An Urban Apartment: 5 Tips for Organizing/Displaying Your Collections

I know this client since the '80s; he is my ex-husband. He is one of my biggest fans these days and talks about the great job I've done on his urban apartment when I am not there to hear it. It's funny how things work out.
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I know this client since the '80s; he is my ex-husband. He is one of my biggest fans these days and talks about the great job I've done on his urban apartment when I am not there to hear it. He is a developer and has worked with plenty of architects over the years, but for his personal space, he chose to keep it "all in the family." Surely, I would have his back. It's funny how things work out.

At his previous place on the roof of the building where Alexander Calder's descendants and the Libeskinds resided, he would have to eat standing up but lie down to watch television. Not a good plan. Finally, he acquired a penthouse in Williamsburg, a hipster area of Brooklyn, big enough to have a dining table, a sofa in the vicinity of the television set, and ample space to display his favorite things.


He loves to buy things. He has a lot of "objects." From antique rugs, to Early Soviet decorative art, to Art Deco Tiffany silver. And it piles up. One of the challenges was to curate it, edit it down, and showcase pieces that enhance the space, not clutter it. The main objective was to create an infrastructure that keeps things in order.

Mainly, I set out to make his life easier. In addition to space planning skills, the project features my own urban style of interior design -- built-in cabinetry, kitchen, and selection of finishes.


I reconfigured the existing floor plan to create a master bedroom suite. I was able to enlarge the master bathroom without disturbing the building's plumbing. I opened up the third bedroom to create a library. Incorporating custom cabinetry throughout gave it consistency. Maintaining an open layout for the living room + dining + kitchen area, flanked by the terraces on either side, made the apartment feel very generous and expansive.

Here are the criteria I applied while organizing all the pieces my client can't live without.


1. Infuse with personal style. Tell a story.
Every piece has its own story to tell and it reveals something about the collector. Clearly, he is not a minimalist. It was my responsibility to ensure that the objects telling the stories come together, that they are woven with each other to create a bigger picture, like chapters in a novel.


2. Balance. Seek out symmetry. Direct the eye.
To organize a very eclectic collection of paintings my client has amassed on his travels, I enlisted the help of a modular hanging system. I thought it was perfect for this application because it afforded flexibility and effortless revision.


3. Orchestrate. Make it seem effortless.
My client is very proud of his original 1905 Sitzmaschine Armchair by Josef Hoffmann. He has other rare vintage furnishings, including a side table by Frank Lloyd Wright. But this is his home, everything should be touched and used; it shouldn't be too precious. After all, my goal was to make his life more comfortable. All of these pieces need to work together in the spirit of relaxed elegance.


4. Think in terms of categories, not rooms. Maintain consistency.
There is way too much silver! Even though there are silver objects showcased in every nook and cranny, not all of it can be on display at once. While designing the cabinetry, I knew that the drawers should be incorporated ad nauseam. They build suspense hide things out of sight for a while.


5. Create a fluid composition. Allow to compare and contrast.
The Boffi kitchen faced with glass is very understated. Just like the rest of the cabinetry that acts as structure, it is restrained. It serves to bring into focus and frame the opulent objects all around. It lets your eye rest and adds a flavor of quiet sophistication. It's just the right scale to give everything a fresh slant.


Alla is an architect on demand advising DIY home improvement enthusiasts online. To learn about how you can work with her, click here.

Photography: Colin Sussingham

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