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Soledad O'Brien's Sleek Loft

Traditional home meets sleek loft. The result: flexible design

Written by Candace Ord Manroe
  • Kevin Lein

    Soledad O’Brien is a woman’s woman—the kind we’d all like to claim as our sister. She’s smart, funny, successful, and drop-dead gorgeous. More important, she knows better than to rub it in. For example, the secret to her youthful looks: "A really good concealer and good lighting in the studio," quips the 41-year-old anchor and special correspondent for CNN: Special Investigations Unit. See why we women love her? But as high as modesty rates on her list of virtues, it trails perspective—an attribute that not only rules her life, but the design of the loft she shares in Manhattan with her husband, investment banker Brad Raymond, and their four young children (twin 3-year-old boys and two daughters who are 5 and 6).

    "The other morning I knocked the heel off one of my shoes at work and had to spend the rest of the day hobbling around." (Don’t you love it?) "But that’s nothing in the scheme of things," declares the Harvard grad. "I think, I have four healthy children, and everything falls into place. People who let small things affect them need to look at the world and gain some perspective."

    Photography: Kevin Lein and Bruce Buck

    Interior design: Bradley Stephens, Bradley Stephens Interior Design, 155 W. 20th St., #5E, New York, NY 10011; 646/281-8640, bradleystephens.com.

  • Kevin Lein

    Soledad’s grasp of the big picture translates as kid-friendly design. "We want to live our lives as a family, not tiptoe around an apartment furnished with anything too precious. That means washable fabrics, a lot of warmth and color, and nothing overdecorated." (Soledad is shown here with Sofia, 6, Jackson and Charlie, 3, and Cecilia, 5.)

    Always pressed for time, she set her first meeting with interior designer Bradley Stephens right after a child’s birthday party. "My daughters were in their pretty party dresses, covered from head to toe in chocolate ice cream. Bradley took one look, laughed, and said, I get it. Washable fabrics!"

    Stephens recalls it this way: "She said, ‘This is why I can’t have fine fabrics! I need things that will stand the test of time.’ She wanted a home that she wouldn’t have to worry about, but she also wanted it to be a grown-up New York apartment."

  • Bruce Buck

    Stephens’s solution? Durable decorating plus pocket doors, which bisect the loft into a grown-up front area and just-for-family back spaces, which include bedrooms and a playroom. "The kids can play everywhere, but when Soledad and Brad want to entertain or just have that sleek Manhattan loft look she loves, they can close the doors and get it."

    Soledad collects art by the Puerto Rican-American painter Rascal, whose vivid portrait of a woman hangs above the dining room’s antique scribner’s table. Stephens designed the custom dining table in steel: "Indestructible," he boasts.

    Dining table (custom, stainless steel): Lost City Arts, 212/375-0500, lostcityarts.com.
    Dining chairs ("Enzo Chair’’/Black Leather): Room & Board, 800/301-9720, roomandboard.com.
    Pendant light ("Flute 1 Pendant’’ by Franco Raggi): Fontana Arte, 212/334-3295, fontanaarte.it.
    Sideboard (antique oak with inlaid marble top): owner’s collection.
    Art over sideboard (by Rascal): Creighton-Davis Gallery, 202/333-3050.
    Paint ("White Dove’’): Benjamin Moore & Co., 888/236-6667, benjaminmoore.com.

  • Bruce Buck

    Outdoor cabana-striped fabric on the banquette can take a spill.

    Table; orange pillows on banquette; rust chair; black chair; decorative pillow on black chair; hanging light; artwork: owner’s collection.
    Fabric on rust chair ("Colony Bay Chenille Outdoor Fabric’’/Claret Red, Soleil Collection): Kravet, 888/457-2838, kravet.com, trade only.
    Banquette fabric ("Row Stripe’’/Seagrass, by John Hutton): Perennials Outdoor Fabrics, 888/322-4773, perennialsfabrics.com, trade only.

  • Bruce Buck

    All her life, Soledad has carried a torch for traditional style. "I wanted our apartment to be like the traditional home I grew up in on Long Island, but in a modern, sleek Manhattan loft," she says. "I wanted it to look like people lived there. Nothing sterile. That’s the problem I’ve always had with modern—it’s not practical. Where are the people? We tried to eke out every traditional aspect of decorating we could, in a modern context."

    Designer Stephens redid the kitchen with cherry cabinets and red leather barstools. It opens up to one big public space, which can be closed off from the bedrooms and playroom.

    Cabinetry (Cherry): custom.
    Countertops: Verde Ubabtuba polished granite.
    Bar stools ("Presto Counter Stool’’/Russian Red Leather): Design Within Reach, 800/944-2233, dwr.com.
    Refrigerator: Whirlpool, 800/253-1301, whirlpool.com.
    Faucet: Rohl, 800/777-9762, rohlhome.com.
    Cooktop: Sub-Zero/Wolf, 800/222-7820.
    Range hood: owner’s collection.
    Wood flooring: 3.25-inch birch flooring with a satin poly finish.

  • Bruce Buck

    Soledad was insistent on design that is flexible. "The other night, we had a sleepover for the girls and pulled mattresses into the living room," Soledad notes. "We push the couch back when we have a party for the 3-year-olds. The apartment’s flexible, like my life." Though she built her reputation as a newsperson asking the tough questions, she says, "I don’t think of myself as a strong woman, but as resilient and flexible. Flexibility is what enables me to juggle a family—including time for the really fun, silly stuff—with a fulfilling, interesting career. More than anything else, it’s my flexibility I’m most proud of."

    In the girls’ bedroom, "We took the theme of a bright color palette, which is expressed in the loft’s art, and turned it way up," says Stephens. He jokingly calls it "the princesses’ room."

    All items: owner’s collection.

  • Kevin Lein

    Flex is her middle name. As a CNN anchor and special correspondent, Soledad reports hour-long documentaries and files in-depth series when major news breaks. Katrina? She was there. President George W. Bush’s visit to Mexico to hash out sensitive border issues? She was on the job. The 2004 contested election votes? Soledad was CNN’s presence in late-voting Ohio. She was also on the scene for the London terrorist attacks, and in Puhket, Thailand, covering the tsunami that took more than 155,000 lives. It’s precisely because of the devastation she’s seen—heartwrenching assignments it really isn’t PC to call plums—that Soledad keeps a balanced perspective. "I want to tell younger women they can have a husband, children, and a career, if they stay flexible and balanced."