Gallery for Living

Interior designer Ronald Bricke creates a home around art in his perfectly calibrated Upper East Side apartment

In Ronald Bricke's Manhattan living room, most furniture and walls are in white or neutral hues so they disappear as a backdrop for the art.
In Ronald Bricke's Manhattan living room, most furniture and walls are in white or neutral hues so they disappear as a backdrop for the art.
Designer and homeowner Ronald Bricke.
Designer and homeowner Ronald Bricke.

Ronald Bricke has always known what he wants. For the past 30 years, he’s lived in an apartment in the Lenox Hill neighborhood of Manhattan, a place he’d dreamed about a decade before signing on the dotted line. “When I was first working in New York,” says Bricke, now an interior designer at the helm of his own firm, “I would pass by a building going up that I thought was pretty groovy.” The rent was unattainable on a young assistant’s salary, but in the back of his mind Bricke considered, “Maybe someday.”

Fast-forward 10 years to an impending relocation and indifferent realtors who kept showing him the dreaded “white brick building with an L-shaped living room.” About to quit searching, Bricke found himself near the Upper East Side building he remembered. As luck would have it, he was whisked into an available one-bedroom unit awash in warm daylight. “It was like opening the door onto the island of Santorini,” he says. “I’ve been there since.”

High-contrast parquet floors are oriented on a diagonal to anchor the furniture plan.
High-contrast parquet floors are oriented on a diagonal to anchor the furniture plan.
Brass, marble, and other materials make a subtle yet strong composition on this side table vignette.
Brass, marble, and other materials make a subtle yet strong composition on this side table vignette.

Not every detail was an immediate fit. One modification Bricke made upon arrival was to refinish the floors with inspiration culled from Rembrandt paintings depicting 17th-century Dutch churches. He transformed the standard parquet hardwoods into a geometric pattern that would “accept the diagonal line of the furniture and adhere to the rectangular shape of the room.” Within the dominant brown-and-white pattern, he laid out a couple of red squares—one under a table in the entry hall, another below the dining table. “Most of the time people never saw them, but occasionally someone would drop something,” he explains. It became one of Bricke’s signature design moves, a wink and a nod at observant visitors, which he’s since titled “under-the-table art.”

A circa-1790 ivory and marquetry inlaid table is paired with a 1982 stainless steel mesh ottoman.
A circa-1790 ivory and marquetry inlaid table is paired with a 1982 stainless steel mesh ottoman.
Gallery for Living

Although the red squares are now history, a carved turtle currently serves the same purpose. Bricke wanted the piece but feared he had no permanent spot for it in his home. “Well, turtles crawl out from under rocks,” he rationalized. “This one’s going to crawl from under the marble coffee table.” He started hanging canvases and setting sculptural forms beneath tables—covert gestures that allow the flat to maintain its spacious quality. Bricke also makes a point of keeping walls minimal in rooms used for entertaining. ”I didn’t want a lot of stuff to distract your eye. I wanted to focus on certain things,” he says, such as the late–1st century BC seated Greek goddess for which he renovated a corner of the living room. (He disliked the fractured shadow cast by the sculpture on two adjoining walls, so he curved the intersection to form an uninterrupted canvas.)

A sculptural turtle serves as a decorative surprise under a marble coffee table by Gae Aulenti.
A sculptural turtle serves as a decorative surprise under a marble coffee table by Gae Aulenti.
In the dininig area, a white Parsons table can extend to seat eight. Behind it, an 18th-century Italian mirror.
In the dininig area, a white Parsons table can extend to seat eight. Behind it, an 18th-century Italian mirror.

The main design elements of the apartment are chosen for their relationship to Bricke’s art collection. (His interest in antiquities began in grade school after he discovered Homer’s epic poetry.) “All my furniture is white because I want the works to stand out,” he says. “I want the form of the furniture, but I don’t want to notice it specifically.” Other pieces, such as the set of four 18th-century dining chairs, telegraph Bricke’s cultivated wit. The back of each solid walnut chair features a carved medallion depicting a member of the historical Dutch family that had commissioned them. “They’re delightful. There’s mom, dad, and two ugly daughters.”

In contrast to the living and dining areas, the bedroom features rich aubergine walls and groupings of eclectic paintings. The room’s draperies can be strategically drawn to reveal the displays or spread to create a more restful atmosphere.

Lest his home become a disorderly pen of priceless works, Bricke is careful not to let clutter disturb the peace. The designer hides items purged from his current rotation in an accessory closet. “They can come out later on and refresh the eye. The Japanese believe that you shouldn’t keep looking at the same thing in the same location,” he says. Ronald Bricke has always known what his space needs, just as he knows what he needs from his space.

Gallery for Living
Gallery for Living

TIPS FROM THIS HOME TOUR

Ronald Bricke shares the lessons he’s learned as a designer and homeowner

  • MIX MATERIALS AND SCALES TO CREATE VIGNETTES

    “Play with textures. Use objects of varying heights. Take a rough stone and put it next to a piece of polished silver. All these things liven up the composition so it has a life all its own.”

  • CREATE THE LONGEST LINE POSSIBLE BETWEEN TWO POINTS

    “It’s important to be able to sit anywhere and find a beautiful view. From one end of the sofa, I’m looking into the entry hall and mirrors, so I see a lot of space; from the other end, I’m looking out the window or into the dining room.”

  • HIDE EVERYTHING THAT ISN'T BEAUTIFUL

    “I didn't want to see speakers anywhere so I wasn't getting good sound. Finally I found Keith Vanderkley at Amina Technologies, which makes invisible speakers. You place them in the wall and plaster over them with a really thin skim coat.”

  • LIGHT CREATIVELY

    “I have hidden LEDs. The light on the [seated Greek goddess] sculpture has a pale amber lens; the outdoor lights for the griffons on the terrace have green gels so that the greenery looks really [vibrant] when you look out the window.”

Comments