You wouldn't expect Steven Gambrel to use a London cocktail lounge as a source of inspiration, even one as unrelentingly posh as the Connaught. Despite what's been called his "bold color sense and invigorating yet well-tailored eclecticism," the interior designer is generally understood to be a traditionalist at heart, whose "reputation rests on his respect for history and authenticity," in Elle Decor's words. But when a Manhattan couple commissioned him to completely redesign their recently purchased Upper East Side prewar apartment using the Connaught as a jumping-off point, he accepted, despite the fact that "using the design vocabulary of the bar as a starting point was a bit of a departure." As he tells ED, which recently featured the completed project, departing from his usual aesthetic toolkit "fueled a very playful, animated collaboration."
An Italian midcentury pendant light hangs in the very saturated and glossy royal purple library (→; larger version here). "There are dozens of coats of paint on those walls," says the wife. "At night, they look almost black, which I love."
Travel being a "major source of inspiration" for Gambrel as well as his clients, he modeled the fireplace surround in the living room (↑↑) on a marble one he came across in an 18th-century pavilion in Ireland. "The wife pushed back on that material—she thought I was crazy—and instead suggested plaster," he says. He calls the surround they arrived at together, one made of brass-trimmed plaster, "surprising and stunning."
"There's one piece in each room that reminds you of what you have seen in another room," says Gambrel. In the dining room, the velvet-colored sofa pretty directly recalls the library. Above it hang photographs of the Monaco Grand Prix and other car races, against the backdrop of a handmade wall covering.
In Gambrel's estimation, the apartment's initial lack of "sexy flourishes that one is anxious to preserve" gave him free reign to create them himself, stripping everything but a few columns from the apartment to give him leeway to riff on "the idea of what it meant to be at the Connaught." Bonus takeaway concerning what happens when you email Steven Gambrel an idea he's unwilling to expand his aesthetic to work with:
"I was constantly e-mailing Steven ideas. If they were good ones, he replied immediately. If they were bad, he just never answered." Head to Elle Decor for the full story.