NY Spaces: Lucky One

For John Willey’s first solo design commission, the pieces all fell into place like magic

Every designer is entitled to one perfect experience. John Willey’s came in his first at-bat as a sole practitioner. His clients: A California-based couple with two little boys. Their space: A four-bedroom, Upper East Side “developer’s special” that was spacious but uninspired. The brief: Carte blanche. “They wanted it very relaxed, durable, but a pleasure to come home to-luxury without the fussiness. Other than that, there was no directive, and the second I’d propose something, they were all for it,” Willey recalls. “They were dream clients.”

The designer repaid their faith in him with a look he calls “easy glamour,” realized with a combination of startling color salvos (“a great, economical way to bring a cookie-cutter apartment to life”). Classically inspired furnishings mix easily with a dazzling array of judiciously deployed accents. In the dining room, a lacquered ceiling above the 30-by-16-foot living/dining space plays off the patterned rug underfoot. Elsewhere, Willey enlivened the “cell-block-like” foyer with gold foil wallpaper, opening it to an adjacent gallery with a glass-paned door to form a capacious entry suite. The dining room was converted into a seraglio-like den with Benjamin Moore’s “Downpour Blue” and “Dash of Curry.” And by repositioning the bed to take advantage of views, and combining a Berber carpet “that feels like you’re walking on a sweater” with walls of pearlescent blue, the designer turned the master suite into an island of serenity.

Of course, a perfect experience demands a wow finish. “Normally, you kick the clients out until you’re ready to show them the completed apartment, and the designer’s never present for that moment-it’s their experience. But on this project, the clients asked me to join them,” Willey says. Recalling the couple’s delight, he adds, “I’m glad that happened on my first job.”


Hilary Adorno