When designer Eddie Yedid was still a young lad at the Parsons School of Design, he approached one of his professors, Tom Hickey, about starting his own firm. Hickey laughed it off at first, but, come graduation, Yedid's persistance paid off. After working under Hickey for a few years, the young designer became a partner in the NYC-based design firm GRADE. Today, the pair turns out projects ranging from sleek Miami condos to retail stores as far away as a Tiffany & Co. outpost in Singapore, with plans to expand into hotel design. Celebrities have started calling, as well. Just 10 minutes before sitting for this interview, Yedid was on the phone discussing a potential project with an NBA star—whose name he wouldn't reveal, of course. Today he discusses a Manhattan apartment he designed for a recently divorced father of two—it's located across from the mayor's mansion on Manhattan's tony East End Avenue—who was looking to combine distinctly masculine interiors with a suitable home for his two children. The fact that the place was a rental with a none-too-cooperative owner added to the challenge.
Let's start by talking about the client, who was he? And what were his goals for the project?
He's a third-generation real estate developer in New York. He was recently divorced about a year back and he was looking to stay very close to his kids, that's the most important thing that he mentioned. So he moved up to 87th Street and East End [Avenue] because he wanted a building with tons of amenities, but close to his kids, and his ex-wife was on 80th and Park. He sacrificed being where he might have wanted to be, which was downtown, to be up there for them, all the way on the Upper East Side. So he went to a Cetra/Ruddy building that they did with Peter Marino, and it's a beautiful building, but a rental apartment, so he asked us to go in there and make it a place where he could be himself, entertain, yet his kids could be 100 percent comfortable. They're there 50 percent of the time and he wanted it to feel like home for them. That's the most important thing for them: that they feel comfortable and it feels like their space, as well, and not just a place they have to come to.
Had you worked with him previously?
No, it was a very interesting collaboration. I had met?actually I was friends with someone who works with him, at his firm, and he said "you've got to use Eddie." He was using just the wrong person before and he wanted to be able to connect with a guy to do this very honestly. A lot of times we're able to meet the goals of men, in particular, that feel comfortable being themselves around us. And we understand them in a way that maybe sometimes a woman can't.
Between the art and the color scheme, most of the apartment has a very masculine feel, without skewing too dark and gloomy. How did you achieve that balance?
He wanted a lot of light. It's a rental apartment on top of it, so there were some things we had to contend with, like the light floors. We didn't think it would be a good idea to even change that, especially considering we weren't allowed to. The owner was very tough about what we could do. We wanted to make it bright and airy for the kids, so we used lighter colors that reflected light and made the actual furniture pieces look more dense and deep. For a few reasons, first so it's masculine, but also so the kids can do their thing and not kill it. The sofa in the middle of the living room is a good example of him saying, "OK, I need a place for the kids to get crazy on." We made the armrest and surround of the sofa 10 inches deep, so that could be another place for the kids to sit on. Just thoughts like that. There's also obviously a pinball machine in the room as well.
There aren't many pinball machines with views of Gracie Mansion.
Exactly. It was good, it was really fun, [and he had] an unlimited budget that we could use to do what we wanted to do.
Who thought to bring in the pinball machine?
That was the client. That was one of the first things. He said, "I want you to talk to my kids and make sure they're included." We always like to do that because they always add so much to each project. I mean, the kids' rooms were designed around the things they loved most.
What sort of input did the kids have on their own rooms?
There are a few things. If you look in the girl's room, first of all the color palette. She goes, "I love pink and I love skateboarding." And I was like, "OK, what do we do," so I found the painting by Robert Green, you can see it in that image with the white teddy bear in it, on the left side (?). That's where we drew the color palette from; we expanded on the pink and drew in the orange and some purples and things like that. Also, the curve on that daybed was inspired by the curve of a halfpipe, from skateboarding. So we incorporate that into the space—it's really something for her to connect to. It worked out really well, she loved it.
As for the boy's room, he loved planes, so we designed that desk to be like the wing of a plane, but it also helped us because we were trying to get a desk chair into that tight, tight corner, and by turning the edge back toward the window we saved some space for the chair.
Are either the daybed or the desk built-in? They look built-in, but given that it's a rental, are those freestanding?
We designed everything to be built-in but come right out. It's furniture that you attach to the wall, our way of getting around doing any real architecture. And it's inexpensive lacquered wood, so we're not doing anything that you're going to spend a ton of money on and regret it. It's all sorta kid-friendly, because you know they're going to kill it.
So you couldn't alter the floor plan of the apartment at all. Did it have any quirks you had to work around?
The entrance was a little bit tight and the kitchen, I felt, was a little bit set back. So we added a desk between the kitchen and the dining room. It was also a narrow space, in the living/dining area, so we had to work with the proportions and used a lot of custom furniture. The sofa is custom, the dining area is custom, that whole millwork unit behind the dining table we did. We used the niche that was there and created something usable out of it by building a furniture piece and a stone top so that it could be used as a server when he had parties.
You mentioned that you selected one of the artworks. Did you have much input on the rest of the art in this apartment, or were you working with the client's existing collection?
The plane over the master bed was his and the pink painting in the dining area was his as well. We only ended up going with the painting in the daughter's room, selected by us. His aunt is a Lauder, so it's hard to compete. He's like, "Yeah, we can always go find something from there," so it was a little bit hard to compete with that. I mean it's like a $35K painting in his daughter's room.
Not bad! Did the client reject any of your plans?
He was really easy. The only things he didn't like were a couple of pieces that were a little provocative, which, because of the kids, we eliminated. And initially we had more of a brown colorway in his bedroom, but opted for green. He likes greenery—that's why there are some plants in the apartment as well. But no, nothing major. He's one of those guys that understands not to get involved and let other people do things well. He's not like a?a lot of times the Wall Street guys are very involved, very meticulous about every detail, which I understand and appreciate, but he's just not like that.
What part of the apartment is your favorite? What are you most proud of, in the space, now that it is complete?
I'm proud, personally, to be able to create a room like the little girl's room.
Just because it was so personal for her?
It's good for her, it's just, you know, out of my character personally. I'm a really masculine guy and most of the work shows that. We have a soft touch too, because we understand color well, but for me it was a nice achievement to make it work. You have a guy and these two kids and to have it come together in a space where everyone feels comfortable. In the end, we had a happy client and he got something that said he understands taste. He's traveled a lot so there's a lot of objects throughout the space. We wanted to make it a little bit eclectic. The most important thing for us is that we achieve the ambitions of our client. It's hard in a rental. The kitchen for example, it's orange.
Nothing you could do about that?
Not with the owner. The owner was really tough. He let us put up two sconces and wallpaper and that was pretty much it. He still doesn't know about some of it.
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