Alec Holland Decorates a TriBeCa Family Home with Parisian Savoir-Faire.
The interior decorator Alec Holland was putting the finishing touches on a loft in lower Manhattan when the clients came to him with an unusual request. They had decided to leave their current digs in favor of a quieter, more desirable unit with wonderful natural light in the same building; and so would he mind starting over, three stories up? Initially, Holland and the clients had planned to adapt his design scheme to the new space. But the wife, it turned out, had a more ambitious idea.
She was yearning for a traditional Paris flat, she told him. And since she and her family had no desire to relocate to another country — they are dyed in the wool New Yorkers — she was counting on Holland to transform the new place, which has four bedrooms distributed over 4,050-square-feet, into a space imbued with the style and flair of an intimate Paris apartment cum family home. There was to be no structural work; the success of this elaborate exercise in make-believe would rely solely on the thoughtful deployment of carefully chosen art, furniture, lighting, and small, beautiful objects. Oh, and one other thing: the furniture would have to be scaled to accommodate tall people.
It was a big ask. Needless to say, the architecture and ornate interior finishes of old Paris apartment houses with their stonework, plaster walls, parquet floors, and ornate molding have little in common with converted warehouse buildings in New York City. Holland, who in a previous life was a television script writer on a comedy show, has a keen sense of the absurd and also of fun; thus, he was game. “The trick,” he says, “was to take a big open space and change it into one that felt European, warm, inviting.” In doing so, he hoped to evoke a feeling rather than create a stage set.
The result is unabashedly glamorous and ever so parisien. But Holland had to deal with one typically New York cauchemar (nightmare) along the way: furniture delivery angst. He’d bought a pair of bookcases clad in linen that were too big for the building’s elevator. “The lobby is small with many right degree angles,” he recalls, “and although I’d measured the elevator to make sure the bookcases would fit, it wasn’t until they arrived that I discovered they couldn’t be angled in.” Panic all around. A “sofa doctor” was brought in to remove the crown and base moldings, leaving the linen cladding untouched. Once in the apartment, the bookcases were later re-assembled, good as new.
The elevator opens directly into the apartment so Holland put a lot of thought into the entrance hall, painting its walls in a pale pink hue with a silky lacquer finish from the French company Ressource. Elsewhere, a pair of wool and silk runners with gold undertones (originally a single rug which he divided into two) strike a posh-bohemian note.
The main living area is an object lesson in Euro-elegance, with such totemic pieces as Jean Prouvé’s long-armed Potence wall lamp, two swivel chairs by Milo Baughman, and a mustard-colored Gio Ponte chair. An outsize sectional sofa by Vincent Van Duysen anchors the seating arrangement and a mohair rug pulls it all together. A whimsical lime-green Kartell floor lamp lightens the atmosphere.
“Needless to say, the architecture and ornate interior finishes of old Paris apartment houses with their stonework, plaster walls, parquet floors, and ornate molding have little in common with converted warehouse buildings in New York City.”
As does the chandelier over the dining table. The custom piece, nearly nine feet long, was made by Elizabeth Lyons, the founder of More Fire Glass Studios. It consists of forged steel branches ornamented with cascades of hand-blown pink and amber glass magnolias that took months to make. Holland calls it “an art fixture,” as it isn’t wired into the ceiling because the couple doesn’t care for overhead lighting. (The dining table is illuminated by vintage brass table lamps and candles, the light from which bounces off the glass.) “We picked the color palette and Elizabeth Lyons delivered the fixture herself — seventy-five boxes of flowering beauties.” Although the piece was made in Buffalo, New York, it wouldn’t look out of place in — where else? — someone’s dream of a Paris apartment.
Photographs by Gennevieve Gurrappo