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
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
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.”