A Moroccan rug and triangular coffee tables provide graphic geometry to this Soho loft living room.
The aims of graphic art are twofold: create an arresting image, but also clearly telegraph an intended message. There’s no hierarchy between them. If the image is impactful but the message ambiguous, the former’s effect is purely visual, meaningless. If the message is clear yet the graphic lacks power, the message quickly evaporates into our daily informational overload.
Juan Carretero also understands that a successful design must accomplish these dual objectives. The fortysomething client who bought this SoHo, Manhattan three-bedroom apartment – a graphic artist and branding agency founder with a preteen son – “is a man of eclectic tastes,” Carretero notes. “A traveler, romantic but practical. He has an appreciation for vintage pieces and loves pattern and color.”
Carretero eliminated walls to open a more loft-like space and added a second bathroom. With a little refinishing and patching, he rejuvenated the architectural envelope, which provided a graphic backdrop for the eventual decoration. The key was a mix of exposed brick, a 12-foot, vaulted brick ceiling that had been plastered over and painted white and a black-painted wall in the dining room.
The black wall, he explains, dramatically frames bright south-facing views, makes graphic art posters hung on it pop and tones down the blinding southern light during the day while imparting more ambiance at night. “Dark colors,” he adds, “make walls recede rather than jump out at you.”
The black, white and brick backdrop set the stage for conceptualizing the “message” of the space – that is, the personality of the owner. For this, Carretero leaned on a palette of bold patterns and deeply saturated colors. These are expressed most in the private quarters, the fulcrum of which is an Art Nouveau–inspired runner that leads one down the corridor to the primary suite, past the second bath and a guest room.
The large format of the rug pattern and its intense colors – scarlet, brick, forest green, canary yellow, black, white and gray – bring unambiguous high impact into a long narrow space. But Carretero didn’t stop there. He commissioned decorative painter Mark Chamberlain to devise a graphic ceiling treatment. Chamberlain pulled the yellow, brick, black and white shades from the runner for a stunning, irregularly striped ceiling.
The runner further informed the palettes of adjacent spaces. In the guest room, a wedding suzani fabric on the headboard draws the scarlet, black and white into its vibrant indigenous pattern. In the son’s bunk room, Chamberlain incorporated the rug’s yellow, black, white and gray into an angular wall graphic of triangles and trapezoids that enlivens what is essentially a small, featureless rectangular chamber.
Carretero was inspired to deploy the runner’s more verdant tone overhead in the additional bath (“The ceiling was so high that there was a need to bring it down,” he recalls), which he mixed with black marble in the shower stall and a white tile floor showcasing a pattern that related to Chamberlain’s graphic for the son’s room.
The designer utilized the same green on a horizontally channeled headboard in the primary bedroom, contrasting it with pink bedding and a canary-yellow chair against the continuation of the dining room’s black-painted brick wall. “Though each room has a different flavor, there’s a common thread throughout,” notes Carretero, all of it united by the runner.
The client’s love of midcentury furniture informed the purchase of the 1960s dining chairs, a 1950s credenza that Carretero repurposed as the second bath’s vanity, wooden chairs in the living room and nightstands in the guest room. The synergism of the elements – together packing a distinctive graphic punch – leaves no doubt about the sort of person who lives here.
Photography by Timothy Williams.
For more like this SoHo loft, be sure to check out this Chicago home that strikes a balance between industrial and chic.
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