September 18, 2017

BNO Design Gives an Upper East Side A Chic Canvas for Art

Benjamin Noriega-Ortiz helps an Upper East Side couple celebrate their collection of ancient—and modern—Chinese art.

by Deborah L. Martin interior designer Benjamin Noriega-Ortiz architecture Costas Picadas

BNODesign Benjamin-Noriega Ortiz
In a cozy seating area, the silk rug by Marc Phillips embraces an ottoman designed by Noriega-Ortiz and covered in a patchwork quilt purchased in a New Delhi street market. The rare Ming Dynasty chairs are made from Huanghuali wood. A sculpture by Swedish artist Carl Milles stands in front of a work by Chinese artist Xu Bing.


bro design, benjamin-noriega Ortiz
Over a fireplace in the living room designed by Annabelle Selldorf,
a work by Cui Fei, a Chinese artist working in Manhattan. She collects
delicate twigs and arranges them like Chinese calligraphy. The Buddha
head from Thailand dates to the seventeenth century, and the small
drawing is from Uzbekistan.

In 2008, Benjamin Noriega-Ortiz got a call from Helen Little, who was good friends with one of his clients. She wanted him to redo her apartment, but he was in the middle of designing the Mondrian SoHo and had to decline. "I had to say no because we were just so busy, but they got Annabelle Selldorf to do the interior architecture, so when we finally did get to do this project it already had the most amazing bones. Now Annabelle's a rock star!" Fast-forward a couple of years, and the Littles, who had inherited a major collection of Chinese art from William Little's father, needed help finding a way to celebrate important pieces from the Ming, Tang, and Ch'in dynasties, as well as more current pieces in their collection.

BNO Design
Left: A tree branch—rescued from the now-defunct Japanese shop Itowa—hangs in the guest bedroom covered in ribbons and small ornaments. RIght: The bathroom by Selldorf Architects incorporates Annabelle Selldorf’s signature use of dramatic marble.

"We really became curators to showcase the art in a way that made sense," says Noreiga-Ortiz. In the foyer, the designer floated a large table on an Iranian rug, one of a pair belonging to the homeowners. Behind the table, a series of artworks by contemporary Chinese artist Zhang Huan, take center stage. "The rug echoes the rust color of the dragonflies. The Shiva statues and the hand guard the entryway from evil."

BNO Design
Left: In the library, Selldorf-designed bookshelves line the room.
Right: On a series of Korean stepped tansu chests, Tang Dynasty terracotta camels and figures march the Silk Road out of China and towards the West. The 1,200-year-old figures include Jewish salesmen and Afghani traders who were all part of the ancient Silk Road story.
BNO Design
In the living room, sculptural Josef Hoffman chairs are a graphic gesture in
the serene room. An Iranian rug is layered over the shimmering grey silk oval,
and the Vicente Wolf-designed sofa anchors the space.

In the living room, Noriega-Ortiz placed a large-scale banana-silk rug, in shimmering gray. "The oval shape was important. Entering the room on a point would be very bad feng shui, whereas the oval creates a harmonious atmosphere." The main seating area includes a sofa by designer Vicente Wolf, who had done a previous iteration of the apartment. "Vicente's sofa was so perfect, we left it exactly as it was," says Noriega-Ortiz. Centered in the room are two paintings by Xu Bing, an artist whose monumental Phoenix sculptures hung from the ceiling of St. John the Divine in 2014. The smaller seating area includes a tufted ottoman covered in brightly-colored patchwork fabric Helen Little found in a New Delhi street market, and chairs that date back to the Ming dynasty—precious works of art in their own right. Says Noriega-Ortiz, "The art had to be number one. The apartment is like being in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, but it's someone's living room!"

bno design
In the entry foyer Noriega-Ortiz chose another Iranian carpet to echo the rust tones in the five large-scale works by contemporary artist Zhang Huan. Huan works in many genres—three years ago he directed the opera Semele at Brooklyn Academy of Music.
BNO design
Left: In the kitchen, a sculpture from Indonesia rests on a Saarinen table. Right: In the dining room an Art Deco table is flanked by matching chairs sporting their original upholstery. The floor-to-ceiling wall scrolls are by Chen Li, and are from the Ch'in Dynasty.

*Interested in more articles like this? Sign up for our Newsletter!