxurious finishes and artisanal materials, furnishings and accessories. 

A case in point is the triplex penthouse that Howell recently designed with his wife, Steffani Aarons — the firm’s creative director and head of interior design — in New York’s Flatiron District. Created for a couple with young children, the apartment occupies the entire 18th and 19th floors of the building along with most of the 17th, offering impressive south-facing views of Manhattan.

Architecturally, the project was something of a challenge. The elevator on the 18th floor, from which the apartment is entered, originally opened onto a five-foot-wide corridor that ran the length of the space. Howell removed the hallway, to make the living areas feel more spacious. Doing so allowed for the creation of a loft-like kitchen and living and dining zones on this level, which includes as well the husband’s study/media room and bedrooms for the children and their nanny.  

Howell also wanted to create what he calls a “transverse axis” on this floor, to balance the otherwise long horizontal space. This involved placing the kitchen perpendicular to the window wall, creating a barrel-vaulted ceiling over the living and dining areas and, most dramatically, replacing conventional stairs at the west end of the room with a striking spiral stairway, its solid sides coated in the same Venetian plaster that covers the walls. A glamorous custom version of Lindsey Adelman’s Cherry Bomb light fixture, with delicate brass chains and gold foil lining some of its glass globes, cascades down the staircase’s center.   

Sculpture spiraling set of stairs in the Manhattan triplex designed by DHD
One of DHD’s most dramatic moves in the penthouse was to replace the more conventional staircase at the west end of the main floor with a sculptural spiraling set of steps. The designers had its solid sides coated in the same Venetian plaster used on the walls. A custom version of Lindsey Adelman’s Cherry Bomb chandelier hangs down through the center.

“It’s a sculptural space,” Aarons says, noting that the specialized paint and plaster finishes, wood paneling, wallpaper and textured fabrics, in addition to oak floors, create a tactile sense of depth. “With the views so important, having surfaces with artisan finishes makes the apartment feel grounded and solid.”

Dining room in the Manhattan triplex designed by DHD
A custom Gal Gaon walnut dining table sits in the home’s dining area. The chandelier above and the Pistil candlesticks on the table are all by Hervé Van der Straeten. Surrounding the table are Minotti dining chairs, while Bruno Moinard sconces bathe the wall in a gentle glow. Behind is a media cabinet by Christina Z. Antonio, concealing a television.

Aarons also explains that the staircase and the kitchen — with its walnut cabinets, antiqued hand-blown-glass upper cabinet fronts, bronze and shagreen hardware and Gabriel Scott blackened-steel and brass counter stools — serve as heavier “end caps” to the softer living and dining areas. The former has a curved, muted blue-green velvet-covered sofa with a bronze base set next to a laminated-plywood and metal side table by Chris Lehrecke, all on a rug from Joseph Carini Carpets. In the latter, a custom Gal Gaon walnut dining table sits beneath a patinated bronze chandelier by Hervé Van der Straeten, who also designed the bronze Pistil candlesticks from Maison Gerard

These two areas are separated by a media cabinet (which conceals a television) in wood, cast metal and bronze by Christina Z. Antonio, who is responsible as well for the kitchen cabinets’ hardware. 

Living room designed by DHD
A brass chandelier by Aage Porsbo, from Milan’s Nilufar Gallery, is mounted over a contemporary sectional sofa and a leather and walnut Ondine wing chair and ottoman, both by Vladimir Kagan and from Holly Hunt, in the study and media room. The paneling and bookshelves are walnut.

Howell and Aarons turned a wide corridor opposite the staircase into a library-like area, lining the walls in walnut and creating bookcases, a marble-backed bar and an alcove banquette covered in a richly textured, subtly colored fabric. At the end of the corridor, the husband’s study and media room has walnut paneling and bookshelves — the inside backs of which are lacquered in Hermès orange, one of his favorite colors — and a contemporary sectional sofa covered in a nubby fabric, as well as a leather and walnut wing chair and ottoman by Vladimir Kagan, from Holly Hunt, under a brass chandelier by Aage Porsbo.

Above this room, on the 19th floor, a similar corridor — this one leading to the main bedroom and again clad in walnut — contains built-in closets and a dressing table alcove. A marble and walnut main bathroom opens off of the hallway. In the bedroom itself, a wood, bronze, leather and fabric headboard is flanked by bronze and rock-crystal pendant lights by Pagani Studio. For the walls, Aarons selected a textured, custom-colored wallpaper by Callidus Guild — whose papers are also used to line the closets. 

Roof terrace designed by DHD
The penthouse’s crowning glory: an expansive roof terrace with a pool, hot tub and panoramic views of Lower Manhattan

Near the beginning of the corridor, a door leads out to the roof terrace, where a pergola shelters the outdoor dining and lounge furniture, and on to the pool, which, Howell says, is a larger replacement for the one that was there when the clients bought the apartment.

Powder room designed by DHD
In a powder room, the designers backlit walls of Patagonia granite — a veined white stone with warm-toned crystal inclusions — to create a glow through the translucent material. Van der Straeten sconces flank the mirror.

While the home’s overall palette is subtle and monochromatic, there are moments of more emphatic color and contrast in the two powder rooms. In the one on the 18th floor, walls of Patagonia granite — a veined white stone with warm-toned crystal inclusions — are backlit with LEDs that give the translucent areas an otherworldly glow. The same material is used for the sink. On the 19th floor, the powder room for the pool is lined in a graphic tree-and-plant-themed wallpaper by Hermès, from Dedar, and is illuminated by a three-globe hanging light with a 1960s vibe from Atelier de Troupe

In addition to the sectional sofa and Kagan chair and ottoman, Aarons chose another carpet from Joseph Carinianda LOUISE LILJENCRANTZ COFFEE TABLE for the media room and study. On top of the table are Suzy Goodelman’s torqued stoneware vessel and matte white painted cactus vessel from Cocobolo.

The design process, Howell says, offers “a huge opportunity to find things you wouldn’t envision at the beginning. Why not look at something surprising?” It is exactly these sorts of surprises, along with the rich variety of Aarons’s choices of materials and finishes, that allow the apartment’s design to blend physical comfort with sensual variety.  

Steffani Aarons’s Quick Picks

Gio Ponti D.859.1C table, new, designed 1958, offered by Molteni&C
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Gio Ponti D.859.1C table, new, designed 1958, offered by Molteni&C

“I love this Gio Ponti table, originally designed in the fifties. It has nice lines, and the shape of the top is perfect. Another plus is that it feels transitional, so you can mix it with different types of furniture.”

Carlo de Carli 634 chairs, 1951, offered by pad
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Carlo de Carli 634 chairs, 1951, offered by pad

“These are gorgeous vintage dining chairs, and the curved wood and upholstered back and seat make them comfortable for anyone. The gap between the back and seat gives the chairs a lighter feeling.”

Vladimir Kagan Cosmos lounge chair, ca. 1975, offered by Ponce Berga
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Vladimir Kagan Cosmos lounge chair, ca. 1975, offered by Ponce Berga

“I’m a big fan of Vladimir Kagan’s  pieces: They are forward-thinking, incredibly comfortable and sculptural from all sides. This chair can easily float in a room.”

Ayala Serfaty Adaptation table lamp, new, designed 2005, offered by Maison Gerard
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Ayala Serfaty Adaptation table lamp, new, designed 2005, offered by Maison Gerard

“This sculptural illuminated piece would look just right on a console. It’s serene and beautifully constructed to look almost like a cloud.”

MR Architecture + Decor MR.2H bookcase, new, designed 2014, offered by Maison Gerard
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MR Architecture + Decor MR.2H bookcase, new, designed 2014, offered by Maison Gerard

“A study in perfect proportion and technique. The blackened steel and sense of quiet and balance would make this bookshelf ideal for an entry or library.”

Carlo Mollino floor lamp, 2016, designed 1947, offered by Frank Landau
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Carlo Mollino floor lamp, 2016, designed 1947, offered by Frank Landau

“This reedition of a Carlo Mollino lamp is spectacular. I love the playfulness of the large shade, the intricate stitching and the pared-down materials.”

Atelier Achille Salvagni Simposio chandelier, new, designed 2017
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Atelier Achille Salvagni Simposio chandelier, new, designed 2017

“With its interesting texture and pure lines, this would be stunning over a dining table, and the fact that it shines upward means it can illuminate a beautiful ceiling finish.”

Atelier TERRAI sconces, new, offered by Cosulich Interiors & Antiques
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Atelier TERRAI sconces, new, offered by Cosulich Interiors & Antiques

“These beautiful alabaster sconces feel both contemporary and old-world, thanks to their alabaster material and unique carving — classic with a twist.”

Rick Owens Evase, new, designed 2007, offered by Galerie Philia Furniture
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Rick Owens Evase, new, designed 2007, offered by Galerie Philia Furniture

“This cast-bronze vase, part of a collection by Rick Owens, is really special. Its forms, textures and finishes make it feel grounded in history yet contemporary.”

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