March 11, 2015

White Webb Designs a Park Avenue Duplex

In a Park Avenue duplex, Matthew White and Frank Webb marry Italian Revival architecture with 20th-century design and 21st-century art.

by Karen Lehrman Bloch interior designer White Webb, LLC photographer Art Gray


Blending the old and the new is on trend right now, with increasingly interesting pairings and juxtapositions. Partners since 2004, Matthew White, a staunch classicist, and Frank Webb, a proud modernist, are themselves an interesting combination, turning a mutual respect into fusions that are both fresh and timeless. A Park Avenue duplex in a Stanford White-designed building presented a dramatic showcase for their symbiotic partnership.

The client was an American businessman who loved the historic aspect of the Italian Revival-style building (a single family mansion that had been divided into co-op apartments in the late 1970s) but also wanted to make it suitable for modern life and the showcasing of his contemporary art collection, which includes pieces by Ed Ruscha and Allan McCollum. First goal: historic preservation. "The living room's unusual stone fireplace and tracery ceiling are original architectural details, which we were determined to restore to their turn-of-the-century glory," says White.

Next: improved flow and function. In the layout they inherited, half of the living room floor was open, and on the lower level a dining table had literally been built around a support column. They restored the living room floor and reconfigured the space so that all public rooms, including a study/guest room, were on the upper level. The support column was embedded within a new wall, which now divides the master bedroom from the dressing room on the bottom floor.

For the furnishings, says Webb, they drew upon the rich tradition of a "swank gentleman's club." The living room walls were papered in a deep gray-blue grass cloth to offset the artwork and make the pale fireplace and tracery ceiling pop. A deep blue custom sofa recedes into the walls, expanding the perception of space and creating a cozy place to read or sip a martini. The master bedroom, inspired by the iconic "gray flannel suit," is dressed in varying shades of soft gray.

With such special architecture, says White, "we let it take the lead and then layered in elements that provided either an interesting contrast or complement to it. The variety and blending remove it from being a period room and transport it into the here and now."

The end result? 100-year-old architecture is enhanced by equally spirited contemporary art, and a modern sensibility is grounded in a classical foundation, begetting, as Webb puts it, "a celebration of life."