“I’ve always tried to create a sense of serenity in my interiors. And of course, now more than ever home as sanctuary is so meaningful,” says designer Sandra Nunnerley, whose Manhattan apartment is an example of practicing what you preach. “Everyone needs a place of tranquility to refresh, reflect, meditate, and renew one’s energy.”
Nunnerley’s rooms are filled with a carefully curated array of art, furniture, objects, and textiles, collected over years of extensive travel. Contemporary furniture of her own design lives harmoniously with 18th-century antiques, tribal art, and iconic 20th-century designs. Textiles range from luxurious silks to roughhewn linens—many unique pieces collected over time, others are fabrics she designed. “I’m not a minimalist, but I believe an interior improves when the furnishings are pared down,” says the New York–based designer of her idiosyncratic style. “When you give things breathing room, it allows pieces of disparate provenance to harmonize together.”
Nunnerley says colors are what makes a room come alive. She explains the soft gradation from blue-grays to ivory-beige of the painted walls progressing throughout the apartment. “With a punch of bitter chocolate in the study,” she adds. “Colors are an essential part of my vocabulary as a designer. There aren’t any colors I hate, however there are some I especially love—porcelain blue, pistachio, off-beiges, pearlized grays—I call them ‘shadow’ colors because they change with the light of the day.”
“Sandra famously says, ‘It’s all in the details,’” recounts AD editor-at-large Michael Reynolds, who has followed Nunnerley’s work for over a decade. “Deceivingly subtle with maximum impact,” he says describing her aesthetic, “something only a master of their craft can achieve. I’m reminded of that infamous quote of Teddy Roosevelt: ‘Speak softly and carry a big stick; you will go far!’”
Indeed, the New Zealand native has come far since her years as a student of architecture in Sydney, Australia, followed by stints in Paris and London working in the art world. Eventually settling in New York, her design pedigree includes working for the legendary, high-society New York decorator Chessy Rayner when Nunnerley was just starting out. “In the end I think my background in architecture and fine arts is what influences my work most,” reflects Nunnerley. “Bringing together the past and present.”
Even with current travel restrictions, Nunnerley’s eponymous design firm remains a busy, global practice with ongoing projects in Houston, Hong Kong, and Berlin. “Technology has revolutionized interior design,” she explains. “With CAD and 3D printers we can see and touch the final plans in our office before we even set foot on-site.”
“I always tell my clients you’ve got to get the bones right first,” says Nunnerley of her design process, which begins with a focus on the architectural configuration and details of a space. “If you don’t, you’re going nowhere, no matter how hard you try,” she adds. For her own home located in a turn-of-the-century Carrère and Hastings town house on the Upper East Side, Nunnerley applied the same principles. Having had the good fortune to find two apartments side by side, she designed a floor plan where spaces flow seamlessly into each other. “A subtle play of contemporary against classical” is how she describes thoughtful details such as loft-like floorboards running lengthwise. “In classically designed spaces floors run crosswise—here I wanted to add a slightly more industrial feel. I love the tension you create with a play of periods,” she says.
This Designer’s Curated Manhattan Home Exudes Tranquility
Nunnerley believes the bedroom should be the ultimate moment of serenity in a home. “We all need a place to truly escape, to shut off from the outside world,” she says. For her own bedroom she designed a custom canopy bed creating ‘a room within a room.’ Vintage Scalamandré fabric covers the headboard echoing the wonders of an ancient city. “I placed a piece of art on the wall that reminds me of the Inca Trail I hiked to Machu Picchu,” she adds. “What a perfect moment to be surrounded by things you love. Living with meaningful possessions brings great comfort as well as perspective.”
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