DESIGN & ARCHITECTURE
Interior designers Jose Solis Betancourt and Paul Sherrill create an exquisite pied-à-terre where function, elegance, and a meticulously curated collection of art and antiques belie the space’s modest dimensions - a clear reminder that greatness can indeed be found within the smallest of packages.
PHOTOGRAPHY: MARCOS GALVANY
For interior designers Jose Solis Betancourt and Paul Sherrill, principals of the Washington DC- based firm Solis Betancourt and Sherrill, less can sometimes be more. In the thirty-three years of the firm’s history, it has been a rarity that they take on a project of 600 square feet. But this bland little apartment in Manhattan’s Murray Hill neighborhood, purchased as a pied-à-terre, was compelling to the designers because of the challenge of transforming the tiny space into a gracious urban escape. “This is essentially the same detailed design process we apply to all of our projects, even the grandest of estates,” says Paul Sherrill. “We just needed to think on a smaller scale keeping in mind that certain areas had to provide multiple functions.” In the end, for the designers it was not the size of the project that was the most important consideration, it was the careful implementation of a comprehensive design of the highest quality.
McKinnon & Harris' deCamp Sectional Ensemble is a remarkable choice, featuring striking canted arms, gravity-defying proportions, and gracefully tapered legs that seemingly defy the laws of physics. Designed to accommodate both intimate and expansive sectional configurations, this ensemble showcases the highest level of craftsmanship and meticulous hand finishing from McKinnon & Harris' workshop.
The apartment’s location directly across Madison Avenue from the iconic Morgan Library meant that design inspiration was abundant. “We wanted to infuse the space with the beautiful architectural details found in other pre- war buildings in the city,” says Jose Solis Betancourt. “The goal was to create an illusion of a grander scale by focusing the eye on small luxurious and tactile details.” The designers worked to reconfigure the closets, bath, and kitchen, to upgrade the space with more noble door casings and baseboards, and to add substantial paneled doors with proper hardware. The main entry door was off-center, so a second fixed-panel door was added to the right so that it would be symmetrical and balanced within the space. The closet doors and the door to the bathroom are flush concealed doors that are lined with a smoky blue damask fabric. The designers created an entry foyer by adding a pair of antique glazed French doors to define the area. “By creating a true entry foyer with glass doors, it slowed down the process of entering the space,” Solis Betancourt explains. “This helped create a procession of traveling through multiple spaces, which mentally makes the apartment feel larger.”
As a nod to the stately neighbor across the street, Sherrill and Solis Betancourt referenced literary themes throughout the interiors. The designers’ first purchase was a 19th century mahogany bibliothèque to anchor the room and accommodate a collection of books and treasures. In the main room light blue linen envelops the walls like a book cover, while underfoot the plush ecru hand-woven wool rug has thin silk pinstripes which echo the ledger lines in a writer’s journal. A former dining area was converted into a sleeping alcove, inspired by Thomas Jefferson -another bibliophile- and the architectural brilliances at his Monticello residence. The wallcovering of the alcove is like a window looking onto a romantic classically-inspired Italian landscape. In the kitchen, cabinetry panels are inset with murals of bookshelves.
Given the space constraints, the comprehensive design for the apartment had to be as functional as it was elegant. “The furniture had to be carefully considered to serve multiple purposes,” explains Sherrill. “For example, a desk chair would need to work as a dining room chair or pull up to the sofa as a side chair.” In the entry, concealed closets incorporate hanging space and drawer storage. For special gatherings, the center table in the main room can easily be transformed into an elegant dining spot and draperies across the alcove can be closed to hide the bed. The kitchen, used primarily as a mini bar, can be closed off from the living area with a concealed door wrapped in the same blue linen wallcovering.
The result is a gracious jewel-box apartment whose function, elegance, and curated collection of antiques and contemporary art belies its diminutive size. A reminder that, after all, good things come in small packages.