The apartment of renowned New York-based interior decorator Stephen Sills is a study in how limiting materials and palette creates the illusion of space …
Stephens Sills counts the Rockefeller family, Vera Wang, Tina Turner and Ian Schrager among his clients, as well as supporters such as Bill Blass and Anna Wintour. With only three rooms over 1,000 square feet, the Manhattan apartment Sills has lived in for decades embodies in miniature his signature style, mixing innovative finishes with a deep regard for history and a cool palette of neutral tones.
“In the 1980s, I was living in a neighbourhood I loved, on 83rd Street, across from The Metropolitan Museum and close to Central Park. A friend who was already living in the apartment block where I live now told me that a penthouse on 86th was coming up for sale and that I should take a look. It was a tiny, ramshackle place, and quite horrible! In those days, I had absolutely no money, so my Dad offered to buy it for me. He couldn’t believe the price he had to pay “for a shack on top of a building,” as he put it. I shall always be grateful to him for providing me with a place to live. I have been here ever since and over the years have completely rebuilt and redecorated it four times. Each time it has been redone, it’s been published in some magazine or other. I guess you might consider it my calling card.
I was born in Oklahoma, literally in the middle of nowhere, but it gave me a perspective on the rest of the world. I love New York! The city is phenomenal – the people, restaurants, and different cultures and personalities are just fascinating. It’s one of those places to which people tend to gravitate – people who don’t seem to fit into the rest of America, or the rest of the world, for that matter. Anyone who is creative, musical, cultured, resilient, and inventive ends up here. The only thing I love doing is interiors; mine is not so much a profession as a passion. Managing client expectations all day long, it’s wonderful to come home to the tranquillity of my apartment, which is flooded with natural light on three sides. I chose a neutral background in which to live, with just a splash of richness from the curtains in the living room and bedroom, which are made of purple taffeta lining material. My favourite room is the living room, which features a working fireplace and is home to my treasured Jean-Michel Frank daybed in shagreen. A piece by Oklahoma artist Harold Stevenson reminds me of my roots and hangs above the desk in my dressing room. I have him to thank for introducing me to so many people in Europe.”
PHOTOGRAPHY BY SIMON UPTON
The apartment’s palette is nearly all white: surfaces have been bleached, limed and whitewashed. Exquisite objects from various periods are united by a restrained palette. A Richard Serra work on paper hangs over a Jean-Michel Frank shagreen daybed from the 1930s.
An Italian Directoire mirror, a Man Ray photograph and a Greek marble urn complement the Louis XVI fireplace.
In the dressing room, a Hellenistic sculpture on a Danish modern secretaire desk and a painting by Harold Stevenson stand out against green satinwood panelling.
Sills restrained approach extends to the kitchen, where he used matte stainless steel cabinets. “The most common decorating mistake is over-decorating. I like a kitchen to be utilitarian and functional,” he says, “but also pretty. Stainless steel is a good durable surface and also very attractive.”
In the compact entrance hall, Sills lined the walls in a continuous grey velvet curtain, which implies that there is limitless space behind it. “Being a good decorator, you just have to know what illusion is about,” Sills says.
A Ruhlmann alabaster pendant and a Marco Kench painting from 2012 over a custom daybed in Sills’ bedroom.
New York Interiors, by Simon Upton, is published by Vendome Press.
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