Tour a Tribeca Apartment With Balanced Taste
Interior designer Kati Curtis transforms a white box with care and color.
A seasoned interior designer, Kati Curtis understands Manhattan’s most basic form: the white box. No matter a building’s pedigree—whether new or old construction, Beaux-Arts or mid-20th-century modern—Curtis says, apartments are “presented and delivered to the buyer as white boxes. That’s what you’ll find inside.”
The former New York Life Insurance headquarters, completed in 1899 by McKim, Mead & White, is one of Tribeca’s most architecturally rich buildings. Topped off with a clocktower and graced with a parapet ringed by sculptural eagles, the structure boasts an entrance lined with a forest of Corinthian columns. But inside? It’s a warren of white boxes, including this two-bedroom residence. Until Curtis’s deft hand transformed it.
“The apartment doesn’t receive much light, and when you look out the windows, you see into another building,” says Curtis, whose first task was to brighten the rooms and establish a sense of scale with the generous 10-foot ceiling heights. “Since there were no spectacular views, I decided the best vistas would be those featured on the wallpaper.” For her client’s primary bedroom, Curtis chose a de Gournay design depicting wisteria blossoms seemingly blooming from the ceiling, with branches appearing to grow across the walls near the floor. “The paper immediately makes the room cozier, and its reflective quality makes natural light bounce around.”
Curtis calls her idea to position antique mirrored panels behind the bed “a no-brainer solution” for visually expanding the square footage of the room—too small to hold a king-size mattress. The challenge, she says, came with “putting a mirror there without it looking like something out of Vegas.” Her gamble on a gridwork of mirrored segments extending above the headboard paid off, as it gives the space a Manhattan glamour that you’d never find on the Strip.
Although Curtis is known for her passion for color and pattern, her client skews to a more monochromatic palette. “We reached a healthy balance between her desire for a neutral look and mine for something colorful,” the designer recounts. Among the apartment’s most dramatic gestures is its unique tray ceilings. The building’s patinated copper dome served as inspiration for this interior detail, achieved with the help of decorative painter Jonathan Kutzin, who fashioned a faux finish within the coved tray. Depending on the time of day, it appears to transform from copper to teal. Additionally, Curtis says, “I used a strié-like finish on the white walls to give them a complementary texture and interest.”
Curtis, who maintains offices in Manhattan and Los Angeles, began working for her client 15 years ago, designing the first apartment the client shared with her then-husband, and later a beach house and other properties. “I’ve worked with her for so long and I know her so well, and she knows me so well, that I am fortunate enough to have carte blanche with any project we’re working on,” Curtis reports. “She trusted us to make the right decisions and to make her new home in the city beautiful.” Their collaboration is now so seamless, Curtis adds, that the design scheme was established in one meeting, which included the contractor. “We laid out the details and samples on the kitchen island and didn’t miss a beat.”
Typically, Curtis and her team will present a finished project to a client in a single reveal, accompanied by a Champagne toast, but COVID prevented such a ceremony in this instance. Instead, the designer recalls, “We waited for her text.” Curtis still rereads the message on her phone today: “I don’t have the words to describe my bedroom—I am over the moon!” To which Curtis texted back, “You deserve the most special place for your new life.”