After purchasing a condo in New York City’s Flatiron District, telecommunications executive Brian Gelfand decided to create a “modern, relaxing and enjoyable” home where he could kick back with friends. “My first idea was to decorate it myself but I quickly came to the realization that I wasn’t good at it,” he admits.
Next, he contacted family friends, DC-based designers Robert Cole and Sophie Prévost, whose contemporary interiors he admired. “I had seen their work in magazines and liked their style,” he says. “It’s modern but warm at the same time.”
Gelfand frequently travels for business to Bethesda, where he grew up, and was able to consult Cole and Prévost at their Dupont Circle offices. “He showed us pictures of what he liked—pieces with clean lines and neutral colors, but not ultra-modern,” recalls Prévost, who led the design effort. “He wanted a grown-up apartment, so we turned the condo into a sophisticated bachelor pad.”
Drawn to the Fifth Avenue property for its high ceilings, open plan and contemporary kitchen, Gelfand says the 1,613-square-foot unit is “a big improvement from where I had been living.” An office off the foyer allows him to work from home and the living/dining area provides enough room for entertaining. “My previous apartment was too small to allow for that,” he notes.
Part of Prévost’s charge was to find affordable furnishings within the 30-year-old homeowner’s budget of about $50,000, which is considered modest for most Washington designers. Prévost selected many pieces from Jesse Furniture, an Italian manufacturer that used to have a showroom at Tysons Corner Galleria. “They have a nice, clean look and aren’t that expensive,” says Gelfand of the company’s designs.
In the living room, simple, boxy sofas from Jesse are arranged to face a flat-screen TV mounted on a walnut wall system, also from the Italian manufacturer. The chevron-patterned rug was chosen for its graphic play on a men’s suiting pattern.
“It is important to have a good neutral core,” says Prévost of budget-conscious designs such as this one. “But make sure to invest in a few special ‘jewels.’ It is like wearing Gap with an Hèrmes scarf.” In the living room, the jewels are reproductions of classic modern designs—Isamu Noguchi’s Mid-Century coffee table, Hans Wegner’s three-legged shell chair and an Ingo Maurer lamp, which all stand out as sculptures within the pared-down décor.
Over the sofa, a brightly striped print by Washington Color School artist Gene Davis reminds Gelfand of his DC-area roots. “Artwork is available on all budgets, personalizes your space and gives it character,” says Prévost. “It takes work to find the right pieces, but is well worth it.”
To maintain the visual flow, the designer extended the living room’s pale colors and wood finishes into the dining area next to the open kitchen. White-upholstered Jesse chairs are pulled up to a glass-topped table with a wooden base, and arranged under a spidery chandelier left by the condo’s previous owner. A Peter Lik photograph of the Flatiron Building on one wall captures the namesake of the neighborhood where Gelfand now lives.
At the opposite end of the dining space, a large, round mirror and a Jesse console are mounted on a wall painted vibrant gold. “Paint is such a wonderful way to transform a space on a tight budget,” says Prévost. “In this apartment, it adds depth, glow and an unexpected splash of color to an otherwise neutral scheme.”
The designer emphasizes that an important part of this makeover was changing the lighting. A combination of recessed down-lights in the ceilings, table and floor lamps, and daylight from tall windows ensures the appropriate levels of brightness at all hours. “The fixtures do not have to be pricey—Home Depot has great selections—but they do need to be appropriately selected and judiciously placed,” advises Prévost.
In the master suite, two lamps and a rug from Room & Board accompany the Jesse bed. An Eames lounge chair and ottoman in the corner of the room offer a comfortable spot to relax. “Those were some of the few pieces I kept from my last place,” the owner says. “Otherwise, this apartment was a fresh start for me.”
Writer Deborah K. Dietsch is a frequent contributor to Home & Design. Photographer Timothy Bell has studios in New York City and Washington, DC.
INTERIOR DESIGN: SOPHIE PREVOST, ASID, principal in charge, ColePrévost, Inc., Washington, DC.