January 14, 2024Shawn Henderson‘s youthful good looks make it hard to believe he just celebrated the 20th anniversary of his eponymous New York City–based studio. “I started decorating in diapers,” jokes the award-winning interior designer and member of the 1stDibs 50, who has long been in demand for his harmonious interiors that exude unpretentious glamour.
Henderson recently had the happy opportunity to revisit one of his earliest projects, from 2005: the decoration of an apartment for the theater director Jason Moore, whom he befriended soon after moving to Manhattan from Upstate New York, in the late 1990s.
The circumstances leading to the second renovation, unfortunately, were not so happy. Two years ago, a major leak flooded Moore’s 1,800-square-foot two-bedroom Chelsea apartment, a former loft with 11-foot-high ceilings that retains its original wood beams and open living plan.
Because of the water damage, Henderson had to start mostly from scratch — and with a bigger budget from Moore than was available for the original work. (Since the first project, the director has expanded his purview from theater to films, including Shotgun Wedding and Pitch Perfect.) The goal was “to lighten things up,” the designer says, while at the same time “making sure we were making enough of a change for the apartment to feel different and exciting for Jason.”
For his part, Moore recalls telling Henderson, “Let’s reinvent this place and have fun doing it.”
The designer replaced the dark-wood floors, which were popular in the early 2000s, with more-modern-looking light oak; enclosed the entry with oak millwork to create a discrete, intimate entrance along with extra storage space; and clad the open kitchen in oak paneling whose spare simplicity is reminiscent of a Japanese ryokan. It also hides some surprises: One panel opens to a bar; another hides an oak-lined hallway to the powder room. “It feels like a beautiful ship back there,” says Henderson.
The furnishings throughout are a mix of new finds and salvaged pieces from the original decoration, many of which were excellent designs that just needed fresh upholstery for a new look. “The original layout of the furniture was right, with good flow and accessibility, ” Moore says.
For the living area, Henderson recovered armchairs from the pre-flood decor in a Dedar wool bouclé and grouped them with a sofa of his own design and vintage side tables by Paul McCobb. He paired a 1970s mirror by Lorenzo Burchiellaro with a 1954 table lamp by Max Ingrand for Fontana Arte, found through DUPLEX gallery. Also in the mix: a handmade blackened-steel cocktail table with built-in bowls, designed by J.M. Szymanski.
“I love furniture that has a multifunctional capacity to it,” says Henderson, who recently created a capsule collection exhibiting just such versatility for the Italian leather goods firm Il Bisonte. The pieces feature clever trays with built-in compartments —satisfying, he says, “my desire to keep things tidy and orderly.”
The spare dining area contains sculptural Drop chairs designed by Arne Jacobsen for Fritz Hansen — which Moore had admired in Henderson’s own home — and a custom-made oval table beneath an Apparatus chandelier. A wall nearby is devoted to a monumental abstract painting by Gregor Hildebrandt.
The primary bedroom got a particularly handsome makeover. What had been a neutral-looking space is now a seductive, richly appointed room with a wall-length upholstered headboard, custom nightstands below swing-arm sconces by Christian Liaigre and underfoot a plush rug with striations of gray and green. The decor provides a composed backdrop for such mesmerizing artworks as Gregory Crewdson’s cinematic photograph The Barn and a shimmering mirrored wall sculpture by Christophe Gaignon. “The idea was to make something masculine, sexy and clean,” Henderson says.
Henderson overhauled the primary bath with black and gray marble surfaces, illuminated by industrial-style sconces. “It’s one of my favorite bathrooms I’ve ever done,” Henderson says. “I loved it so much that when I just renovated my apartment, I did something very similar.”
In the second bedroom, which serves as Moore’s home office and suffered the worst damage, the designer lined a walk-in storage closet with (waterproof!) stainless steel. The director works on his theatrical productions at a Danish flip-top desk by Peter Løvig Nielsen. Henderson found it on 1stDibs the first time he conceived the work space, nearly two decades ago, which is also when he matched it with the 1960s red-leather armchair that sits at it today. The pairing worked well then and still does now.
In a nod to his client’s profession, Henderson added a 1950s wood folding movie-theater chair, also from 1stDibs, which he mounted on a steel base. Perhaps his most daring move in the room, if not in the entire apartment, was to reupholster the sleeper sofa in a jazzy black-and-gold woven geometric pattern by Élitis.
“I never do a patterned sofa,” Henderson says with a laugh. “The first time I decorated the apartment, it was predominantly neutral. This time I made a pointed effort to introduce more color and personality.”
This is emblematic of what he sees as an evolution in his overall practice. “Working with color is a natural progression for my work, but it’s also a reaction to all these chalky, beige schemes everywhere,” he says. “I’m having fun injecting a little bit of sexiness and drama.”
It’s a delicate balance for a designer to conceive something new that’s not too trendy or quickly dated. In the case of second chances — like Henderson’s return to Moore’s Chelsea apartment — there is also a risk of it not being novel enough. But his design for the loft thoroughly succeeds in being both fresh and familiar. It has an excellent chance of standing the test of time (barring further building catastrophes).
“It feels like home,” Moore says enthusiastically. “But it also feels brand-new.”