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Open House
House & Garden, May 2004

The celebrated design team of William Diamond and Anthony Baratta had been to this Fifth Avenue apartment before. In fact, they had worked on it twice in the previous 17 years, for the same client.

As her family’s needs changed, so had the home, going from an elegant traditional to one that defined urbane American country living. “I think we invented the Diamond and Baratta style with her,” Diamond says. “That very cleaned-up, fresh country look, because she was always trying to figure out what works for her family.” What works best for a family that includes six children and three dogs is space, and this time the client told the designers that she wanted a loftlike feeling, lots of wood, blue: something “clean, fresh, young, and timeless” - a concept that manifested Lao-tzu’s precept “Embrace simplicity.”

Diamond and Baratta are the kinds of color and exuberant detail, and the client’s idea of paring down “forced us to rethink things,” Diamond says. “The has taught use.” She maintained her usual level of intimate involvement with the process, which expanded when an adjoining apartment became part of the home. “This project reflects her involvement,” Diamond says. “Simple, minimal patterns, not a lot of mixing color, a strong spiritual component.”

The designers banished “every aspect of a typical Fifth Avenue apartment,” Baratta says. Walls came down. “We left one structural column because we had to – otherwise the building would have caved in.” The result is a home filled with flowing light. Shades of blue, gray, and camel create a tranquil atmosphere. The space pulsates with an intellectual charge sparked by rigorous editing and reuse of pieces purchased for the previous two incarnations.

The glow of light-bleached pine from Fred Warren of London against the brightest of Benjamin Moore’s bright white painted walls warms the entry, which is dominated by a spectacular custom-designed staircase. “ It’s all about up, up, up, light, light,” Diamond says. “ Warren Platner’s table from Knoll’s current catalog and a steel 1930s French post office piece help organize the inevitable keys-hats-gloves-books clutter of coming and going. The designers juxtaposed an Arts and Crafts chair reminiscent of Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s 1897 Argyle side chair, a landmark on the route to modernism, with an eighteenth-century American corner chair, and anchored the space with a rug by Diamond Baratta and realized by one of the designers’ resources, A.M. Collections, Ltd. Inspired by a design credited to Terence Conran, the rug also evokes the New Look of the great British textiles designer Lucienne Day, whose work in the 1950s reflected of artists such as Miro and Calder. “Everyone comments on the rug,” says Diamond, who used his favorite blue-grey-green palette. “They don’t know it is fifties, they just think it is cool.”
The same eclecticism reigns in the 1,200-square-foot living room – up from 500 square feet in the first design – which easily accommodates three traditional sofas and two classic wingback chairs. The designers used only four fabrics and a custom-designed striped dhurrie woven by Shyam Ahuja Ltd. in New York. Nineteenth-century metal and upholstery chairs that flip into cots surround a massive, high-gloss, dark lacquered table made by Ron Seff. The gloss is “very Billy Baldwin from the sixties and seventies,” Diamond says. For a room filled with books and readers, the final touch is a pair of Chinese export lamps that were bought for the first design and then revitalized with blue-green paper shades.

In a family of foodies, the dining room has special meaning, and the honey-toned light there encourages lingering over meals. The client’s preference for striped rugs reappears in Baratta’s diamond-diamond rug, which repeats the colors of the rugs in the living room. Three similar sets of Vienna Secessionist dining chairs have seats in the same camel leather used in the living room.

The master bedroom achieves clarity in the mix: an iconic Knoll pedestal chair, a refined Arts and Crafts chair, a sofa, and dull-nickel lamps reincarnated from the home’s past lives. New small-paned windows provide a homey touch, an unexpected benefit of making all the apartment windows conform to the guidelines for a historic district protected by the city’s Landmark Preservation Commission.

Hominess and simplicity are often complex, of course, as in the clean-lined custom Arts and Crafts-inspired bed. The design involved four planes, each separated by an eight-inch recess. “It was tricky – not an easy piece to make,” says Thomas Newman, a cabinetmaker in Hoboken, New Jersey, and another of Diamond and Baratta’s skilled resources. “You couldn’t grab just any old boards; they had to be from one log.” Newman milled and dried the wood from a wild black cherry tree that he had selected. “Wood has to have just the right grain for a particular use,” he says. “It’s a subtle thing. Two hundred years ago, this is how things were made. There was an aesthetic decision every step of the way.”

The same can be said about the process of making the home simple, simpler, simplest. The client “has the same taste she has always had,” Diamond says. “She has always liked simple. Now everybody uses the same words: clean, fresh, young, timeless. Everybody wants blue. Everybody wants wood. She was ahead of it.”