MANH April 2013 : Page 88
Savoir F 88 | | April 2013
Ulla and Kevin Parker let us into their lavish Fifth Avenue aerie—and prove that style and sustainability can fashionably co-exist.<br /> <br /> In 2005, when Ulla and Kevin Parker bought a vast apartment overlooking Central Park and the fluid ribbon of Fifth Avenue, they had an unbending conviction—that they could design a home on a scale reminiscent of those of Andrew Carnegie and Pierpont Morgan, yet accomplish its renovation in an environmentally friendly fashion, without sacrificing style. Then they upped the ante: They made their home into a virtual museum dedicated to the bold-faced names in Art Deco and Midcentury Modern design, and mixed in French Louis XV and XVI antiquities—all of it contained within an imaginatively detailed single-floor jewel box of a place reminiscent of the boudoir of a Baroque-era queen.<br /> <br /> “I wanted the apartment to be an example of French savoir-faire,” says Ulla, a passionate, selfmade green-living advocate descended from a French mother and a German father, and married to a leading expert on climate change who founded an asset management company focused on sustainable and environmentally conscious investing.<br /> <br /> “We don’t believe in recirculated air or the sealed environment of a biosphere,” Parker explains, adding that the little handprints, cereal spills and smashed strawberries that are the hazards of a household with small children are not among the concerns that keep her and her husband, whom she met while working at Morgan Stanley, up at night.<br /> <br /> A RENOVATION IN THREE ACTS<br /> <br /> Designers robert couturier and aurélien Gallet decorated the rooms as if they were parts of a continuing story, melding three periods of furniture and design into a whimsical, colorful, layered tableau. Eugene Printz "s" chairs from the 1930s are paired with glass rené coulon chairs around a zebra rug, while in the adjacent conversation vignette, Louis Xvi-style bergère chairs upholstered in green velvet offer a glimpse of an earlier century, as does a rare suite of Louis Xvi chairs in orange and brown velvet.<br /> <br /> Elsewhere in the room, a circa-1940 duchesse brisée daybed inspired by the Louis Xv period and nestled near a window is covered in curly Mongolian lamb's wool. In another vignette is an exaggeratedly scalloped Méridienne sofa from the art Deco period; a Jacques adnet secretary; an 18th-century canapé à confident upholstered in red; and a canapé en Corbeille covered in a zebra print. The chandeliers are custom bronze and crystal by hervé van Der straeten.<br /> <br /> Though it was challenging to find a contractor and a designer willing to work with suitable materials and methods, the Parkers prevailed. They were able to move into their new habitat in roughly 24 months, having spent only about 10 percent more money and a few more months’ time than conventional building methods would have required.<br /> <br /> The apartment’s most salient ecominded features include milk-based paints; manually operated toggle switches that ground wires and cut off electricity when devices aren’t being used; refurbished steam radiators; denim rather than fiberglass insulation for the seldom-used air-conditioning system; natural, vegetabledyed fabrics free of stain-guards or other chemicals; and cinderblock walls that provide insulation and soundproofing. “We don’t believe in consuming a tremendous amount of energy,” says Parker.<br /> <br /> In addition, antique flooring, paneling, moldings and mirrors, some of it dating to the 18th century, were reconditioned to suit the new home, with floors and wall panels assembled like tongue-andgroove puzzle pieces, without the use of glue. On the rare occasions glue was needed, it was plucked from the children’s arts and crafts bins—Elmer’s only.<br /> <br /> Of the meticulously assembled flooring—which, like the mirrors, moldings and paneling, required the labor of secondor third-generation artisans—Parker quips, “We call it ‘parquet de Versailles.’” <br /> <br /> Oriented on a central corridor that makes for a bright and elegant entry, the apartment’s living spaces are divided in two: At one end of the axis are public spaces that, in their variety of vignettes for conversation, bring to mind the parties hosted at Downton Abbey; and, enclosed at the other end, are the dining room, breakfast room and stainless-steel kitchen—an industrial relic from an earlier age, which Parker says is extremely hygienic—plus private spaces.<br /> <br /> Artful embellishment and the skilled craftsmanship of practiced hands are evident in every corner. Wall panels are painted in contrasting hues—icy blues and grays in the foyer and drawing room, chocolate and poppy-orange in the library. Cornices adorned with ornate filigree serve as crown moldings that graciously curve toward the ceiling, and velvetdetailed drapes in bold reds, magentas and golds are gathered into luxuriant folds that add a colorful accent to some of New York’s most coveted views.<br /> <br /> If the antique parquet recalls Versailles’ floors, then the dining room’s details are reminiscent of its Hall of Mirrors. Panels of antique glass decorate walls laced with hand-carved moldings in the motif of palm fronds studded with roses. Sconces fashioned from glass leaves and mounted on the mirrors add a reflective shimmer to the space, as do a pair of curved stainless steel dining tables by Ron Arad that suggest the Parkers’ penchant for entertaining and wine— preferably biodynamic wines supplied by Château Maris, the Parkers’ Languedoc winery, which has now produced more than one blend rated 93 points by wine scribe Robert Parker (no relation). A percentage of the proceeds from sales of Château Maris wines is donated to causes important to the Parkers, such as the Polar Bear Foundation, the Jane Goodall Institute and the Rainforest Foundation.<br /> <br /> Though the Parkers’ home contains a few pieces that belonged to Ulla’s family, the majority of the furnishings—a dynamic blend of periods and of materials including chrome, Lucite, wood, hides, glass, velvet and silk—are acquisitions made specifically for this apartment.<br /> <br /> “When I start a new project, I like to start from the beginning, as though it were a different life,” says Ulla.<br /> <br /> To bring their interiors to life, the Parkers hired French designer Robert Couturier (of Robert Couturier Inc.); his assistant at the time, Aurélien Gallet, did much of the furniture curation. “I understand why people might call it Baroque, because it is a little exuberant, but to me it is more in the spirit of the Folies [at the Château de Groussay in France],” says Gallet, who now runs his own firm, taking on both residential and commercial commissions.<br /> <br /> Gallet likens the interiors of the apartment to the book chapters that progress through three centuries of furniture design and culminate in a single, cohesive story.<br /> <br /> Among the choice pieces are many standouts, including a foursome of Eugene Printz chairs; a circa-1940 Louis XV-style chaise upholstered in curly Mongolian lamb’s wool; a rare crystal side table by Martin Szekely; a pair of “Croco” consoles by Lalanne; a diminutive 1940s desk by Coulon; and a polished-steel cocktail by Elizabeth and Mattia Bonetti from 2000. There’s also a showroom’s worth of sofas curated by a dealer with eclectic tastes, including a serpentine sofa by Vladimir Kagan as well as a scalloped Art Deco “Méridienne” version.<br /> <br /> In addition to the exotic flourishes afforded by hide rugs, cultural artifacts and chandeliers and sconces that evoke brambles and coral, the apartment also shows evidence of a budding (and serious) interest in contemporary art. The couple’s splashier canvases include works by Ashley Bickerton and Wendell Gladstone.<br /> <br /> It’s in her own personal ecosystem— a Christian Dior pink and gray salon with petite niches fitted with dainty sofas—that Ulla Parker does the brainstorming. There, she says, the bright natural light enables her to think “for hours at a time.” Of course, on the occasion she works late into the night, she’s sure to turn the light out as she leaves.<br /> <br /> QUIET TIME<br /> <br /> Library paneling painted in contrasting hues of poppyorange and chocolate recalls the exuberance of the 18th century, according to Gallet, and provides a vibrant backdrop for a snazzy library. The serpentine sofa is by vladimir Kagan; the polishedsteel coffee table known as ring was designed by elizabeth and Mattia Bonetti in 2000; and the vintage floor lamp dates to the 1970s.<br /> <br /> ALL FOR THE GOOD<br /> <br /> Above: Ulla pauses for a moment in her library. Right: "Feminine" and "powerful" are the words Ulla's office brings to mind, with paneling painted a dusty pink and soft gray, and pinky-red drapery sashed with a flourish. On the floor is a custom cowhide rug with bold stitching that traces a floral pattern. Parker's diminutive 1940s desk was made by rené coulon from saint-Gobain glass, and the cylindrical crystal Bang table is a rare piece by Martin szekely. Flanking the room are rounded niches into which the designer tucked a pair of pink sofas.<br /> <br /> FÊTE CLUB<br /> <br /> Left: Designer Gallet likes to say that these dining room tables-there are two of them- are "dancing." Shaped from stainless steel, they're paired with velvet chairs from the 1970s, and together they furnish a room opulently decorated in antique mirrors and hand-carved moldings resembling palm fronds studded with roses. The upper cornice and the ceiling do not meet (the Parkers wanted to save the original plaster ceiling, and left the walls without any juncture above), so the ceiling appears to hover above the room. On the floor is a custom cowhide rug with lavender trim, and on the wall mirrors, augmenting the reflective effect, are italian glass sconces from the 1970s. A high sideboard by eugene Printz in palisander (an exotic Brazilian rosewood) from the 1930s sits against another wall, and the painting is by Wendell Gladstone. The eugene Printz chandeliers are rare finds. Above: the long front entry hall, with its custom bronze and crystal hervé van Der straeten chandelier, 17th-century venetian mirrors and console tables draped with melting crocodiles by Lalanne, hints at the drama beyond.