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Gutting a Sad NYC Loft and Turning it Into a Jewel Box

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Before photo courtesy of Tilton Fenwick; after photo by Trevor Tondro courtesy of Tilton Fenwick

The owners of this Manhattan loft, a couple with three kids, were not orginally "loft people." "They grew up in very traditional homes," decorator Anne Maxwell Foster says by phone. He spent his formative years in a home decorated by Mark Hampton; she in a house by Mario Buatta. "That's what they grew up with and loved," Foster says. Yet as the soon-to-be owners stood at the figurative threshold of buying an urban loft and the literal threshold of an artist's residence where half-finished projects clogged the living areas and exposed wiring roped across the kitchen like Christmas lights in a dorm room, they realized there was little hope but for a complete gut job. And the Manhattan-based design firm Tilton Fenwick, spearheaded by the rapidly ascending heiresses apparent of "new traditional" design, Foster and Suysel dePedro Cunningham, were up to the task. The result? Pools of color and pattern that bring intimacy without entirely squelching the coveted loft feel—and that landed the space a huge feature in the current issue of New York Cottages & Gardens.

Though the owners were considering more established design firms, they ultimately fell in love Cunningham and Foster's design schtick, one that's a bit obsessed with traditional patterns done up in saturated colors. When Tilton Fenwick grabbed the reins from architect David Bootsman, who did the preliminary work of carving rooms from the one huge space, Cunningham and Foster made plans to keep the open kitchen and living rooms subtle, while slathering the "closed" rooms (the powder room, library, and bedrooms) in color and pattern.

There was little worry that the clients wouldn't appreciate the no-holds-barred approach to color; they actually called up Tilton Fenwick after falling in love with a brash, large-scale pomegranate-and-grapevine wallpaper they found. According to Cunningham, "the client said, 'We must have this. This is exactly what we want to do. This is why I wanted to hire you.'" It now coats the powder room (↓).

Foster says they think of powder rooms as jewel boxes—"it should be a little surprise when you open it up"—though, really, most rooms have something of secret cache: a juicy turquoise coats the library, a lemony Quadrille print saturates the walls and headboard of the guest bedroom, and an all-encompassing, 18th-century-style print from Pierre Frey swathes the master bedroom (↓).

That's not to say the larger rooms, which Foster describes as "bit more muted—for us, anyway," are less designed. Take the kitchen, for example: "We knew we didn't want a country white kitchen or a totally modern Swedish kitchen installed in their either, so we gave [the cabinets] Venetian plaster to soften them up, with a metal frame to make it much more urban," Foster says. In the living rooms, the designers exposed the brick flanking the fireplace and the beams overhead. "But we also have tufted sofas. Finding that balance is very important," Foster says. (Indeed it's that balance that helped score Tilton Fenwick its first fabric line, which the pair used to redo Cunningham's own NYC loft.)

Each of the larger, mellower rooms offers a glimpse of the "more wild" enclaves, including the "crazy blue lacquer" of the office nook and the zigzag wall covering in the hallway. It's ballsy, to say the least. "We've been doing this for a very long time, so we have a very keen sense for color, but still, the clients take a chance on us," Cunningham says, adding that there's no fear when it comes to color. "You can repaint it if it's terrible."

Considering the "traditional but amped" appeal Cunningham and Foster—who say their tastes are "extremely similar" and that "99.9 percent of the time we are on the same page with everything"—bank on, it may seem a bit strange for them have found such success transforming quintessentially urban interiors. But, then again, maybe not:

"At first we were like 'who knew we would be hired to do lofts?' But there are a lot of clientele who would buy them for size, but don't want to feel like they're living in a factory," Foster says. "What could be a cavernous space, they hire us to make it feel intimate." More photos, below.


· Tilton Fenwick [official]
· Tilton Fenwick Puts a Fresh Spin on a Traditional Artist's Loft in SoHo [NYC&G]
· All Tilton Fenwick posts [Curbed National]