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A Drew McGukin-Designed Living Room in Manhattan

Welcome to Why This Works, a new Curbed column in which decorator and former shelter-magazine editor Alexa Stevenson looks point-blank at professionally decorated rooms and breaks down the elements that make it work. Have a suggestion for someone whose work should be showcased? Do let us know.

Recently we caught up with NYC-based interior designer Drew McGukin to talk about one of his recent projects in Manhattan. McGukin, a 2010 graduate from The New York School of Interior Design, honed his chops at Matthew Yee Interiors and now practices under his namesake firm. He was also recently selected by The New York Design Center as one of 30 designers set to launch Access to Design, a concierge service that connects consumers to design resources and design professionals.

“When I was introduced to the space, every wooden surface was golden-blonde and the client’s first directive was: make this space more contemporary without touching any of the woodwork," McGukin says of this particular project, a multi-level Upper East Side apartment with an open floor plan and double-height ceilings. "Please note: bird’s-eye maple millwork? The space is a touch complicated, architecturally, but I managed to get rid of the '80s faux-painted walls, refinish the floors, replace a few radiator tops with composite white glass, and paint out some of the millwork. In a perfect world, we would’ve taken it a few steps further, although our result is far and above better than where we started.”

1. The apartment is blessed with panoramic, west-facing view of the Upper East Side, but the wall over the sofa was dead space. McGukin employed a favorite decorator trick—mirrors—to give it oomph. “The mirrored panels mimic the ribbon glass windows so it appears as there are windows there, as well,” he explains. Additionally, the mirrors reflect the dining room, making the space seem larger.

2. McGukin cut an existing sofa in half to fit the niche in the room. “Taking the sofa wall to wall actually elongates the space while taking advantage of every inch of floor,“ he says.

3. The sconces could have been easily overlooked, but here McGukin "mounted them so you would see them from profile, instead of flat on the wall. This way, they appear like more of a sculptural element than a light source. Plus, hung from profile they maximize the mirror.”

4. Instead of a traditional coffee table, McGukin grouped three metallic tables together. “The hard, chrome glass balances out all that traditional woodwork," he says. "The tables are easy to move, so if you have four people in the room, you can have a cocktail tables at each spot—no problem!”

5. In this space, the living room opens up to the dining, so McGukin used furniture that could easily interact with the other rooms, such as these swivel club chairs. “At any given moment you can talk to the person at the dining table behind you,” he explains. The chairs' rounded, sculptural shape offset the architectural detail and strongly present straight lines. “My favorite detail is the cut-out. It highlights the shape of the chair and the turquoise gives the room a shot of color.”

· Drew McGukin Interiors [official site]
· All Why This Works columns [Curbed National]