November 15, 2016
Alan Tanksley Brings a Fresh Point of View to an Upper East Side Home
A serendipitious encounter brings interior designer Alan Tanksley a highly-coveted project on the Upper East Side.
by Nicole Haddad interior designer Alan Tanksley photographer John Armich
An Upper East Side Affair
New York, while vast, forms a surprisingly intricate web that connects people in the most obvious and subtle ways. In the 1990s, Alan Tanksley, an interior designer and expert colorist, was working with the late Mark Hampton—a decorator celebrated for his relaxed traditionalism and ability to transform his style with the times. At the time, the duo took part in the design of a house in East Hampton. Fast-forward to 2005, years after Tanksley opened his own eponymous firm in 1993, and the house reappeared on his radar with new owners. Delighted to revisit the design of an old project, that serendipitous project also yielded Tanksley the chance to design the clients' newly married daughter's Upper East Side home—which just so happened to be the previous home of an old friend.
Fateful encounter or not, Tanksley set to work on the redesign of the 18-foot-wide, six-story brownstone on the Upper East Side. "The façade of the house is very traditional," says Tanksley, "so one would expect the interior to reflect that." Instead, the designer went for an unexpected approach. Upon entering the house, a classically-scaled parlor floor entrance received a provocative twist. Rather than instituting the customary traditional high-back wingback chairs, Tanksley installed a pair of Edward Wormley Elephant chairs from the '50s and added a curvy, stainless steel stool by John Lyle. An expertly-placed Art Deco Venetian-style mirror from Lost City Arts makes the room feel expansive while a chandelier from Donzella highlights a charcoal drawing by artist Robert Longo over the Chinese console. Sconces from Circa Lighting cast ambient light.
In the living room, a beautiful grey marble French Empire mantel, a circa 1970s faceted mirror from Lobel Modern, and a cast-bronze bust of the client's own collection adorns one wall. "I love bold statements" says Tanksley. "So instead of employing a salon wall, the mirror, placed perpendicular to the windows, creates a sort of window to the rest of the windows and gives a sense of width to the narrow room." Chinese chairs flank a curved Marshall Field sofa perfect to curl up in. A custom-made sofa lines the wall opposite the mantel, complemented by a Robsjohn-Gibbings chair the designer had reupholstered. On the coffee table, three Bullet ceramics by James Salaiz through Cristina Grajales Gallery add an element of interest while a modernistic painting sits between the two windows. "I don't necessarily feel that art should be chosen for decoration," says the designer, "They had a visceral reaction to it. Traditional rooms exhibiting contemporary artwork, especially if they are narrow, have great impact."
When the clients get the urge to entertain, they lead guests down to the dining room on the garden level of the house. Tanksley transformed the space into the essence of chic, layering the walls in a hand-applied plaster finish in Hermès orange. He then painted the ceiling a high-sheen, deep bronze that resembles leather—a counterintuitive move that gives the room the illusion of a high ceiling. A striking 20th-century Italian mirror by Borsani through Fred Silberman Antiques reflects the Edward Wormley dining table and sideboard. Mahogany chairs by Paulo Buffa were upholstered in a gorgeous oatmeal-colored textured fabric to balance out the weight of the room.
For nights when the family just wants to relax, they head up to the third floor. Not one to ignore any space, Tanksley decorated the landing with a gorgeous sofa in luxurious mohair velvet that pops against the Phillip Jeffries grasscloth wallcovering. "I love textured walls. They are so beautiful in an urban setting—they add an element of sophistication, and that textured element functions as a foil to the formality of the space," says Tanksley. Since the floor was so beautifully complex, the designer left it uncovered and flanked the sofa with two vintage American ebonized tables with stone tops. Venini glass table lamps and a large-scale photograph infuse the area with a more modern and approachable spirit while a decorative bronze bust on a stone pedestal near the office entrance draws the eye.
In the family room/library, also located on the third floor, Tanksley worked with the wood in place which he says had a "Biedermeier" feel to it. To keep the space from looking heavy-handed, he layered in furniture, window treatments, and floor coverings in complementary deep greens and blues to introduce a more relaxed feel and anchor the space. Custom, gilded iron and travertine side tables add a neutral appeal and nicely offset the elegant ebonized columns. Since the family spends a lot of time in this space, treasured possessions fill the space. Well-read books, unique black-and-white ceramics by Guy Veryzer, allegorical depictions, Greek pottery, and avant-garde sculptures line the shelves. A Picasso drawing even hangs over the mantel. Underfoot, a cut pile area rug in a deep olive green adds an element of comfort while a coffee table designed by James Mont covered in Holly Hunt leather sits front and center.
While the home exhibits multiple rooms to enjoy oneself in, Tanksley made sure the master bedroom was a departure from the rest of the house. Located on the fourth floor, a soothing palette that exudes serenity and reflects a '40s-style elegance pervades the room. A 1930s silver-plated chandelier over a pink tufted satin bench added for levity perfectly complements the two-tone Pratesi bedding. A velvet headboard plays favorites with the subdued damask curtains, while a maple dresser designed by Tanksley sports a crema marfil marble top. Eye-catching shagreen boxes from BK Antiques keep to the theme and reference the silk and satin chair near the curtains, kept company with a shagreen side table from John Lyle.
As for the clients' reactions to the big reveal? "They were thrilled" says the designer. "It is always a pleasure to work with clients who understand the process and who are willing to collaborate. It was also wonderful to take their ideas, and turn them into something so far beyond what they imagined."
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