Designer Celerie Kemble finds the playful side of sophisticated colors in a Manhattan apartment that's refined enough for the urbane parents but rambunctious enough for high-energy kids.
KATHLEEN HACKETT: Four school-age children live in this New York City apartment. Who would have thought?
CELERIE KEMBLE: They have wonderfully stylish parents, whose aesthetic is an ideal combination of assured and devil-may-care. They want their kids to live in a home that telegraphs what's important to them: art, humor, playfulness, beauty, comfort, confidence. The intention is for this house to last a lifetime — and to get better with age. My colleague Caroline Irvin and I chose colors, textiles and furnishings with a high degree of detail and patina. It all sustains wear and tear in such a way that scuffs, dings and smudges don't look like flaws, they look like they've been there all along. "Crisp and new" is difficult to maintain, even if there are only grown-ups living in a house.
So it wouldn't faze the owners if a toddler left handprints on the dining room walls?
Ah, the dining room. It does have a gravitational pull. The walls have seven or more coats of lacquer on them — I lost count. They're like mirrors, and what child isn't fascinated with his or her reflection? We landed on that claret shade after trying several other colors, from a Billy Baldwin–esque egg yolk to a stuffed-animal brown. The red wine walls are flattering, warm and lively. You're meant to feel like all of the best conversations happen here. But so do children's chess games and homework.
I wish I had been in the room during the color discussion with your clients.
The wife wanted the spaces to be pretty but not fussy, good-looking but not arrogant. She loves an ambience that has flair as well as soul. The color schemes reflect that.
The entry hall certainly announces that this home is anything but stuffy.
The wallpaper is blooming with the clients' favorite plants — royal poinciana, acacias, orchids, geraniums, kumquats — hand-painted on faint sky-blue tea paper. It's as if a mad botanist lives here! It's a sophisticated yet playful solution for an interior room. Every day begins and ends with a stroll through a lovely garden.
Some rooms feel breezy, others cocooned. How did you work out the transitions?
I usually steer toward light colors and use bold ones as accents. But this time, several rooms — the study, the dining and family rooms and a boy's bedroom — called out for deeper shades to project a feeling of warmth and envelopment. That said, all of the rooms are designed around comfort and graciousness. There are shared colors throughout, but the real connection is an ethos: spaces that are casual and generous.
The living room sofas look relaxed, but they're white! Are they really kid-friendly?
They are covered in a mohair velvet the color of vapor. The fabric is easy to spot-clean and can stand up to tons of abuse, which was key because so much entertaining happens here. It's a wonderfully welcoming room, not least because the walls look like the inside of a conch shell and give off a pretty glow. Warm cocoas and cream — the buttery shade of mashed potatoes — are so deeply satisfying that everyone feels at home.
There's no shortage of seating choices. Why so many chairs?
The house is full of people all the time! The wife has that enviable mix of humor and grace that makes it easy to stop by. She had a real desire for the space to seem pretty without veering toward the saccharine, which is why most of the seating — and the other furnishings in the room — is rounded or even serpentine. There's not a chair you'd be afraid to sit in for fear of ruining it or being uncomfortable. In this home, you are at ease setting your drink down and eating out of your hand, or a napkin or off a great plate. It's all acceptable.
Celerie Kemble on Color
Color philosophy: There's a reason we don't see the world in black and white.
Flower of choice: I'm always captured by dark-hearted flowers, like cantaloupe-colored Brugmansia and inky-black Scabiosa — which isn't as scary as it sounds, I swear!
Oddest thing you've color-matched: The sheer pink and yellow undertones of pink grapefruit in a custom glaze. I salivate just thinking about it.
Can't-live-without nail polish and lipstick: Colors on my fingertips distract me, so I only buff my nails. As for lipstick, I hoard NARS's Sheer Lipstick in Dolce Vita. It's a very human shade of red.
Article by Kathleen Hackett