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Publication Date: 2011-12-23

House Tours

Explore Amanda Nisbet's Jewel-Toned Manhattan Apartment

New York City interior designer Amanda Nisbet uses a palette that draws from rubies, citrines and amethysts to make her Manhattan home sparkle. Carol Prisant speaks to the designer about the jewel-like space.

Was decorating your own New York apartment any different from decorating for clients?

Definitely. For my clients I always “scheme-out” the rooms, which means I put together a selection of fabric swatches, paint chips, wallpapers, and layouts for them to choose from. That’s before anything else happens. But for my own apartment, I don’t need those schemes, and then I’m always rotating things—despite the fact that my family doesn’t like change much! Clients don’t usually do that. In fact, sometimes they take photos so they can keep every little detail exactly the same. But I have a very large storage bin in the basement here for everything I can’t use anymore, for things that I’ll rotate, and things that I’m saving for the future.

I’ve found that most decorators feel most comfortable starting with texture or color or shape. I’m guessing your preference is color, silly question?

Good guess! I start every project with a color scheme.

And do you usually ask the husbands what their favorite colors are?

I always do. Although 90 percent of the time, a husband will say he really doesn’t care, that he only wants his wife to be pleased. But it turns out every time that he really does care after all.

And does your husband care?

He was actually pretty good about letting me do that pink wallpaper in the bathroom, though it’s true that once he’s in his shower, he can’t actually see it!

Your living room has such an interesting furniture plan. It looks so versatile.

This room had to meet so many needs. It had to work for cocktails with friends, for playing games with my children, for watching TV, and basically, as the nexus of the house. So I tried to mix elegance with comfort, because even though I don’t live an elegant lifestyle, I like to feel like I do. I was lucky enough to find a painted table from the famous designer Nancy Lancaster’s own house, and that’s beside the mantel. Then there’s a pair of Jansen bergères and —I hope the bling isn’t too much—there are things like that rock crystal lamp base, the glass ornaments, and the highly polished coffee table. But I’ve never said to my child “Don’t touch!” because this room is a refuge, too.

And then you moved on to color. Right?

Right. I chose a palette that’s serene and cozy to counteract New York’s gray days, and did my walls in a creamy, beigy straw color with curtains the color of squash. The room is at its best at night, though, with the stick blinds drawn. People feel warm and enveloped here. In fact, I think it’s one of my most successful rooms.

Tell me, when you do something you think is really successful, are you ever tempted just to keep repeating it?

Never. I pride myself on never doing the same thing twice. The joy of this job, actually, is the variety of the challenge and just doing the best I can do with all of the givens. I’m about emotion: I’m not a mathematician at all. I don’t know how to do formulas. Some designers do.

That white painted breakfront at the far end of the living room is far from formulaic.

It’s brand new. I bought it after the advent of flat-screens to hide the TV because I decided I didn’t want the TV to be visible. And because I like rooms to evolve, I hid it in that tongue-in-cheek interpretation of a classical Chippendale breakfront. Can you see the screen inside, where the bottom shelf would be?

And you say the dining room was inspired by your grandmother?

It has all her glamour. She was the epitome of glamour. Both she and my mother were “unpaid decorators,” and some of the nicest things now in this room were hers. But along with all the glamour, I wanted my dining room to be cozy at night, so I added brown—my favorite “tempering” color—to play against the lavender and light blue. The Venetian plaster walls are like a brown suede that really showcases the art. Everything doesn’t have to be wildly expensive when you decorate. I don’t think anyone should take all this too seriously. I like to think I walk a very careful line between tasteful and tacky!

Does your teenage daughter care about tasteful and tacky? And did you consult her when you did her room?

She’s away at school, so I only found out after I’d done it that she really doesn’t like lavender! I used navy and brown with it, though, and I think it’s a room she can grow into, although I’ve left little-girl elements here like the kind of playful graphic art over her bed. That navy patent leather chair, though, would probably be considered a little funky.

Your own delicious bedroom is the antithesis of funky. How big is that room, actually?

It’s about 15′ x 15′, but it reads bigger than it is. The walls are painted the color of heavy cream, and of course the white Berber rug really helps. It’s not lost on me that I’ll have to replace it one day! The pink and ivory on the froufrou bed and the fabric on the slipper chairs seem fresh and soothing to me.

And that little French chair is amazing.

Isn’t it? The fuchsia velvet looks just like my grandmother! I love it!

Does your grandmother explain the purple bench at the end of your front hall, too?

No. That’s my parents. The blue painting is from them. I’d always loved it. Then I decided to put that aubergine silk bench underneath. The curtains in the hall that lead up to it are gray—my new brown, I’ve decided—trimmed in orange. And you know, it just occurred to me that a client would probably have a seizure if I told them I was going to do their front hall in gray, orange, blue, and purple! But I think somehow it works, don’t you?

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