The challenge: to transform a drab, cramped co-op into a small masterpiece that glowed with a sophisticated palette and an Old World patina. Most of all, the space needed to feel bigger.
Bruce and Marsha Baldinger had made a transition from a sprawling 6,500-square-foot custom property in rural New Vernon to their current primary residence, a 4,850-square-foot townhouse in South Orange, which they purchased in 2016. Now empty nesters with four grown children off on adventures of their own, the art-loving couple decided they too needed to venture out and pursue their passions. What better way than by renovating a neglected, 800-square-foot, one-bedroom Manhattan co-op that had been in Bruce’s family for decades, making it a “getaway” that allowed them to enjoy all the cultural pleasures of a cosmopolitan lifestyle?
For a partner in creativity they chose James Yarosh of the Holmdel-based James Yarosh Associates Fine Art Gallery, which also offers interior design services for art collectors. Yarosh, whom the couple had first come to know after buying artwork from his gallery, had become a trusted friend after they collaborated with him on the interior design of their townhouse.
Re-envisioning the apartment was “pure fun,” says Yarosh of the yearlong renovation project. “The joy came from the clients’ pleasure with what we had created with their main house. They knew to trust me and now were excited to push the boundaries to see where the design might take us.”
Yarosh sought to showcase the owners’ art collection and harmoniously reflect their love of color, patterns and vintage and antique pieces. “I sought to direct the eye around the room so it would unfold in the way intended to marry the design elements,” he explains. “It’s a mix of thoughtful curation, experience—my gallery turns 25 in 2021—and trusting to my artist’s intuition.”
Located on the 21st floor of an East Side brick building with a view of The San Remo on Central Park West, the couple’s compact “tree house in the sky” now lives large and luxurious. “James is amazing at space design and utilization,” says Marsha, noting that they measured “to the inch” in order to accommodate all the necessary and desired components. The end result? “There’s so much in it, but it doesn’t feel at all crowded.”
To create the look and feel of an expansive space, Yarosh started by gutting the apartment to reconstruct the kitchen and fashion areas like the entrance and the hall to the bedroom and bathroom. Old wood floors were replaced by dark charcoal slate tiles throughout; a dividing wall was torn down to make way for a stylish, utilitarian bar peninsula; all the doors, casings and fixtures were switched; and architectural moldings—personally designed by Yarosh to enhance the space—were custom-constructed.
Yarosh curated the placement and framing of the couple’s art collection, ensuring that each design element advanced the overall aesthetic narrative. Every piece—from custom mirrored doors and cabinets to rugs and furniture—was carefully selected with an eye for depth and width considerations in order to coax more flattering lines out of the apartment’s configurations.
While not a completely open plan, Yarosh’s design achieves a dexterous duality—a feeling of free-floating spaciousness with an anchoring sense of distinct functional spaces. He transformed what’s essentially one room into several separate living clusters: a foyer, a kitchen, a bar, a dining area, a main living/seating area and a TV viewing spot. He did this through clever placement, for instance juxtaposing two TV-facing incliner chairs in an opposite perpendicular location to two upholstered armchairs in the main seating area. “This nontraditional twist allowed for more function of the space, creating a little private TV room for two in the middle of the main living room section meant for larger gatherings,” Yarosh explains.
Custom-sized to fit the space, the Rug & Kilim 9-foot-by-18-foot wool-and-silk blend rug features an abstract,retro-feel design with a color scheme that ties all of the room’s various sections into a cohesive esthetic.
Wallpaper was also integral in marrying patterns and color-blocking spaces in order to designate areas. “The foyer’s hand-printed historical patterns with garnet plumes and silver starfish against a mid-level gray relate to the grays of the prominent art and create one marriage, while the bedroom wallpaper of garland-wrapped swirled columns against another shade of blue similar to the apartment’s walls unifies another,” Yarosh notes.
Thanks to the designer’s instincts, wallpaper that might have appeared staid and stuffy takes on a fresh, lighthearted aspect. “These more old-school wallpaper patterns have stood the test of time as beautiful,” Yarosh says. “Using them to gift- wrap the space actually turns out to be a fashion-forward step, imparting a little playfulness.”
The owners’ willingness to have fun with color and patterns played a vibrant part in Yarosh’s approach. For example, the collection of black, white and gray abstract oils on canvas by artist Max Schnitzler—Marsha’s great uncle—and a large Iliya Mirochnik collage art piece purchased at Yarosh’s gallery were focal starting points. But, eschewing a monochromatic gray on the walls as “anticlimactic,” Yarosh instead proposed using a pale, aqua-tinged blue as the apartment’s neutral. The choice proved a masterstroke. The color—Yarmouth Blue from Benjamin Moore’s Historic Colors collection—not only serves as a lively background for the art and unifies the entire apartment, but also “radiates brightness and light for a penthouse-level space in the clouds.”
In the dining area, deep cranberry mohair chairs face a built-in banquette upholstered in a tweedy pattern of pink hues. The Clarence House drapes, the Fornasetti ceramic plates and the painting over the banquette all contain hues that fit in with the central color story. In the kitchen, the Artistic Tile backsplash incorporates variations of the space’s primary colors. When the reds, blues and yellows of a custom Moroccan-inspired mosaic are viewed from across the bar, they offer a defused jewel-like effect and yet another play of patterns.
Stowage and multifunctional considerations also figured in Yarosh’s aesthetic calculations. Under the windows, which run all across one side of the entire room, he installed built-in cabinets with pressed-release mirrored doors for stylish storage and reflective spaciousness. The bench, dining chairs and table—all fabricated by Jonah Bibi for Artistic Frame—were literally made for each other. The bench, which typically resides along the entrance wall, was sized to fit snugly alongside the dining table. Upholstered in the same Fortuny cranberry red mohair, it matches the two Captain chairs to double as companion seating when company comes. The table, supported by a silver Deco base, is topped with a wine-colored lacquered shagreen that Marsha calls “virtually indestructible” for a surface that’s as visually palatable as it is practical.
Although unified by the same flooring and wall treatments as the rest of the apartment, the bedroom has a decidedly different feel. The antique furniture pieces from David Duncan Antiques in Manhattan, the custom king-sized bed adorned in custom Matouk cotton sateen bedcoverings and the Zuber of France handmade lace window panel secured with gold ring clips all harmoniously combine to impart a serene Old World grace. And of course, the room wouldn’t be complete without the essential element of art: the beautiful painting of peonies in a vase by Russian Realism artist Nikolai Koslov and the two Pierre Lesieur paintings by the custom mirrored door closet.
“It feels like a luxurious hotel suite,” says Marsha of the ultra-personalized apartment. “It’s perfect for us to get away from it all to enjoy all the city has to offer. And it’s also great for socializing; we can comfortably entertain six people for a brunch or pre-theater cocktails. Before COVID, we would go about three times a month and stay for about three nights. It’s wonderful not to have to rush back home and to just wake up to sunshine and so many of the things we love.”
“It’s the right blend of modern and retro, utility and luxury,” says Bruce. “I’ve owned the place for close to 37 years and it’s never looked so good. It’s dramatically different and perfect for our needs.”
“We created something out of near nothing,” says Yarosh. “Designer–client relationships are so much better when we hold hands as we jump together in a leap of faith.” He says the collaboration has also yielded inspiration for similar space-challenged possibilities closer to home. “Swapping big-city views for ocean ones presents a promising opportunity for clients interested in primary-or second-home apartments along the Jersey Shore,” Yarosh declares.