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Publication Date: 2013-10-14

House Tours

High Performance: Nascar’s Jimmie Johnson’s New York Apartment

Elle Decor’s Michael Lassell visits the soft and sophisticated downtown Manhattan apartment designer Shawn Henderson created for a NASCAR champion and his wife.

ELLE DECOR: Who were your clients for this project?
SHAWN HENDERSON: Chandra and Jimmie Johnson. He’s a Hall of Fame NASCAR driver; she’s a former model, among other things, with an incredible sense of personal style. They have one child.

ED: What did they want for the new place?
SH: Something much more modern than their home in North Carolina—something more New York and more appropriate to a brand-new building. We were introduced by a mutual friend and hit it off at our first meeting. Not only did our personalities click, but also Chandra had already pulled from 1stdibs.com a lot of images of pieces I use all the time.

ED: Did you do much restructuring of the apartment?
SH: No, we kept it pretty much the way it was. The biggest project was removing a closet at the end of the entry hall. We reassigned some of the rooms, turning one of the three bedrooms into an office, and we transformed the dining room into a media room by moving the dining table to the main room.

ED: Do you remember what the starting point was for the design?
SH: I think I fell in love with the living room sofa fabric first. It’s a Loro Piana linen, and it looks phenomenal on that Edward Wormley tufted sofa. It’s called a “party sofa.” It’s built so people can sit on the arms.

ED: And did the palette begin with the sofa?
SH: Yes. I tend to prefer variety when it comes to the forms in a room and consistency in the fabrics and other materials. This is a very versatile palette. I joke with Chandra that she’s a pillow hoarder. She has the most extraordinary number of pillows, in all kinds of bold colors. And she changes them like she changes her earrings—this way she can add whatever she wants. It’s part of the fun of the place.

ED: Not all the furniture in the apartment is midcentury modern, is it?
SH: It’s all midcentury but not too midcentury specific. The pieces I choose are not about provenance—they have to look great and feel great too. The living room sofa is a midcentury take on a classic chesterfield. The Hans Wegner Papa Bear chair in the master bedroom, which is a favorite of mine, is extremely comfortable. I do love a sculptural armchair as an accent in a room.

ED: So the furniture is a mix?
SH: There’s a lot of Scandinavian furniture, some of my own pieces, a few new custom pieces I had made for this project, and work from makers I know to be superior craftsmen. The Dunbar chaise in the living room is a piece I had never seen before, which really excited me. I mean, when you’ve been in the business for a while, you think you’ve seen pretty much everything. But I saw that chaise and thought, We have to have it.

ED: You like natural materials, don’t you?
SH: I’m a big fan of natural materials. I mean, look what we have in the living room alone: linen, cotton, alpaca, shearling—even the sheers are wool.

ED: But does that mean you have an aversion to man-made materials?
SH: Not at all. Textile design has come a long way since the early days of synthetics. A linen-viscose blend can look great. It upholsters well, and it’s very durable. The cocktail tables that I designed for the living room are of a translucent resin on hammered-steel legs.

ED: You’ve said that every room should have at least one piece of cashmere in it. Have you achieved that in this apartment?
SH: And then some! I love how soft and luxurious it is. It’s like a hug.

ED: When you design a new piece for a client, do you put it into your Amalgam furniture line?
SH: Not always. I design first for the clients. Sometimes I see that a design makes sense to add to my collection, which includes pieces made of wood and metals, such as bronze, and upholstered pieces.

ED: All the art in the apartment already belonged to the Johnsons. Did you use any of their existing furnishings as well?
SH: Absolutely. We used a favorite Moroccan rug in the living room, and the two dressers in the master bedroom and the lamps that sit on them. The round mirror over the bed was already theirs too, and happily for me, it had a metal frame.

ED: What is one sign for you that a room is well designed?
SH: Balance—the balance of materials, the way they play off one another without being obvious or cliché. In my work, I’m always trying to connect the dots subtly, to establish the relationships between the shapes, textures, and materials. So there are touches of metal here and there, in both the furniture and the applied interior architecture. Some of it is patinated steel, and some of it is brass or bronze. Metal is one of the leitmotifs of the design, as are fabric texture and the palette.

ED: Do you ever use color in your work?
SH: Actually, I’m doing an 1837 plantation house in Mississippi right now for an old friend. That project is going to have so much color in it that I’ll definitely get my fix for a long time.

This article originally appeared on ELLEDECOR.com. Article by Michael Lassell. Photography by Björn Wallander. Styled by Quy Nguyen.

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