By the time Rachel Robinson, a partner at Durodeco, had set eyes on this studio apartment in New York City’s Upper West Side, she already knew what she and the owners could do. Robinson met the couple five years earlier as they began building a property in Colorado to be closer to family, and they had relied on her expertise.
"The owners were working with a local architect who had given them traditional two-dimensional floor plans, but they were eager to better visualize the home they would be living in," she says. "In the process, I got to know their tastes and I was able to offer design advice along the way."
Even after the Colorado home was completed, the couple didn’t fully give up their ties to the city. They frequently returned to Manhattan for work and friends, and decided they wanted a place to gather that wasn’t a restaurant or hotel. "They love to cook and entertain, but they also needed to downsize from their previous two-bedroom apartment," Robinson says.
In 2018, Robinson saw what they had in mind for a smaller footprint—a studio measuring only 350 square feet—and it presented a fresh challenge from what they accomplished in the past. "The apartment was updated sometime in the mid-twentieth century, and it required a full gut renovation," Robinson says. But as cramped as the quarters were, it had plenty of potential.
Set a block from Central Park, the building was once a Beaux-Arts hotel that still retained some Parisian features. Robinson decided to embrace those flourishes and infuse them with modern touches. "We had to figure out a layout that would make the studio feel as generous and open as possible, while still offering practical storage solutions," she says.
In the original configuration, the kitchen was hidden at the back of the apartment with little access to natural light. Robinson wanted to ensure that the couple could host guests easily—and no one feels like they’re socializing in a bedroom—so her biggest priority was creating a clearly defined living area.
Her team moved the kitchen to the front of the home, and gave it an L-shape to maximize prep and storage space. Then they built an alcove where the original kitchen stood for a more secluded bedroom, which is separated from the living area by a newly renovated bathroom. Lastly, the team updated the ceiling with recessed lighting, installed new double-hung windows, and arched the doorways to match a curved media niche fit for open shelving and a television.
"One of the few remaining historic details prior to renovation was a small plaster cove between the wall and ceiling, which formed an elegant curve and caught the afternoon light beautifully," Robinson says. "Curves became a way to evoke that original detail, but also to soften the edges of the home and emphasize its visual flow."
Shop the Look
Another throwback detail that Robinson approved can be seen in the flooring used throughout the studio. In keeping with the building’s Parisian influences, her team chose to install reclaimed oak in a herringbone pattern that’s reminiscent of that city’s style. "It has many markings from its past life, like former nail holes and other imperfections that impart a distinct character," she says. "The soft blues and grays accented with black and white were carefully selected to complement but not detract from the oak."
As for the apartment’s modern features, Robinson detailed the home with small-space conveniences and big-ticket comforts. There’s a dining table that fastens to the wall as custom artwork, a cozy bed with plenty of privacy, and high-end appliances that work with the kitchen’s size—and everything gets just enough sun. Robinson completed the property this fall, and in all, it feels thoughtfully efficient. "Given the historic nature of the building and the neighborhood, the design blends the traditional and the contemporary in a way that achieves something decidedly renewed, but also timeless," she says.
Builder: Isaac Esterman, BZJ Construction LLC
Interior Design: Durodeco
Cabinetry Design: Mayan Metzler, German Kitchen Center
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