New York Spaces: Shock Therapy

Interior designer John Willey electrifies a Central Park West apartment with a surge of color

“They found me out of the blue,” says interior designer John Willey, explaining how he was hired to reinvent this Central Park West apartment. The cliché is intentional, and completely appropriate: It was Willey’s bold color choices in previous projects that attracted these homeowners to Willey Design in the first place.

With splashes of citrus among amber walls and blood-red furnishings that blend with strong stripes, Willey transformed a cookie-cutter three-bedroom from a bland white box. “Stripping away the white gave depth to the space,” Willey says. “Now, each room has its own character.”

That’s not to suggest Willey hews to a rigid chromatic ideology: “We didn’t want one to be the red room, the other, the blue room,” Willey says. Instead, he describes his process as “putting it all into the blender.”

After determining a complementary palette – in this case, reds, blues, lemons, and limes – Willey composes a scene by combining hints of the tones as “points of punctuation.” Seen in a single stripe or a solo pillow, the colors establish a rhythm, he says. “The contrasting colors cause moments of surprise,” he says, “and this creates cohesion. In the end, the elements combine to make an effect that is – I don’t want to say ‘jarring’ – but it’s certainly dynamic.”

The clients trusted Willey’s judgment, making such an outcome possible. “A lot of people aren’t gutsy enough for red,” Willey says, but this couple felt drawn to it from their first sight of the rust-colored, woven wallpaper the designer chose for the family room off the kitchen.

“We associate tame interiors of creams and beiges with what’s supposed to be considered ‘an adult apartment,'” Willey says. In this splashy space – and in the vibrant, soon-to-be occupied red and blue nursery – living like a grown-up is anything but dull.


Hilary Adorno