In his top-floor apartment in a West Village townhouse, interior designer Doug Stiles puts his stamp on "warm modernism."
Top Flight A 1930s weathervane featuring the classic winged Indian head Pontiac logo greets visitors to designer Doug Stiles’s attic-floor apartment. The pillows on the vintage Jean Prouvé daybed are from Unica Home and Room & Board. The two-arm sconce is by David Weeks. Stiles refinished the original wide-plank pine floorboards to a golden glow.
As a modernist, interior designer Doug Stiles has impeccable credentials. He studied in London with a professor schooled at the original Bauhaus and at Virginia Commonwealth University with another who was a “strict minimalist.” Yet he’s quick to admit that modern interiors can be stark. In his own 700-square-foot roost atop a West Village townhouse, as well as for the residential and commercial clients he has served since founding his business in 2001, Stiles purveys his own brand of what he calls “warm modernism.”
“Slick materials and an all-white palette can create a sterile, soulless effect,” Stiles says. His cure, at least in part: soothing, warm-spectrum grays. He used five different shades of gray on the walls of his longtime live/work rental. “Gray calms the space, forming a neutral backdrop that emphasizes the richness of artwork and flooring.” Case in point: the original wide-plank soft pine subfloors Stiles painstakingly sanded and refinished.
To “break the box” of the apartment’s rectilinear spaces—an open living room/kitchen/dining area, with a bedroom and office at the front of the house—Stiles strategically employed planes of darker color. In his seven-by-11-foot office, for instance, he built a six-inch-high platform, painted it deep blue, and carried the color up the window wall to lead the eye outdoors. That slight change of elevation creates a “perch” overlooking a leafy Village street.
Keep It Simple Stiles’s aesthetic is a good fit with the Greek Revival lines of the original circa-1850 fireplace (left). The “sculpture” is a pair of prototype Eames table bases from the Art & Antiques Show at the Park Avenue Armory. In the living area (top right), mid-20th-century furnishings include three spun-fiberglass Eames chairs around a Noguchi table, all from Modernica. A mirror backsplash in the kitchen (bottom right helps expand the diminutive space.
Stiles’s mostly vintage modern furnishings pose no conflict with the apartment’s circa-1850 Greek Revival lines and details, including two clean-lined fireplace mantels and original paneled doors. “The inherent charm and character of the house provide a rich backdrop for modernism,” says Stiles, who is also drawn to classical architecture as “part of the same universal thread.” The low-slung lines of mid-20th-century furniture classics are particularly suited to the proportions of the top-floor space, where the pitched ceiling slopes from nine feet at its highest point to a Hobbit-like seven at the back window wall.
Stiles is an unabashed minimalist when it comes to furnishing. “Everything loses context when a room has too much stuff,” he says. “The eye doesn’t know where to look. Overdesigning can suck the soul out of a space. Keeping things minimal creates a peaceful atmosphere.” The living area in particular is notably lacking in oversized sofas or armchairs.
The simple galley kitchen is outfitted with stainless-steel base cabinets designed by Stiles and fabricated in Brooklyn. A honed white Carrara marble counter, commercial gas range, deep stainless-steel sink, cork floors, and mirrored backsplash are practical and timeless materials unlikely to date.
Shades Of Gray Doug Stiles (above right) painted his apartment in a range of warm grays from Benjamin Moore. A vintage metal desk and Eames dining chair, both flea market finds, inhabit a corner of the living area (top left). In the bedroom (left), a Paulo Mendes da Rocha chair with a reversible MissoniHome sling and a West Elm rug add color. The painting on the mantel is by Jim Long.
Because the low-ceilinged living area’s treetop views already make the place feel like an aerie, stepping out the window to the 180-square-foot wood deck “feels natural,” Stiles says. “It’s like climbing onto a branch.” Fortunately, he can settle in comfortably on one of a pair of contemporary plastic chairs, which sit in ironic juxtapostion next to a classical bust.
Stiles’s chief aim, for both himself and his clients, is to create positive “emotional resonance” in the spaces he designs. “Your eye falls on a wonderful sculpture, or a splash of color, or a painting that makes you smile, or an object that makes you laugh,” he explains, perhaps thinking of the 1930s Pontiac Indian head weathervane in the stairwell, which Stiles calls his “gatekeeper, guardian, and greeter.” Above all, he views his pared-down apartment as a sanctuary from the world outside. “People are enmeshed all day in the crazy pulse of the city, which can be fun and exciting, but they want a peaceful respite to go back to. Nothing is more important.”