Color-Coordinating the Recession

 

You reportedly tried to help set up Linda Stein, the first scary super-powerful agent, before her death.

I did not set her up on dates. I would have loved to! We had known each other for many, many years, and became close in the last year of her life. … She called me for a referral for a project that’s still ongoing at the moment. … It’s in the Dakota. … You know what, maybe they would have done things differently, but they had already bought the apartment. What are you going to do? It needed to be renovated and they’re going ahead with it.

 

At the huge but troubled Manhattan House, you designed a tribute to the former resident Grace Kelly, even though her own apartment there was reportedly quite drab. Did you have to force yourself to forget it’s a postwar white-brick complex?

But it’s the first white-brick building! At this point we use the term pejoratively, but then it was a breath of fresh air; it was an entire block pulled away from the perimeters; it was white-brick to look clean and modern; it was raised on that marvelous base. It’s an important piece of architecture.

 

At 23 Gramercy Park South, a $22 million townhouse that’s been on the market for years, you designed a room in the style of Californication—other rooms got different Showtime TV themes. The house is still unsold. Will interior-design real estate gimmicks, to use a mean word, stop working in the recession?

Of course, when you have that kind of opportunity, if you want to call it a gimmick, I think of it more as a joint marketing effort … You know what, it doesn’t work each time, but all you need is one buyer.

 

In 2001, when you were hired to redesign Gracie Mansion, a quote in a Times article said of you, ‘He hasn’t truly cracked the Upper East Side. … People don’t know how to classify him and because of that he is not regarded as one of the great designers.’ How did that change?

Well, of course at that point I’d been in business for 22 years, so I must have been doing something right. … Having had the opportunity to work on Gracie Mansion and City Hall, more people were curious about me, or became more aware of me.

 

And you also designed Mayor Bloomberg’s 79th Street place, his horse farm in North Salem, his Cadogan Square apartment, plus City Hall’s new marriage bureau and wedding chapels. What design issues have you quarreled over?

When one has a fabulous relationship with a client for a long time, you obviously have a dialogue and a comfort and a trust that is a major and important component of each and every relationship.

 

You’ve never designed at 740 Park or 834 Fifth. Are you interested in patrician uptown co-ops?

Oh, absolutely! What I find exciting is working on different things. If I worked on the same thing day in and day out I would fall asleep, go into a Rumpelstiltskin 100-year nap. Was it Rumpelstiltskin who went into a 100-year nap? Somebody took a 100-year nap. … What I enjoy is that I have the opportunity to work on updated restorations of an apartment like at the Dakota, a historic preservation like I did at Gracie Mansion, a contemporary downtown loft space like I’m creating for myself in far West Chelsea … And we’re doing two radiation oncology clinics in Jacksonville, Fla.

 

Is that something that you would never have taken two years ago?

No, absolutely not. I love the clients—we started in a residential relationship, doing their house.And the doctor wanted something different.

mabelson@observer.com