After a young family of five living in Greenwich Village decided to move into a new apartment that would keep them in the Manhattan neighborhood but better fit their growing number, they sought out interior designer Gideon Mendelson, who had designed their original home.
For this project, Mendelson used neutral tones in the common areas, like the living room and the kitchen. In smaller spaces, he took risks with pattern—witness a faux marble–painted floor and a wallpapered ceiling in the foyer. The black dining room pops with a gold ceiling, a dramatic effect that contrasts with the adjacent ivory living room.
Mendelson studied architecture, and that training influences his design approach. He creates rooms where form comes first and contrasting textures give spaces their shape. Usually, he says, it takes some time living within a space for clients to understand the full impact of the design. “When we’re done with a project, the client is of course happy with how it looks, but that’s just the initial reaction,” says Mendelson, who waits to hear their reaction several months later. “They might call to say that they just had a cocktail party in the house and the circulation worked beautifully and we were able to have a good time. Or they’ll say, ‘My son is doing so well, he’s flourishing in school, and it’s the way you designed his room.’ To me, that is so satisfying to hear.”
A father of three, Mendelson credits his relationship with his own children for shaping his approach to designing family homes. “If I had not had children of my own, I don’t think I would understand that part of design to this extent,” he says. Here, he discusses his approach to designing a home that is family-friendly but does not sacrifice on style.
ELLE Decor: What was your primary design goal for this New York apartment?
Gideon Mendelson: This client was drawn to modernism and wanted a glamorous home with sculptural furniture. At the same time, she wanted to create a home that was functional and kid-friendly and would address her family’s needs. We can create beautiful, high-end design that is also stress-free. It’s a juxtaposition that can exist.
ED: How can kid-friendly and high style go hand in hand?
GM: In the dining room, we used a racetrack-shaped dining table, which has kid-friendly corners. We specified fibers that are easy to clean—I would never put something easily stained, like a linen or cotton rug, in a child’s room. In the playroom, we used a vinyl wallcovering that you can wipe with a sponge. Having kids, I know what that’s like. I just wiped ink off of our breakfast chairs because I used a synthetic fabric there. But that doesn’t mean kids can’t destroy things. I do the best that I can, but if you have Sharpies and scissors in your apartment, I can’t defend against that!
ED: Why are the walls upholstered in the kids’ rooms?
GM: We were trying to do something interesting. When we design a young child’s room, we design for today and also for later. When this client’s daughter is older and needs a full-size bed, that upholstered wall can become a headboard and she can have a very mature, young adult room. Upholstery is really great for soundproofing, too. We picked a vibrant pattern here, which lends energy to an otherwise very pretty room.
ED: You used a similar effect in the main bedroom too.
GM: There, we have an upholstered wall behind the bed. When there isn’t any architecture, I say, let’s create it. Yes, you can add molding and paneling, but by making the upholstery part of the wall (we used decorative tape to create the shape of the bed frame), we created a composition.
ED: There are quite a few patterns here. How do you achieve balance?
GM: A lot of interior design is a balancing act of sorts. Everybody has a different threshold—pattern on pattern, or pattern and color together. We’re telling our clients’ story, and we have to get a sense of how much is too much for them. Over time, I have found that clients usually prefer neutral palettes and less pattern in living areas where they spend a lot of time. Then in areas where clients might be willing to take more of a risk—hallways, powder rooms, smaller spaces—we tend to go for it a little bit more.
ED: Why put a black dining room next to an ivory living room?
GM: I like the juxtaposition of the two. There’s a clear delineation architecturally between the rooms, but I wanted there to be an even more dramatic contrast. The client loved the idea of a darker room with brass components. It makes it a little more interesting, and it draws you into the space. Having a dramatic dining room off of a calm living room becomes a talking point and makes for a better party.
ED: What was a highlight of this project?
GM: The truth is at this stage of my career, I just want the opportunity to work with people I like and have the chance to do good work. It sounds really simple, but it’s not always the case. In this situation, these were repeat clients that I really respect and enjoy spending time with. I’ve worked with these contractors several times, too, and most of my team has been with me for many years. I felt like this was a dream team, and that is what makes a project successful.
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