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
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.
"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."
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!"
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