October 17, 2016
Juan Montoya Designs a Warm Park Avenue Pied-à-Terre
Juan Montoya deploys a series of masterful sleights of hand to make a low-ceilinged Park Avenue apartment feel grandly expansive.
by Jorge S. Arango interior designer Juan Montoya photographer Miguel Flores-Vianna
At social gatherings sprinkled across decades, Juan Montoya would occasionally run into the owner of a well-known Latin American cosmetics company. A fellow Colombian, this elegant woman had followed Montoya's work for years and, he recalls, "She would always say that when she sold her company, she was going to hire me to design a home for her." When this eventually came to pass, the mogul, true to her word, invited Montoya to decorate a Park Avenue pied-à-terre she had purchased with her husband.
At 2,500 square feet, and boasting three bedrooms and four baths, the apartment was comfortably proportioned. But, recalls Montoya, "Although it was a lovely prewar building, the apartments had low ceilings." Additionally, during its recent conversion to condominiums, the spaces had lost the characteristic architectural detail of this period. Montoya was driven—literally—to distraction.
"Every ceiling has been addressed to allow for your eye to feel you're in a taller space," Montoya explains of his response to this conundrum, essentially a tour de force of optical trickery. Almost every room now sports coffered ceilings. In a long white corridor, five-stepped moldings give importance to the coffers' recesses, and plaster relief work—designed by Montoya and executed by Nina Helms—adds sculptural interest. In the library, now richly paneled in cerused oak, dentil moldings introduce the coffers. In the dining room, Montoya designed a shallow circular dome that pulls one's gaze aloft. And in the master bedroom he made right angles disappear, curving the space's Douglas Fir paneling gracefully inward at the point where walls met ceiling. "I wanted to make it feel like you were in a train or a ship from the 1920s," he says.
There are plenty of distractions at wall and ground level, too. "We played with all kinds of materials and textures to make it warm and inviting," Montoya observes. Silk—on window treatments and upholstery—abounds throughout. The entry hall features Brazilian rosewood paneling and an attention-grabbing black-and-white marble houndstooth floor. In the master bath, subtly shimmering wallpaper adds understated glamour and contrasts with the Absolute Black marble and beautifully figured wood of the custom vanity. And art by the likes of Olga de Amaral, Manolo Valdés, Rufino Tamayo, and Lucio Fontana, among others, keeps the attention at eye level. Custom furnishings and intriguing assemblages of objects do the rest.
Montoya's dissimulation is so effective that no one—save, perhaps, for a New York Knicks cager—would be the wiser.
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