THE HURLEY FAMILY’S apartment on East 88th Street does not look like a hotel room. “If your house looks like a hotel, is it really your home? Is it really a piece of you?” asks interior designer Micky Hurley, pondering the recent trend of luxe but impersonal beige homes. Having arrived in New York from the glossy pages of what seems like every Chilean design and society magazine in existence, the Hurleys (Micky and Malu) have brought with them something that’s been missing in New York interiors for a while–joie de vivre.
Fun, which has presumably been hidden in a Manhattan Mini-Storage unit waiting for the return of Wall Street, is creeping back into spaces across the city, especially those in which Hurley & Company has had a hand. Color flares across homes designed by Micky like the sweep of a bullfighter’s cape, coating rooms arranged with antiques and oil paintings. Say ciao to austere upholstery and restrained behavior: In Hurley’s world, life is splashed with Champagne (it doesn’t matter what vintage as long as it is poured into beautiful glasses), lit by candles and filled with books, interesting people, gorgeous children (the Hurleys have four of them) and family photographs in silver frames.
Micky’s aesthetic “has a lot to do with where he was born and how he grew up,” says his wife, Malu. “It’s very Gabriel Garcia Marquez.” Malu is 29; she was 18 when she and Micky eloped 11 years ago this May, eight weeks after meeting in Santiago, where Malu was taking a gap year from the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. Peruvian-born and Hotchkiss-educated, she is spokesperson, partner and translator for Micky, who is descended from the Spanish conquistadors who founded Chile and who looks like you’ve always hoped a conquistador would: tan, blond and dashing, with ocean-blue eyes.
He grew up in a Spanish-style house in Santiago with his mother, his grandparents and his great-grandmother, who lived to 104 and whose permission he would request before rearranging furniture in the house. His grandmother, a baroness, was born in a castle in Ireland; his grandfather accompanied Micky on antique-buying expeditions at the age of 12. His mother was married for 14 years to Pier Luigi Samaritani, the acclaimed Italian opera director, and Micky briefly lived with them in an 18th-century Tuscan villa, where Pavarotti and Baryshnikov would come for dinner.
The passion for drama was infectious: after getting married, Micky and Malu lived in Barcelona, where Micky studied acting. Back in Chile, he redirected his theatrical eye to furniture, opening an antiques store, Hurley and Company, in Santiago. The Hurleys became darlings of the South American press–appearing on the covers of Estilo de Vida y Decoracion, Chile’s answer to Elle Décor, and [Hola]–for their lifestyle and their own presentation: they are as good-looking a fixture as anything in their homes, far less antique and just as well-styled.
In Chile, their lavender-walled living room and Hermes-orange dining room (tucked behind a hidden bookcase door) were the settings for weekly dinners at which linguists and painters mingled with former Chilean presidents and stylish octogenarians. “The same way he decorates, he issues invitations to dinner,” says Malu, “a mix.” Parties lasted late into the night and were punctuated with such events as Micky locking the doors to the house so revelers couldn’t leave (everyone complained, then they started dancing), or a surprise midnight delivery of a shipping carton of purchases from Europe (the guests helped unpack the crates). Eventually he began to design furniture, like painted chairs in a Louis XIV style, upholstered in colored silks.
“All the time we knew that he was destined to do even more,” says Malu, “even though he had this fantastic clientele he loved in Chile, his peer group–his style–was that of a larger market. We always knew that New York was the new next step.” When Malu was accepted to Parsons to pursue a dream of being a graphic designer, they made the move.
Their second-floor postwar Upper East Side rental is admittedly less jewel box than shoebox. Micky built walls to enclose the open kitchen (“Why are Americans so focused on the kitchen?” he asks) and create a foyer where a late 17th-century Flemish tapestry hangs near hall chairs from the family castle in Ireland. The living room ceiling is bordered in grosgrain ribbon. Bergères clad in ikat and leopard prints are arranged in multiple conversation groups beneath portraits by Robert De Niro Sr. and Philip de László. And for all the fine fabrics and bijoux accessories, there’s one rather family-friendly aspect: a family actually lives here.
His first American project was his father-in-law’s Key Biscayne condo, featured on the cover of Coastal Living magazine. Defying the South Florida humidity, Bonnards and Dufys hang among beach-casual sofas, crisp and clean but “lived in,” Micky says. His rooms have soul. “I trust his taste completely, as well as his ability to honor and evoke my own style and personality,” said his friend and client Ariana Rockefeller.
Micky’s newest project is a full-floor apartment in Brooklyn’s 1891 Montauk Club; its owner, Cat Sheer, and her husband fell for the atmosphere and spirit of the Hurleys’ Upper East Side apartment and wanted the same magic. Original detail like inlaid tiles, stained glass windows and mahogany wainscoting demand that homage be paid: Micky has sourced low-maintenance Lee Jofa striated cotton-linen velvet that resists wrinkles and children’s handprints. He has introduced his client to Fortuny, whose fabrics are befitting of the building’s Moorish Revival architecture, Park Slope’s answer to the sort of Venetian palazzo where some of Micky’s ancestors may have felt comfortable.
It may all sound very grand and aristocratic, but money is not the currency here–chic is, and above all, authenticity. “Living fantastically” is a favorite phrase of Micky’s.
Effort and care are more important expenditures than cash, though Micky sees antiques today as a good value. “There’s a permanence to good pieces,” he says, and a value to investing wisely for a lifetime of use. “Instead of a luxury sofa that costs thousands and thousands of dollars, you could be buying a beautiful commode,” says Malu.
Pieces with history are even more important when decorating smaller spaces: “Huge spaces you can put a white sofa in, and it still looks fantastic because the architecture does the work for you,” she says. Meanwhile, for smaller spaces to succeed, one needs layers: “It’s the story that’s told, of different ideas and different pieces.” Micky’s grandmother told him that “you don’t buy antiques, you inherit them,” but he doesn’t think there’s anything inauthentic about buying old pieces and portraits. You can make them your own. “You can bring life into the things just as much as they’re breathing life into your space,” he says.
And if that space has the Hurley look, it just might be enough to make even the most strident minimalist question that white sofa and wonder–just for a second–what it would be like to “live fantastically”: to hang a tapestry on the wall, open a bottle of wine, turn on a samba and throw an impromptu dinner party for 30, with Malu and Micky as the guests of honor. After all, the most charming accessory in a Hurley & Company interior is probably the Hurleys themselves.