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Moonlight Sonata
House & Garden, April 2004

Hail to silver, the new gold.

Silver is the moon’s own metal, the element of alchemists – in this case designers Tim Haynes and Kevin Roberts, who transformed a traditional Manhattan apartment into a relaxed yet sophisticated home for a busy, athletic couple with rambunctious young daughters.

The client wanted something fresh, with furniture that felt useful. no clutter, to accommodate real life. Earth tones, to relax the apartment’s inherent formality. And absolutely no gold. “I don’t like apartments with a lot of gold and gold leaf,” Roberts recalls hearing. The designers could retain the feel of a Park Avenue apartment, but, the client cautioned, “Don’t give me my mother’s grandmother’s I want this to be elegant, simple, and mine.”

Haynes, a Harvard-trained architect, and Roberts, who has graduate degrees in cultural anthropology, had worked with the family on a Hamptons house. “They had faith in us,” Roberts says, “and we knew their sensibility.” The result of the designers’ “serious commitment to silver” is a spare, high-ceilinged home. The aesthetic juxtapositions of mid-century-modern French and Italian furniture with eighteenth-century French and early-twentieth-century Austrian pieces is as welcoming of a gaggle of little girls as it is of grown-ups. The flow from public to private space withstands the occasional tricycle and scooter race, while the sweep from gallery to dining room accommodates the most urban adult gathering.

The designers’ success is obvious right at the vestibule, with its walls covered in silver tea paper. But it’s in the gallery, lit by a 1940s French crystal and silver globe, that the soulfulness of the marriage of eighteen-and min-twentieth-century designs becomes evident. A large 1940 French mirror, framed in mirror and cobalt blue lozenges, updates the eighteenth-century conceit of the mirror-in-a-mirror. Flanked by silver sconces, it hangs over an antique ebony Venetian bench. The effect recalls Cocteau’s 1946 fantasy La Belle et la Bete. Customized sterling silver hardware enlivens mahogany doors with panels of book-matched crotch-cut veneer. Despite the sheer elegance of the pieces, most of the team’s design was governed by a plebeian restriction: a prohibitively small service elevator. The Venetian bench arrived through a window, requiring rope, skill and a city permit.

Roberts’s juxtaposing continues in the living room. The soft Louis XVI pieces came from Maison Jansen, a mid-twentieth-century French design house ruled by Stephane Boudin, whose clients included Jacqueline Kennedy when she redid the White House. Josef Hoffmann, cofounder of the Wiener Werkstatte, a key element in the development of French Art Deco, designed a pair of circular end tables as sleek as seals. Haynes and Roberts remade a coffee table with silver leaf. The well-proportioned space also holds an important parchment and ebony writing desk by Gio Ponti and a powerfully simple cigarette table by the French Moderne designer Jacques Adnet. “Each piece speaks for itself,” Haynes says. “They have a certain quality that comes from being designed, and they make great and interesting combinations.” Yes, the children use the room, sliding off the seating, hiding in the curtains. The only restriction: no food.

In the dining room, under a gently vaulted ceiling Haynes designed to give the space more height, are an Art Deco-style parchment table, a mid-century Murano glass chandelier, two Warhols, and an Adnet sideboard. The combinations shows Haynes’s crossover agility and suggests evenings of bons mots from men in ventless cashmere dinner jackets and women in silk-satin bias-cut gowns.

And while that silver-screen image wafts through the entire apartment, practicality anchors the project. A truly enormous 1920s Brillie electric French station clock dominated the celadon and sage eat-in kitchen, with its enclave for homework and play. The limestone walls along the passage to the bedrooms can be washed quickly with a spray cleaner.

In the end, it’s the idea of kids being kids that defines the home, right down to the Venetian plastered walls installed in the public rooms. The ancient technique requires at least eight paper-thin layers of plaster applied by hand. It is a painstakingly slow, meditative exercise for painter Lillian Heard and her team, a process she loves “because it allows me to think like an artists and be involved in projects I consider really important.” The end results are walls of subtle colorations where each square inch has been worked over, the way an artist would approach a canvas, except “with the walls, the final layers is sealed and waxed,” Heard says. What’s more, the walls stand up to a lot of wear and tear without needing a touch-up.