July 5, 2016

Ernest de la Torre Designs an East Side Home That Sings the Blues

Designer Ernest de La Torre and Architect Edward Siegel help a powerful client get in touch with his inner exuberance.

by Jorge S. Arango interior designer Ernest de la Torre photographer Peter Murdock architecture Edward Siegel, Cooper Robertson


It takes some people years—and several residences—to understand what makes a home truly their own. The septuagenarian owner of this 3,580-square-foot East Side apartment, explains designer Ernest de la Torre, "had made lots of money, but he never spent it on his homes." The client's son persuaded his father to take the leap, offering to manage the project himself. Novice that he was, the client's only initial input was that he loved the East River views outside his windows and the color blue.

So de la Torre, who describes his client as "powerful and intimidating," proceeded cautiously, creating a fairly safe plan. "He looked at me," recalls de la Torre, "and said, 'Do you really think I'm that boring?' He wanted something fun and vibrant."

He and architect Edward Siegel of Cooper Robertson began by reformatting the layout, collapsing four bedrooms into three and correcting the apartment's eccentricities. "The dining room soffit looked like a big mistake," says Siegel. "[It had] nothing to do with anything." Siegel continued the soffit around the room, creating a shallow tray ceiling. Along one wall the doors leading from the elevator foyer and the kitchen were different sizes and materials so the architect made them symmetrical. Siegel also redesigned two rooftop terraces, building a pergola around an existing fireplace, installing an outdoor kitchen and adding grass and a water feature.

De la Torre decided to "bring the river in," adopting the client's beloved blues in the loft-like main space, the master bedroom and elsewhere. A Lucite waterfall coffee table conceptually enhanced the liquid impression, as did abalone mosaic veneers on the dining chair backs. De la Torre also introduced undulating shapes and patterns to suggest waves and ripples—a guest room's drapes and bedcovers, a shagreen chest in the master bedroom with a voluptuously double-bowed front, and a scallop-faced dining room sideboard.

The master bath was left largely intact, except for a sky blue ceiling and polished nickel mirror frames with makeup-light borders Siegel designed.

Other spaces are more grounded, such as the elevator hallway. De la Torre commissioned a mural of flowering branches from artist Richard Woods that completely changed its tunnel-like character.

One night over wine, the client told the men, "I've lived a long life, but never this well. You two have changed my life." He has a new understanding of how a well-designed home is a reflection of personal expression. The design team, in fact, is currently reimagining several of the family's other residences.

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