A Classically Contemporary Upper East Side Apartment

New York City-based interior designer Sara Story conjures a modern home in the sky for one young Manhattan family

In the living room of a Manhattan home decorated by Sara Story, high-gloss gray walls and neutral furnishings foster a serene environment.
In the living room of a Manhattan home decorated by Sara Story, high-gloss gray walls and neutral furnishings foster a serene environment.
Photographed by Marco Ricca.
Designer Sara Story.
Designer Sara Story.

Redecorating an entire home is always a considerable undertaking. Doing it in eight weeks? Well, there’s probably something to be said for self-preservation. To anyone else it might have seemed like a daunting task, but luckily for New York designer Sara Story, her entire team was up for a stopwatch design challenge. Click here to see more photos.

“She wanted to do something while her kids were at camp,” says Story of her client (and longtime dermatologist) Gervaise Gerstner’s abbreviated timeframe. “So everyone in the office got into it. It was actually really fun because we got to see instant results. It felt like we were on a TV show.” But while Trading Spaces and the like often ended in tears and thumb-tacked window treatments, Gerstner’s refreshed Upper East Side home is a fully realized success story, a space that exudes a sense of modern elegance and family-friendly ease.

Though many of the apartment’s staid interiors required a substantial makeover, one covetable feature remained unaltered: the massive windows overlooking the East River. To make the most of the incredible light and view—which encompasses all the colors of the water and sky and sprawling city beyond—Story removed traditional window treatments throughout the apartment, replacing them with solar shades, and coated the walls of the open living and dining area in a high-gloss gray. “[Gerstner is] very young and fresh and cool, and I didn’t feel like the apartment reflected that,” explains Story. “I just wanted to create this jewel box.” Reflective finishes, including the gleaming metal of a Willy Rizzo coffee table and patent leather on the newly reupholstered dining area seating, add to the precious feeling, while lush, cozy textures such as the sofa’s velvet cushions and a multi-dimensional woven rug lend warmth to the contemporary space.

In the kitchen's dining area, a set of paint-dipped Thonet chairs add an unexpected hit of color.
In the kitchen's dining area, a set of paint-dipped Thonet chairs add an unexpected hit of color.
The makeover's only major renovation, the kitchen was outfitted with new contemporary cabinetry.
The makeover's only major renovation, the kitchen was outfitted with new contemporary cabinetry.

With no time to rework the building’s existing architecture, Story made impactful cosmetic changes throughout the residence. In the young family’s revamped kitchen, new cabinetry, counters, and hardware needed to be super functional as well as beautiful. “I used marble and really durable fabrics everywhere,” she says. “I try to do that regardless of if there are kids. You want it to still look great years later.” The room’s cool grays mimic the hues of the other public areas, but in a subdued shade that toes the line between city and country. The boldly colored artwork, however, is solidly rooted in an urban aesthetic. In the dining nook, a street art–style painting of the homeowner’s offers a dynamic palette that’s picked up in the paint-dipped Thonet chairs. Ellen Berkenblit’s abstract high heel in the living room bounces pinks, purples, and yellows off the glossy walls and hints at the candy-colored rooms to come.

Daughter Olivia's room is a girly haven in shades of pink.
Daughter Olivia's room is a girly haven in shades of pink.
A Classically Contemporary Upper East Side Apartment
The study (above) and daughter Grace's room (left) balance saturated color with sleek, midcentury-inflected furnishings.
The study (above) and daughter Grace's room (left) balance saturated color with sleek, midcentury-inflected furnishings.

The requests of Story’s two youngest clients echoed the home’s of-the-moment vibe. Gerstner's younger daughter Olivia wanted lots of furry textures, Lucite and animal hairs. "She did these drawings, and I got like a four-page spreadsheet. It was so cute,” explains the designer, who happily yielded to her wishes, delivering a pink den worthy of an ultramodern princess. A sweet lilac palette dominates older daughter Grace's room, which is accented with Midcentury designs. As if completing the apartment’s colorful progression from subtle to flamboyant, a cozy royal blue study sits at its center.

The whole reads as an expertly plotted color story with careful hints dropped throughout: the subtlest lavender veining in the entryway wallpaper; the slim, vibrant lining of the living room’s decorative boxes; the pink brushstrokes on the canvases that adorn each nook. All that in the space of a trip to summer camp.

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