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Art-Filled New York Apartment
Eric Cohler helps his mother decorate her new, art-filled apartment
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It was all about trust. Who better to turn to than her own son, designer Eric Cohler, when it was time for psychoanalyst Jane Supino to downsize apartments and distill her beloved folk, Native American, and pre-Columbian art and New Mexican santos to their essence? These, after all, were no ordinary collections. Jane's American folk art, which she began collecting ahead of her time at a precocious 19, is particularly fine-some pieces are on loan to museums, others are on reserve, and still others have Eric's name on them. "Because Eric grew up with these collections, he was able to step in with a continuity no stranger could have provided," Jane says. "He already knew the significance of each piece, and he knew my taste. Choosing him was a no-brainer."
Interior design: Eric Cohler
Design project manager: Jeffery McCullough
Photography: Colleen Duffley
Even if Cohler hadn't been family, his expertise as an architectural designer could have snagged him the job. The Park Avenue apartment required structural changes to enhance both aesthetics and function. Cohler made the art pop with such architectural tweaks as opening up the boxed-in stairwell to free premium floor space for a folk-art weather vane. Raising the low-slung doors to 8 feet, then topping them with molding, added character notoriously absent in the city's postwar construction. But the most gratifying, if sobering, change was to make the apartment future-friendly for his mom, should the dynamic skier and world traveler ever opt to embrace caution.
"My mom insisted this was her last move. Since she moved from our childhood home, she's downscaled to a 10-room apartment, then to eight rooms, and now to five," observes Cohler. "She was adamant that this is it!"
Knowing better than to argue with his mother, whom he describes as "a real-life, indefatigable Auntie Mame who definitely knows her mind," Cohler designed for keeps. Upstairs, he installed a kitchenette and an additional entrance, which opens to a hall with elevator service. "These changes will allow her to live on the top floor at some point, if she wants, without ever having to go down the stairs." Meanwhile, his addition of big pocket doors joining Jane's bedroom to a guest room-turned-library created master quarters she can relish right now.
After implementing the architectural changes, Cohler hired designer Jeffery McCullough to step in as project manager. "Jeffery was invaluable. He had worked with me before, and he knew my mother. I advise any designer working with family to always provide a buffer. Jeffery was mine." But he might as well have been family. "I'd been in and out of Mrs. Supino's home the two years I had worked for Eric, and she had become a friend," says McCullough. And a trusted one, at that.
"She only wanted to see two options," McCullough illustrates, "whereas the typical New York client wants to see millions." After viewing two upholstery fabrics for the living room's new club chairs, "it was 'love it'-done," McCullough recalls. He reciprocated with a quick thumbs-up to Jane's input. "She wanted the zebra rug for the library, so that was the springboard for its ethnic vibe." In their ongoing give-and-take, he encased the room in a cross-hatched wallpaper to energize it with more texture and subtle pattern than paint alone could provide.
Inventive recycling provided continuity from Jane's previous homes. Curtains in different colorways from different windows in her last place were taken apart and re-sewn together to drape the current apartment's extra-wide living room window. The dining room wallpaper is another creative crossover from past digs. "It's the same paper she's lived with 20 years, with a different colorway every move," notes McCullough. "This time, we repeated the pattern on craft paper to make it appear more modern." No wonder Jane's primitive portraits look at home in their new environment, as comfortably ensconced as she is.