Bringing the outside in is a common theme in interior design, but it’s usually in the context of a proper house, not an apartment in an upscale condominium building in New York City. But that’s how ELLE DECOR A-List designer Rodney Lawrence described his vision for the model apartment he designed in the Cortland, a new luxury development in West Chelsea.
Robert A.M. Stern was the architect of the 26-story structure, clad in over a million hand-laid bricks in a distinctive five-color blend, creating one of the few new buildings in this borderline overdeveloped neighborhood with a historic feel (the design was partially inspired by the iconic London Terrace apartment block, just a few blocks away). It’s a quietly elegant building that doesn’t scream to be noticed.
The same could be said for the interior architecture of the Cortland’s residences, by Olson Kundig, which features an open-plan kitchen, living, and dining area, marble fireplaces, cabinets finished in hand-brushed artisanal Italian metallic lacquer, and Statuario Belgia marble imported from Carrara, Italy. It was one such space that Lawrence was tasked with reimagining.
“Olson Kundig’s work is very restrained, with rigorous lines and a limited palette. I wanted to do something that would be different from the base they gave me but in the spirit of their work,” Lawrence recalls of his design strategy.
“I researched [the firm’s] projects, and there would always be minimal structures surrounded by nature—set in the middle of a beautiful field of flowers or built out of the side of a cliff or a mountain—so I wanted to put nature inside one of their structures,” the designer adds.
How? By adding a plethora of color and layered organic shapes to the 1,500-square-foot, two-bedroom, two-and-a-half-bath apartment, for a hypothetical client: “a young family with maybe a young child” who are drawn to “cool, but not unapproachable, design,” Lawrence explains.
Nowhere is this more evident than the combined living and dining area, a veritable study in curvaceous silhouettes, as seen in a custom sofa in a velvety Élitis fabric, a Crate & Barrel three-legged cocktail table, dining chairs from Burke Decor, and a quietly dramatic banquette (also custom) that snakes around the dining space. “Working from home has become the new normal, so things have multiple functions,” Lawrence notes. The dining table, for instance, can also function as a workspace; a console as a desk or bar.
Lawrence found several steal-this-idea ways to subtly connect the living and dining zones. He sourced a chandelier from Trueing Studio and hung the glass link chains so that each bulb was above a focal point of the respective areas. He commissioned a custom wallpaper from Trove in an ombré gradient that, depending on one’s point of view, simulates distant water or fog. “I knew the view would be of other buildings, not landscape or horizon, so I wanted to create a horizon inside the apartment,” he says.
In the main bedroom, Lawrence created the illusion of a horizon by “floating” the platform bed with lighting behind the custom headboard. The wall behind the bed is upholstered in an azure satin fabric from Coraggio, a shade that is picked up in lacquered, built-in side tables. Curvaceous forms reoccur in the dramatic channel-tufted banquette nestled into the bay window, as well as in a pair of pendant lamps by Brooklyn artist Yuko Nishikawa.
One of Lawrence’s favorite pieces in this aerie is a charcoal drawing hung above a textured credenza from Burke Decor. It’s by the late Belgian-American artist Jan Yoors, a man whom Lawrence describes as “an amazingly prolific artist, with an archive of tapestries, drawings, and photographs.”
“I was able to get the estate to do a print of a recent edition for this space,” the designer continues. “It’s a beautiful figure that is very abstract.” (Two Yoors photographs from the 1960s, depicting graffitied walls, hang in the kitchen, and a piece by his son Kore occupies a prominent space in the living room).
The hypothetical kid’s room, with its fortlike bunk and work area, is a visual delight themed around creatures of the sea. Lawrence clad the walls in a wave texture covering, dotted it with 3D-printed fish that seem to leap out of this proverbial sea, and draped jellyfish paper lamps from the ceiling. Plump poufs from RH give a buoy effect, albeit with elevated style and comfort, and a Trish Andersen Studio rug reads as an abstract two-dimensional coral reef.
Lawrence admits that the lockdown greatly influenced the design of this apartment: From the allocation of space to the items chosen to decorate it, all reflect a collective new normal. “Everyone needs to be able to be together, in one apartment, comfortable and not crowded,” he notes. “People are now going into buying places with these requirements at the top of their list.”
Those considering the Cortland should note that his dreamy design of this model apartment can be recreated in other units with similar layouts. The rest of us can take notes from this A-List talent.