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Shawn Henderson Gets Playful With Design to Make the Perfect Entertaining Space

Henderson designs a home for an enterprising couple in an architectural marvel in the city's West Village.

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High up in one of the new iconic buildings of Manhattan’s booming West Side, there’s an apartment whose entry can call to mind Dorothy and Toto’s passage from sepia-toned Kansas into the Technicolor Land of Oz. After walking down a minimalist hallway partially clad in pale wood, one emerges through an archway into the living area. Here, a visitor is greeted not only with panoramic Hudson River views but, particularly at certain times of day, a kaleidoscope of colors ricocheting across the ceiling and walls, courtesy of a pyramid-shaped pendant light by artist Olafur Eliasson. The effect is enhanced in the late afternoon, when sunshine streams in through the 12-foot-high windows. “It’s rainbows everywhere,” says designer Shawn Henderson. “Honestly, it’s supercool.”

Related: An Architecture Tour of New York City's West Side

Henderson, the affable mastermind of serene, sophisticated interiors for such prominent clients as Will Ferrell, Octavia Spencer, and Sam Rockwell, was enlisted to customize the 3,400-square-foot, four-bedroom apartment. His task was to strike a delicate balance between a tricky architectural vision and the real-world needs of a busy couple with two young sons and a growing art collection. He had designed their previous apartment, a loft in NoHo, which had become increasingly cramped. Then, a few years ago, a compelling opportunity arose.

The couple had become close friends with celebrated hotelier and developer Ian Schrager and his wife, Tania Wahlstedt, who have a boy the same age as their older son. Having lived for a time in another Schrager building, 40 Bond Street, they were keenly interested in his latest residential project: a 49-condo West Village tower designed by Pritzker Prize–winning architects Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron that has a distinctive curvy profile and an uncommon drive-in entry court landscaped by Madison Cox. The couple decided it was time for a change.

“We love the projects Ian has done around the world, and this was definitely not a cookie-cutter building, which really resonated with us,” says the husband, who works in finance. “Plus, we really fell in love with the idea of having a water view. It’s a very special thing to have in New York, and we’ve always wanted that.”

The couple bought the apartment based on a floor plan, and while they admired nearly everything about the finished Schrager-designed baths and Bulthaup kitchen, they brought in Henderson to make some tweaks—most conspicuously in the entertaining areas. After years of loft-style living, they were looking, the designer explains, for “a little more traditional layout in terms of having separation of spaces, while retaining a modern feel.”

Though they had chosen a plan with an enclosed kitchen, the living and dining areas occupied one continuous room that was open directly off the front hall. To help break things up, Henderson made clever use of extensive millwork, a warm mix of bleached and whitewashed cypress. For starters, he closed off sight lines from the front door with a gracefully curving niche that includes that archway into that Oz-like moment beneath the Eliasson pendant. “I felt it was important to have more of a sense of entry and arrival,” Henderson says.

Even more crucial, especially for the wife, was establishing separation between the living and dining areas. Henderson’s solution was to build a freestanding, semicircular wood divider that doubles as a small buffet. “Their old apartment was a big, open space, and she was always bothered by the fact that she couldn’t have a dinner party where you move from one room to another,” says the designer. “She wanted to be able to have that kind of progression of space when she is entertaining.”

One can imagine dinner parties beginning with sunset cocktails in the living area, with guests arrayed on the groupings of vintage and bespoke furnishings—“my usual mix of things,” as Henderson puts it. In one area, a quintet of sexy, petite 1960s Milo Baughman swivel chairs encircles—almost like a retro conversation pit—a black Corian-topped low table. Nearby, inviting ’50s German armchairs flank leather-topped brass tables and a sprawling, bouclé-clad custom sofa whose size required it to be assembled and upholstered on site. Overlooking it all is a Rachel Howard painting whose vertical blood-red slashes provide a kind of visual frisson amid the placid refinement.

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Meals are served at a geometric oak table based on a ’70s Angelo Mangiarotti design, with guests seated in midcentury caned chairs by Marcel Gascoin (a contemporary of Charlotte Perriand and Jean Prouvé). A groovy, massive vintage-style chandelier fans out above, while an adjacent wall displays a graphic black-and-white painting by the graffiti artist Retna. “That piece brings back so many memories for us,” says the wife, who spearheads the couple’s collecting with advice from her friend Meghan Carleton, a founding partner at the art-finance firm AOI Advisors. She and her husband had long admired Retna’s work, especially the 2012 graffiti wall the artist painted in NoHo, the neighborhood where the couple met and lived for years.

After dinner, a pair of gently curved mid-century Danish armchairs beckon next to the fireplace. It’s a prime spot for a nightcap and appreciating the sound of the “killer speakers,” Henderson says, which are concealed behind rhythmically slatted cypress panels. “It allowed us to hide the audio components and a television in a chic, elegant way.”

Most nights, the couple and their two sons can be found hanging out in the eat-in kitchen or piled into the cozy TV room—a simply yet strategically furnished space with lots of Henderson-designed storage—that also serves as an area for the kids. “The boys play a lot of games in there,” says the husband. “They’ll take it over and lock it down themselves.”

Once the boys are tucked into their bedrooms (similarly outfitted with custom desk-and-shelving units, trundle beds, and colorful modern chairs), the parents often retreat to their master suite to unwind. As New York City bedrooms go, it’s a vast space—an impression amplified by the soaring ceilings—large enough for Henderson to create a lovely corner sitting area anchored by an angular Edward Wormley sofa covered in a moss-hued mohair velvet. Above it hangs a Beth Campbell branching mobile whose rather nefarious-sounding title, There’s no such thing as a good decision (dark energy), belies its felicitous shadow-making effects.

It’s one of several works by artists whom the couple believes are—or at least were—underappreciated, including Campbell, Jack Whitten, Bruce Connor, Marilyn Lerner, and Joe Zucker. Also in their collection is a sculpture by Tal R that welcomes visitors at the end of the entry hall. Resembling ceramic but cast in bronze, the vaguely figurative, roughly modeled piece, Cauliflower Banana, may or may not be a fruit inserted into a vegetable in a handled pot. And it’s perched on a pedestal made by Samuel Amoia in opal stone and plaster. “I wanted people to think that it’s just such a fun, funky piece,” she says. “I like the contrast of the playfulness with the very serious pedestal. And with two boisterous boys, we knew it needed to be something sturdy.”


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