Recent endeavors in self-improvement have taken me to New York over the course of eight consecutive weekends. On each visit, I’ve stayed with city friends in their city apartments. In each place, one prevailing element strikes me: life explodes dynamically in every corner of the spaces. Put another way, New York apartments don’t have a lot of closets. And while it must be the greatest nuisance to the dweller, I find an unexpected charm in the outcome.
At first, I thought it was just the white walls that made me feel so comfortable, so poised for a satisfying adventure.
As a designer, my fifteen year relationship with color has taken me through valleys and forests of dense, saturated tones and brought me up on shores of glinting white sand. A dash of red, the occasional umbrella; a swath of green and orange as a towel is unfurled. Said more prosaically, I used to love high-drama hues in every room. Now I’m happier with pops of color in larger plains of clean, comfortable white.
It’s not surprising that I gravitated to rich color when I began this journey. The year I started my internship, jewel tones had just peaked and what was left in their wake was a highly specific and uniformly popular palette: butter yellow, tomato red, and sage green. It was a color scheme that sounds like a terrific garden sandwich in retrospect.
Having lived in a house of white rooms as a child, my first Benjamin Moore color deck was the display case of a proverbial candy shop in which I soon gorged myself. I ran headlong at the color wheel and shortly thereafter my home bore the results. Room by room, I’ve dialed it back over the years as our collection of art and just stuff has diversified, demanding a more subtle setting to be fully appreciated.
There is something about white walls, about living in shells you are forbidden or discouraged to personalize, that permeates the residence with a vacation-house feel. Yet more likely, I’ve decided, it is that – limited on storage – most New Yorkers must leave the evidences of every personal interest out in plain sight. Although not the custom of my largely suburban clientele, who have basement and garage space aplenty, I find something inspiring and refreshing about seeing a bicycle parked in the kitchen; unfinished canvases cocked in gentle disarray against the living room wall; or a tumbler of brushes with paint-speckled handles posing as a bouquet of flowers in the well of a window casing. Rather than being relegated to forgettable outposts of the home, here hobbies are forced into plain sight, reminding the dweller to go for a ride around the city or to finish the art project that inspires their soul.
I’m sure to a one, each New York dweller would stare at me in miscomprehension before saying flat out, “You’re crazy. We’d love a place to store all this stuff. You think I like hanging my kayak over my sofa?”
All the same, as a designer who more and more places sincerity over all else in good homes, I cannot feel there is a takeaway from these cramped quarters. If nothing else, it’s a clarion call, a reminder to keep your loves out where they can speak to you.