A Delicate Balance

With a hectic life and a high-powered job shuttling him from Manhattan to Westchester to Montauk, Joe Nahem’s client desired about all a low-maintenance, zen-like environment in his new home where he could relax. At the same time, it had to be sufficiently luxurious for entertaining.

Having enjoyed a summer of living in a Nahem-designed house in the Hamptons a few years back, this busy executive felt designer Joe Nahem was the right choice for the job. “We were already on the same page, so to speak,” says Nahem. “Working with him made it a fun project.”

Assisted by Plant Construction, they took the apartment down to its studs, adding and enlarging windows to ensure spectacular outdoor views from every room. They also relocated bathrooms and restructured the fireplace so that it would separate living from dining areas.

As to the interior decor, the two men, along with project manager David Gorman, agreed on a neutral color palette energized by varying textures and materials. This best complemented the two other elements of Nahem’s design equation: the great outdoors – the huge terrace is a haven of lush greenery composed by landscape artist Alec Gunn – and the owner’s burgeoning collection of late 20th and early 21st century art.

The living/dining room, the heart of the 1,800-square-foot apartment, highlights the delicate balance between earthy and sophisticated. As elsewhere, the walls are cloaked in diamond coat plaster, which has more depth than regular plaster or sheetrock. The fireplace is hammered blackened steel and Corian; bold and brash, the handwoven wool, silk, jute and rami rug is cozy and comforting; and the upholstery ranges from suede on the Pierre Paulin tulip chairs to the wood George Nakashima coffee table to velvet covering the bright blue, 1960s wingback chair from Denmark.

A burst of brilliance, the blue “could have been any color,” Nahem says with a laugh. “I presented an array of shades, including yellows, blues, greens and oranges to the client and said, ‘Take your pick.’ This was his choice, and it works beautifully.”

Walnut is used extensively throughout, but each application is approached differently. Personally designing much of the furniture for the apartment, Nahem says the walnut and bronze mesh screens were among the most satisfying to take form because they are both useful and handsome. They close off spaces as needed, hide storage and a bar, and add texture. They also intimate a luxurious kind of masculinity.

Rather than leaving the kitchen’s lacquer and walnut Wood-Mode cabinetry as is, the designer crenellated or notched the wood’s surface horizontally, creating both visual and tactile interest. Furthermore, in the master bedroom, he combined a walnut bed frame, including side tables with cotton/linen wall and headboard upholstery and a leather base. In the walk-in closet, it’s walnut through and through, with just the simplest brass accents.

Discussing the variety seen in every aspect of his design, Nahem explains, “I don’t have a signature style or a go-to solution. That just doesn’t exist. However, there is one thing that everyone – uptown matron to downtown hipster – loves and that works with all types of decorating styles. That is nearly anything by George Nakashima.”

This theory is explored in the new book, “Fox-Nahem: The Design Vision of Joe Nahem” by Anthony Iannacci, which will be released by Abrams on November 14, 2017. An anthology of Nahem’s work, it reveals the far reaches of his creative mind and how he brings his ideas to life.

Leading into the small dining area, Nahem says he chose sparkling glass to project a bit of glam. The six-globe chandelier illuminates a circa-1960s glass-topped table with sculptural walnut base attributed to 1950s design icon Domenico “Ico” Parisi, while the chairs were brought from the client’s previous home and reupholstered in waxed leather. The bright blue painting propped on the mantel brings the living room’s Scandinavian chair into the fold, amplifying the fluidity of the entire space.

For visitors, the office/guest room stands ready, a minimalist’s dream still adhering to the designer’s neutrals-and-textures credo. Anchored by a cow hide, the room hosts a coffee table on wheels and a tailored, pull-down bed. “The one thing we couldn’t avoid is the location of the guest bath. It opens up to the service elevator! One has to be sure deliveries aren’t expected when they’re in there,” the designer says with some chagrin.

“No matter that my client was completely involved with the renovation, he was still surprised by the outcome,” states Nahem. “Clients always are. Hearing him say ‘I had no idea it would turn out so well!’ upon first seeing the completed project made all the bumps in the road worthwhile.”

Photography courtesy of Peter Murdock.

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