Interior Design Sep '06, "Triumph in Tribeca"
pages 274-281 by Craig Kellog
In the video for her smash hit "Be Without You," Mary J. Blige does her
breaking up and making up against the backdrop of what appears to be a perfectly lit New York apartment with a skyline view, earthy ceramics, a roaring fire, and the buxom modernist sofa she shares with her on-again-off-again beau. But Joe Nahem might just be her man the next time she needs an interior designer in real life.
Blige hasn't called yet, but an uptown gay couple with a young baby turned to Fox-Nahem Design after buying a loft in a brand-new TriBeCa building with interiors by Alan Wanzenberg Architect. Already in possession of perfectly proportioned door casings and a floor veneered in engineered oak, the owners were wary of any drastic change, but they nevertheless thought the 2,500-square-foot apartment could use a little drama. So Nahem found ways of rendering his trademark modern glamour with gentler gestures-bringing in violet upholstery and window sheers shot through with metallic thread to complement blue-chip vintage furnishings and minor upgrades. "We're in that high-end category but still not crazy or wasteful," he says.
As there was insufficient time for niggling fixes, Nahem's architectural interventions were strategic. In the foyer, he eliminated a door to a powder room in favor of additional wall space, then added a chocolate-brown creased fabric wall covering and a ceiling-mounted incandescent spot to highlight a punchy Keith Haring print. A 1970's Maison Jansen demilune console with a black mirrored top got paired with French 1950's sconces with pebbled-glass shades.
The mix is even more eclectic in the combination living and dining room. Next to a Josef Frank cabinet covered in applied botanical prints, Nahem placed a pair of French 1940's limed-oak stools with pony-skin seats. He re-engineered two mid-century club chairs, stripping them right down to the springs, in preparation for new cotton floral upholstery edged with waxy leather welting. Between the chairs stands an Indian-made carved white marble table by Paul Mathieu. ("Wish I had designed it myself," Nahem says.) Curving around a massive bronze cocktail table-and bridging the modern-traditional divide-is the designer's own asymmetrical tufted sofa. Beneath the dining area's spectacular glowing pendant globe, an American 1960's art-glass piece, sits Eero Saarinen's marble-topped pedestal table and his tulip chairs.
In the kitchen, Nahem installed a 7-foot-high back-splash of the same highly figured granite that Alan Wanzenberg had used for the counters. The oversize tiles are laid in a running-bond pattern that flows around the existing wall-mounted range hood, which stayed in place during construction. Projecting from the grout joints, Nahem's signature cantilevered stainless-steel shelves break up the stone and add a little decorative storage.
In the study, he skipped bona fide wood paneling in favor of a showier parquetry-veneer wall covering. Vintage accents in this room include an Italian recliner dressed up in violet wool; angular white stools that might be Karl Springer; and a pair of Donald Deskey floor lamps. Nahem's own chubby sofa, upholstered in soft caramel leather, is a favorite of the owners' 10-year-old standard poodle, Zoe. Above hangs a Marilyn by Andy Warhol.
The parade of names continues in the master bedroom, where Nahem affixed Serge Mouille sconces to the slabs of black walnut that bracket the wool-upholstered headboard with integral nightstands. To ground the ensemble, Nahem chose a blue-gray corduroy silk rug, one of the very first orders that he placed upon accepting the job. "You can't rush a Tibetan rug," he notes.
The act of finishing and unveiling an apartment, Nahem says, is like "opening a Broadway play." In preparation for a show-stopping installation blitz, his trucker had stockpiled all the furnishings, including a few pieces that were not on the plans. "I know the psychology. It's very emotional," Nahem says of these surprise elements, borrowed on approval. The dining room's 6-foot-high three-panel bronze folding screens, for instance, are surely something neither client ever imagined he needed. Luckily, they proved a hit. Bravo!