Brian McCarthy Creates a Dazzling Jewel Box in the Sky Filled with Artisanal Details
The designer devises a New York City high-rise duplex that showcases an exceptional collection of design and riveting works of art
What’s the most seductive spot for cocktails in New York City?
It might just be a bar that designer Brian McCarthy recently created on an upper floor of a Park Avenue high-rise. The cocooning room, its arched floor-to-ceiling window framing a glittering downtown view, is lined in gold-dappled, coral-lacquer paneling with insets of swirling, smoky resin embellished with bronze details.
Descending from the gilded barrel-vaulted ceiling is a Drift light sculpture whose intricate bronze lattice contains delicate, light-emitting dandelion seed heads. The curved bar, topped with marble and trimmed in brass, features a marquetry front of dyed wood veneers composed in a painterly feather pattern. As refined as anything conjured during Art Deco’s heyday, this jewel-box space exudes echoes of earlier eras but also feels decidedly fresh.
“It’s very sumptuous, very glam,” says McCarthy, whose distinguished portfolio attests to the fact that he knows a thing or two about glamour. He devised the room for repeat clients who love to entertain family and friends. Lucky them.
The bar is just one highlight of a duplex apartment McCarthy masterminded for the couple, whose close-knit clan includes three adult children who are now having kids of their own. A decade earlier, McCarthy designed the family’s Long Island home, an “18th-century-inspired, very neoclassical house,” he explains. “And I wanted this, with their blessing, to be a very different experience.”
His aim wasn’t to abandon classicism entirely but to strip it down and give it a more contemporary feel, with Italian postwar architect Carlo Scarpa, who was known for his obsessively detailed modern interiors, as a primary inspiration. “When you really get into it, the level of detail and the finishes we chose are off the charts,” McCarthy says of the three-year project, which he oversaw in collaboration with architects Alexandre Gamelas & Catarina Santos Arquitectos and Andrew V. Giambertone & Associates, Architects. “But you have to really look. Nothing is in your face.”
That is not to say the apartment lacks for high-impact moments, starting with the double-height stair hall. McCarthy transformed the entry into an elegant elliptical shape, while replacing the staircase with one that has a more graceful sweep and a balustrade that plays off the marble floor he designed in a “sort of Renaissance spirit, with the geometries blown up to make it much more modern,” he explains. For this residence the clients committed to focusing on modern and contemporary art, and one of El Anatsui’s shimmering tapestries made from cast-off bottle caps is mounted above the stairs, helping to set the tone. A boldly faceted Hervé Van der Straeten chandelier and a curvaceous Wendell Castle concrete chair, both works of art in their own rights, add sculptural presence.
When it came to the apartment’s furnishings, apart from a number of choice vintage pieces, everything was custom designed by McCarthy and his team or commissioned from one of his go-to artisans. In the sprawling, sun-splashed living room, the mix features one distinctive piece after another, from midcentury Gio Ponti armchairs and a 1980 Philippe Hiquily biomorphic side table to a Campana Brothers Brazilian Baroque lounge chair and chaise, the latter specially designed for this project.
“The level of detail and the finishes we chose are off the charts, but you have to really look. Nothing is in your face”Brian McCarthy
An avid collector of contemporary art himself, McCarthy assisted in guiding the clients’ art acquisitions, accompanying them to galleries and fairs such as Art Basel in Switzerland, where they purchased the Glenn Brown painting of a twisting, statuesque female figure that hangs prominently in the living room. “That was the first piece of art that we bought, and it led to every other decision,” he says, noting that the couple is drawn to figurative works, including the more abstracted Wifredo Lam canvas displayed opposite the painting by Brown.
A number of rooms throughout the apartment don’t really call for art, thanks to decor that delivers its own visual oomph. Take, for example, the dining room, where McCarthy enlisted Paris studio Mériguet-Carrère to create wraparound plaster wall panels with tropical birds, trees, and flowers carved in relief. “It eliminates the need for, beyond the furniture, anything else that is art,” says McCarthy. This is especially true with one of Ingo Maurer’s fantastical chandeliers with exploding porcelain plates and flatware suspended over the custom lacquer table.
In the library, which features a handkerchief-vaulted ceiling inspired by John Soane’s 19th-century dining room, McCarthy clad the walls in cognac-hued lacquer paneling inset with sunburst-like expanses of straw marquetry. “The room’s lacquer is Jean Dunand inspired with the warm buttery caramel colors,” says the designer, who also outfitted the space with a dazzling mantelpiece made of cubic pyrite.
The emphasis on exquisite detail continues on the upper floor, which McCarthy completely reconfigured, giving over nearly two-thirds of the area to the primary suite. In addition to his and her baths and dressing rooms, there’s a home office for the husband and a lounge that has a sitting area as well as a desk for the wife. Anchoring that space is a series of atmospheric lacquer panels created by artist Nancy Lorenz using indigo-toned lacquer speckled with mother-of-pearl and silver leaf, while cloudlike Ayala Serfaty lights float above.
“It’s a rich apartment, but there’s a human quality to the feeling you get, being so warm and so welcoming,” says McCarthy. “Every room is one where you feel comfortable sitting down anywhere.” An exception, of sorts, is the lovely bar, which the designer says was conceived primarily as a place to mingle during cocktail parties. Though McCarthy did furnish it with a plush, scallop-back banquette. Just in case anybody swoons.
A version of this article first appeared in print in our 2023 Winter Issue under the headline “Everything Is Illuminated.” Subscribe to the magazine.