New York’s premier new construction condos, the super towers that line West 57th Street and beyond, universally boast of “high-end finishes.” They have the highest quality hardwood floors, marble everything and the best appliances money can buy. But anyone who has ever been inside these $15 million-plus behemoths knowns that they are, broadly speaking, characterless. And that doesn’t sit well with certain designers of the classical persuasion.
Of course, developers deliver these costly units intentionally undercooked. Buyers at the top of the real estate market are notoriously picky and details are just ammunition for a quarrel. In an era of hyper-individualized tastes, presenting no taste at all is the safest bet.
But Terry Sullivan, a longtime Upper East Side interior designer at her eponymous firm, says we are thinking about creating homes in the city all wrong. She argues that it is not enough for developers to create spectacular views, leaving the design to the buyer as an afterthought. For her, beauty with a capital “B” is something the builders of New York owe the public.
We spoke to Sullivan and asked her to overhaul an unprepossessing unit listed at One57 in her signature style.
How would you describe your design style?
TS: I consider myself a classical designer. I look to the timeless beauty of antiquity, the Renaissance and 18th-century Irish Palladianism.
What modern designer has influenced you the most?
TS: Albert Hadley, the Dean of American Design. I received my design training at Parish-Hadley & Associates. The most important design lesson I learned from Hadley is that:
“it’s really about creating a quality of life, a beauty that nourishes the soul.” That is my mission today.
What is your mission as an interior designer?
TS: My mission is to help improve the lives of my clients by creating beautiful surroundings that encourage good states of mind.
How do you begin a new project?
TS: I begin each design project by working with a brilliant mathematician! We review every interior wall, door window and elements so that the proportions are according to the rules of Palladio if possible. I think this is the most important phase of a project.
How has design changed in the past several years?
TS: I think the desired outcome people want today is a serene, calming, pure and balanced space. That is my objective, to create a space that calms the spirit. This is achieved by using simple, clean lines and shapes.
There is much less interest in the so-called ‘English Country look’ with heavy curtains, busy patterned carpets, wall coverings, generous amounts of furnishings and ornamentation.
I prefer to place more emphasis on the space, natural light, views and the architectural elements; symmetry, balance and harmony are more important.
Who is your favorite designer?
TS: Mother Nature is the best decorator. Communication with nature is the starting point, a person of virtue requires this for repose and contemplation.
How do you achieve your mission?
TS: I think this is best achieved by putting into practice the principles of classical architecture based on Andrea Palladio. He is my greatest inspiration. His buildings are the most beautiful.
Can you describe “Beauty?”
TS: Perfect proportions, perfect scale, simplicity and detailing make beauty.
Can you briefly explain how you came up with this re-design for this apartment in One57?
TS: My inspiration was Bellamont Forest in Ireland. The window at One57 with its beautiful view of Central Park is a key element of the axis composition of this space. I transformed it into a dining room and gallery; a more public space from it’s original plan as a library or bedroom.
TS: The room has no clear focal point. There is a lack of symmetry as the window and doors not balanced. It lacks any architectural details such as ceiling frieze and trim, baseboard or door or window trim.
Here is the floor plan from the unit before…
TS: The newly designed space has ideal, square proportions creating symmetry, balance and harmony. To achieve this the wall dividing the room and gallery was removed and classical columns were added instead to spatially divided into quarters. A second wall was moved to make the room larger and center the window. A faux door was added in the gallery to create a pair of doors for symmetry.
Inspired by Bellamont Forest…
This is how it might look filled out.
TS: The decorating is kept spare so that the beauty of the room’s Irish Palladian inspired architecture shines. Eighteenth-century plaster designs are incorporated for the ceiling, frieze and cornice and original designs for the window, door frame and a black and white patterned marble floor.
Love it or hate it, it’s a far cry from this.
Obviously if you are looking for a home in line with Sullivan’s standards, you probably aren’t shopping at One57 in the first place. But it is fun to image how different a modern condo could look with a little plaster and proportion.