by Becca Bergman Bull  |  June 15, 2015

With spring’s record-setting art auctions in the rearview and the buzz of this week’s Art Basel fair building to a steady roar, it’s safe to say that fine art has never occupied so prominent a place in the zeitgeist than at this very moment. Art has long been integral to interior design — Wen Zhenheng, the Albert Hadley of China’s 16th-century Ming Dynasty period, outlined very specific rules for how it should be deployed in the home (among them: No more than one painting per wall and horizontal scrolls belong in hallways), and every 18th-century English pile boasted a panoply of oil-painted ancestors staring down from gilded frames. But while art has long been considered a finishing touch — or, just as often, a mere afterthought — today its role is often more mutable, and influential. Now a room might be designed around one piece, or a designer may commission an art installation along with a custom couch. An impressive art collection does not a perfect interior make, however: As always, it’s about striking a balance, selecting the right furniture, fabrics and finishes to complement what’s on the walls — and vice versa — and the best efforts look effortless though they are anything but. Below, click through 10 examples of knockout New York rooms that represent the ideal union of fine art and interior design.

Shelton, Mindel & Associates

Known for lucid, clean-lined architecture and luxurious finishes, Shelton, Mindel & Associates counts among its clients Sting and Trudie Styler and members of the Soros, Tisch and Lauder families. One of its founding partners, Lee Mindel, is much admired for his smart deployment of rare 20th-century furniture and decorative objects — and in particular, the way in which he can combine seemingly disparate pieces to create a distinctive yet harmonious room. This skill was put to the test in the 1849 Greek Revival Greenwich Village townhouse of clients with an impressive art collection. Here, Mindel let Christopher Wool’s Fool painting stand alone — but not out of place — as the room’s sole contemporary element, tempering its graphic starkness with classic, curved seating from the last century by Jean-Michel Frank and Charlotte Perriand and a custom V’Soske rug. Photo © Michael Moran/OTTO

 

Cullman & Kravis

The splendor of Cullman & Kravis’ 2010 dining room for the Kips Bay Decorator Show House is delightfully mirrored in the large Candida Hofer photograph hanging on the wall, which depicts a dining hall in Lisbon’s National Palace. And the food-art references don’t stop there: A tower of cooking pots by Studio Job, pizza and Oreo photos by Neil Winokur and Jan Groover’s black-and-white images of cooking utensils also bring home the room’s purpose. When the venerable 30-plus-year-old firm takes on a project, whether on Manhattan’s Upper East Side or Hawaii (that would be Oprah’s ranch), it often oversees every element, down to the napkins. (“It’s the details that create a more wholly integrated environment,” says firm partner Ellie Cullman. “They should be rich with meaning, full of sparkle and life.”) This inviting and fully realized room — with its neoclassical dining chairs and Maxime Olds Art Deco sideboard, both from Karl Kemp, and 1950s Venetian chandelier from Newel — is no exception. Photo by Nick Johnson

William Georgis

“I love to shock,” says architect and designer William Georgis, who specializes in creating high-octane spaces to match the equally bold artworks owned by his heavy-hitting clients (see: real-estate developer Aby Rosen, dealer Alberto Mugrabi). “Remember what they’re hanging on their walls: insane crucifixions by George Condo!” Georgis points out. “The imagery itself is provocative.” Yet while he might toe the line of taste, he never steps over it, and his choices are couched in substantial knowledge of design and art history. Moreover, while his rooms are assertive, they complement the art, rather than overpower it. This is apparent in this luxurious Park Avenue study, with its walls paneled in Macassar ebony and trimmed in antique bronze, its mid-century Erton chairs and custom bamboo-inlay coffee table — all drawing on the color scheme of Jean-Michel Basquiat‘s Self-Portrait with Suzanne. Photo by T. Whitney Cox, courtesy of Monacelli

Sandra Nunnerley

Sandra Nunnerley originally left her native New Zealand to attend art school in Sydney, then studied art history in London and Paris before landing in New York in the 1980s, where she worked at the Marlborough Gallery. Today, she’s known for her ability to incorporate the art collections of her clients into layered, lively and luxurious interiors — and if the clients aren’t already in possession of a collection, she works with dealers, auction houses and galleries to find the right pieces for them. Unsurprisingly, the designer possesses an impressive trove herself, which she displays in intriguing arrangements throughout her apartment. At left, a 1999–2000 installation called Brancusi’s Dealer by Richard Pettibone sits above a Jacques Adnet chair from 1950, while, at right, mid-century photographs by Morton Bartlett hang over a marble-top Louis XIV table adorned with various 19th-century decorative objects, with a Jean-Michel Frank cane-back chair visible to the side. “Juxtapositions make a collection interesting,” says the designer. “It allows the eye to make new and unexpected discoveries.” Photos by Giorgio Baroni

Markham Roberts

“You can put a pattern behind anything,” says Markham Roberts. “People are so afraid of it, and they don’t really need to be. Layered patterns can take on a unifying feel.” Case in point: the entryway of an apartment in a Rosario Candeladesigned building on Manhattan’s Sutton Place. Here, an Alex Katz portrait of the client as a little girl hangs on an intensely patterned wall (with an equally elaborate Indian rug underneath, not visible here). On top of that, she’s wearing a patterned blouse in the painting — but, far from clashing, all the elements of the space exist in perfect accord. Photo by Nelson Hancock, courtesy of Vendome Press

Sachs Lindores

Architect Kevin Lindores and interior designer Daniel Sachs met while working for Frank Gehry in the mid-1980s. Since establishing their firm, Sachs Lindores, in 2000, the duo has won commissions aplenty from a certain circle of cool, creative types, including artist Philip Taaffe, poet Tom Healy and Dutch-born photographers Inez Van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin. Says another client, art collector and philanthropist Kathy Guttman, of the way in which the pair complement each other, “Daniel has an amazing eye for color, texture, scale and proportion. Kevin is the master of space.” Both skill sets are on display in the dining room of a Park Avenue apartment, where frescoes by Francesco Clemente form a dramatic backdrop for an antique French table surrounded by custom John Robshaw chairs. “There’s an elasticity and a fluidity to their work,” says Taaffe. “It’s an architecture without egotism.” Photo by Ngoc Minh Ngo

Richard Mishaan

In his 2014 book Artfully Modern, in which he muses on the interaction of art and design, Richard Mishaan writes that “giving context to a client’s artwork and belongings is the most satisfying part of my job.” The designer himself is an ardent collector of art, furniture and objects, and he uses the Manhattan apartment he shares with his wife and their two children as a laboratory for best showcasing — and living with — the pieces he loves. “Every time I find and bring home a new piece, it redefines the entire area around it,” he says. Here, a Fornasetti serpent rug snakes down a hallway that ends at an Iván Navarro light sculpture; the works hanging on the wall are by Manolo Valdes. “Art and design are flip sides of the same coin,” continues Mishaan. “Each involves issues of balance, composition, color and harmony.” Photo by Joshua McHugh, courtesy of the Monacelli Press

Amy Lau

“Malcolm Hill’s sweeping concave sculpture sets a backdrop that is both subtle enough to enhance the surrounding pieces and expressive enough to make its own statement,” writes Amy Lau of the enormous yet understated plaster-relief piece presiding over this Tribeca triplex. In choosing the rest of the room’s elements, Lau took inspiration from the swooping shapes of Hill’s work, as evidenced in everything from the gentle orbs of the Lindsey Adelman light fixture to the flowing curves of the sofas custom designed by Vladimir Kagan. Always one to celebrate the mix, however, Lau includes plenty of strong materials to balance out the soft contours, including bronze, brass, walnut, marble and agate stone. Photo by Bjorn Wallander

Kristen McGinnis

Trained in painting and sculpture, designer Kristen McGinnis already had a foothold in the art world when starting out — but nothing compared to the professional coup that arrived in the form of her first major commission after establishing her interior-design firm in 2005: the Upper East Side apartment of MoMA president emerita Agnes Gund. For this project, the challenge lay in creating a livable, comfortable environment while properly showcasing Gund’s museum-quality art. “To make her collection the star of the show, we brought in furniture that could stand up to work by Mark Rothko and Jasper Johns — but that’s still spare and humble…the simplicity is key to the design,” McGinnis told Introspective in 2013. At left, this takes the form of a Jean-Michel Frank rock-crystal lamp, Eugene Printz side table and Diego Giacometti bronze coffee table, amid works by Johns and Joseph Cornell. For the dining room, the designer went both bold — setting Roy Lichtenstein’s Masterpiece, 1962, against a custom paint color inspired by Chinese ink palettes (she nicknamed it Baofing Blue) — but also classic, adding an antique English dining table and chairs. Photos by Roe Ethridge

Jamie Drake

“My clients came to me with a clear vision of what they wanted after becoming deeply familiar with my work,” says Jamie Drake, who never shies from the chance to douse a project in color. In this Upper West Side apartment, he embraced the clients’ request for a palette of purples and corals, centering the room on a Holly Hunt sofa upholstered in purple mohair, adding a custom-colored version of his Saturn rug for Roubini and, for a little levity, blackened-steel lamps by Craig Van den Brulle. After completing the renovation and installing all the furniture, Drake discovered the pièce de résistance: a painting by Shay Kun that now hangs above the sofa. “It was a perfect fit for the space and the clients fell in love with its whimsy and fantasy.” Photo by Marco Ricca