Interior Design

New York City’s Ultimate Model Homes

With tens of millions of dollars on the line, developers are bringing in top designers and high-end furnishings to create fantasy spaces for prospective buyers.

The hallway of this Robert Couturier–designed penthouse at 432 Park Avenue features a custom bench upholstered in Pierre Frey fabrics and an antique Kurdish Persian rug. Top: Couturier created a custom L-shaped sofa for the living room. A grouping of mirrors by Hubert le Gall from 21st Gallery hangs between the west-facing windows. Photos by Stephen Kent Johnson

Some of New York’s most glittering apartments — filled with extraordinary mid-century furniture, custom upholstery and exclusively commissioned works of art — don’t have actual residents. That’s because these days, more and more real estate developers at the top end are hiring some of the biggest names in decorating to design new model apartments, alluring potential buyers with fantasies of lounging on BDDW sofas and Giò Ponti club chairs while gazing out at drop-dead, panoramic views.

In what has until recently been an exceptionally strong real estate market, developers have realized that buyers have more options and have become more sophisticated. A builder would never consider deploying basic sofas as “placeholders” that give a sense of scale but not a sense of style to these spaces.

“The direction is moving toward a more thoughtful approach to the interior design of the high-end models,” says Britt Zunino, the designer behind a stunning $25 million model penthouse for sale at One Vandam, in SoHo. “Competition in the real estate market has led developers to prioritize design — inside as well as out — to make their buildings stand out. Most of the condo developments in the last economic cycle were pretty generic.” And although their designers range from emerging to  established, these model spaces have one essential commonality: an appeal and vibe that is both aspirational and highly livable.


432 Park Avenue

by Robert Couturier

 

The living room’s neutral palette keeps the focus on the stunning view from the penthouse at 432 Park Avenue. A pair of vintage tufted club chairs from Converso are positioned in front of window seats with cushions in a Pollack fabric with beaded trim by Samuel & Sons. Photos in this slideshow by Stephen Kent Johnson

In the master bedroom, the wall covering is by Holland & Sherry and the headboard is upholstered in Oscar de la Renta fabric. A pair of velvet slipper chairs flank a side table at the end of the custom bed.

Left: The hallway is covered in Fornasetti wallpaper, and the custom runner is by Crosby Street Studios. Right: In the bathroom, a freestanding tub is positioned in front of the massive window overlooking Manhattan’s West Side and the Hudson River. The Italian marble floors are heated.

Left: The study features curtains with a custom-embroidered trim by Holland & Sherry and a custom rug by ALT for Living. Right: The study’s daybed, designed by Couturier, is upholstered in fabrics by Maharam and Loro Piana.

The Egg Collective dining table is surrounded by Vladimir Kagan chairs.

A guest room contains a Dmitriy & Co. bed upholstered in fabric by Loro Piana. The curtain fabric is by John Robshaw.

 

“Model apartments are a curious mixture of taste — at the same time conformist and daring,” says renowned decorator Robert Couturier. “Conformist because one has to please most tastes but daring because we are freer to try new possible ways.” At the whimsical and colorful 4,028-square-foot, $38 million penthouse he designed on the 86th floor of 432 Park Avenue, midtown’s newest — and tallest — residential skyscraper (designed by Rafael Viñoly with interior finishes by Deborah Berke), luxurious red lacquer walls and an antique Kurdish Persian rug from Couturier’s own collection greet visitors, who are then drawn into an airy and open living-dining room featuring 10-by-10-foot windows framing the kind of views one would expect to see from the Empire State Building. An oversize custom-designed sofa that looks as if it could seat at least eight people anchors the room, surrounded by Couturier’s signature eclectic yet luxurious assortment of exceptional pieces: an Eileen Gray club chair, a Pietra Cardosa dining table designed by Egg Collective, Vladimir Kagan dining chairs upholstered in laser-cut leather and a brass Maarten Baas credenza.

Blue mirrored flowers by Hubert le Gall adorn one wall, while a lively multicolored installation by Sol LeWitt fills another (alas, it is rented from the foundation and doesn’t come with the apartment). Despite these and other touches of whimsy — like the Fornasetti wallpaper with Roman columns in the hallway and the tall patterned-fabric headboard in the master bedroom — Couturier says that “the architecture is the basis of all design decisions.” As a result, he has employed a predominantly neutral palette for the upholstery and window treatments, especially in the main room,  to emphasize the 12.6-foot ceilings and the spectacular city views.


One Vandam

by Studio DB

 

Studio DB designed this penthouse at One Vandam, whose living room features a custom sofa and a vintage armchair on a Ralph Lauren rug. Untitled 98 by Derrick Velasquez hangs over the fireplace. Photos in this slideshow by Alexandra Rowley

Left: Luckey Remington’s Cut from the Same Cloth 1 hangs above a credenza by Organic Modernism on which sits a candle holder from Apparatus. Right: This dining area includes a table by Uhuru Design paired with Paul McCobb Planner Group armchairs from Modern Living Supplies. The artwork is Opposites Attract by Ghost of a Dream from Denny Gallery.

This sitting area contains side tables by Uhuru Design and a pair of lounge chairs, one of which holds a herringbone pillow from The Future Perfect. Outside, the patio furniture has throw pillows from Aero Studios.

In the master bedroom, a sitting area features Phillip Jeffries wallpaper and a pair of Alexandra Rowley photographs above the fireplace. Two Pierre Paulin Concorde chairs from Guéridon face the Gem coffee table by Debra Folz.

Styled as a children’s bedroom, this space features Rebecca Atwood’s Blooms wallpaper in Blushing Taupe and a commissioned sticker art piece by Payton Cosell Turner for Flat Vernacular. The ottoman is from ABC Carpet & Home.

Lighting by Rich Brilliant Willing illuminates the kitchen, which has bleached walnut cabinetry and a custom faucet, both by Studio DB.

 

For the developers of One Vandam, in Soho, Damian and Britt Zunino of Studio DB were the obvious choice to plan the building’s model penthouse apartment: The husband-and-wife duo had already designed the interiors and finishes of the slender, panel-facaded building, designed by BKSK Architects. “Our original direction for the building was to create interiors that were thoroughly modern in design but softened with natural materials and artisan finishes and details,” says Britt, citing the simple clean lines of Edward Wormley and Paul McCobb furniture as an inspiration for their overall design concept.

Though it’s hard to tell from the sophisticated appearance, the Zuninos put together the light and modern, four-bedroom triplex with a private interior elevator — currently listed at $25 million — in three weeks, relying on a mix of vintage or easily re-upholstered pieces because there wasn’t time to order custom furniture. They wanted to enhance the sight lines of the apartment’s three terraces, which include an outdoor living space and a spa, so they placed low-slung sculptural pieces, like 1950s vintage Italian tartan chairs, Eugenio Gerli armchairs and a Warren Platner coffee table for the different sitting areas throughout the space. Envisioning that future owners would want to entertain, the Zuninos selected a walnut and marble slab table by Uhuru partnered with green velvet Panton Series 430 dining chairs. The artwork throughout the apartment was curated specifically by Uprise Art.

As it has in so many fields today, social media has played a role in creating higher expectations for these model apartments, says Britt Zunino. “Buyers are exposed to beautiful imagery all day long,” she explains, “so it has been crucial for developers to create distinct identities to set themselves apart. It’s about creating an aspirational lifestyle moment.” Not surprisingly, aspiration often becomes reality: It is not unusual for buyers to end up purchasing all the furnishings in a model apartment along with the home itself.


Austin Nichols House

by ASH NYC

 

The living room features a sculptural velvet sofa from ABC Carpet & Home that is paired with a Milo Baughman–style brass coffee table. The vintage white Safari chair by Kaare Klint was reupholstered by ASH NYC. Photos by Christian Harder

Left: A wooden dining table by Article is paired with a Potence wall lamp and Standard SP dining chairs by Jean Prouvé for Vitra. Right: The navy-upholstered bed is accompanied by a modernist Donald Judd–style nightstand and sheepskin reading chair. The painting above the bed is acrylic on canvas in the manner of Frank Stella.

The living room features a vintage leather lounge chair by De Sede. A neon piece by Max Langhurst hangs above two armchairs.

Left: A kitchen features Tom Dixon stools, with a blue-and-white bowl by Workaday Handmade and concrete vases from BEAM on the rear counter. Right: This bedroom features a custom mural by Amy Currell and a Tom Dixon sconce.

A pink velvet loveseat faces a pair of navy leather sling chairs. The leather armchair in the background is in the manner of Børge Mogensen. The neon art piece is by Max Langhurst.

Left: In the guest bedroom, the walls and ceiling are painted in Blue Heather by Benjamin Moore. The navy-upholstered bed is flanked by white metal sconces in the manner of Serge Mouille. Right: A sculptural white-lacquered coffee table is accessorized with a natural wooden bowl and a leather portfolio from TRNK.

 

In the model homes at the Austin Nichols House, a landmarked Egyptian Revival building in Williamsburg, Brooklyn-based property developers and designers ASH NYC demonstrate that they really know how their clients want to live. A loft-like one-bedroom in the former manufacturing plant and whiskey distillery (where apartments range from $500,000 to $3 million) contains a mix of pieces from different eras and regions for a sleek but spirited look fully in tune with the young, creative culture of the neighborhood. “We’re seeing that more people are starting to prefer an increasingly clean and minimal aesthetic,” says Andrew Bowen, director of operations for ASH NYC. “There was a period about ten years ago, and especially post-recession, when a higher value was placed on more rustic elements — Edison bulbs, industrial relics and the like — and tastes are now moving toward a more forward-thinking contemporary look.”

But ASH NYC also likes “to push the envelope,” as Bowen puts it. In an otherwise restrained living/dining room, a rose-pink velvet loveseat adds a fun pop, sitting alongside a rugged leather and wood chair in the manner of Børge Mogensen and casual black leather sling chairs by Kyle Garner, while an elongated Jean Prouvé Potence wall sconce playfully extends from the wall. Original artworks, such as a dazzling neon wall sculpture by Max Langhurst and a graphic pink gray and black mural by Amy Currell, catch buyers’ eyes, says Bowen, and amp up the energy.


560 West 24th Street

by Damon Liss

 

A Max Ingrand blue dahlia ceiling light hangs over the living room of this Damon Liss–designed penthouse in West Chelsea. A pair of vintage Guillerme et Chambron armchairs flank the Harvey Probber–style tables. All photos in this slideshow by Joshua McHugh

The dining room features an Italian five-arm light fixture and a table surrounded by 1950s Brazilian rosewood chairs by Giuseppe Scapinelli.

A pendant light by by Achille and Pier Giacomo Castiglioni hangs over the marble-topped table in the kitchen.

In the master bedroom, a sitting area contains two Joaquim Tenreiro chairs on either side of a Wim Rietvled Mosquito table. A 1960s walnut Torbecchia bench is positioned at the end of the bed.

The den features a pair of Martin Eisler lounge chairs. Next to the sofa is a side table by Grosfeld House.

The terrace, which offers views of the Hudson River and is landscaped with potted trees and shrubs, includes a dining area.

 

The sitting area features a 1950s Italian settee and a pair of Carlo Hauner & Martin Eisler armchairs. Photo by Joshua McHugh

Back in Manhattan in West Chelsea, Damon Liss has fashioned a serene 4,500-square-foot penthouse at 560 West 24th Street that is as chic as the galleries that populate the neighborhood. Known for his practical approach to curated modern design, Liss says the goal was to make the residence (asking price $15 million) “feel as nice as the actual apartment,” explaining that the architecture is a little dressier than you would expect from the West Chelsea address, with “marble everywhere, even the windowsills.

Liss deployed pieces that he sourced from around the world — vintage 1950s Italian settees, Guillerme et Chambron chairs and black iron armchairs by Brazilian designers Carlo Hauner and Martin Eisler — to create multiple seating areas in the vast living area. A Fontana Arte vintage vetro cocktail table and a fanciful Max Ingrand blue dahlia ceiling light bring extra ornamentation to the rooms, while Joaquim Tenreiro chairs from Liss’s personal collection ensure that the space doesn’t feel brand-new, impersonal or transitory. “We try not to get caught up in a specific moment,” says Liss. “We inherently create things that are more timeless.”

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