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Updated New York Apartment with Classic Style

2011 New Trad designer Robert Passal decorates a home to celebrate the present

Written by Robert Leleux

Designer Robert Passal, of Manhattan’s Robert Passal Interior & Architectural Design, believes that a home should fit a client’s life like a couture gown fits a woman’s body. “It’s the job of the decorator,” he says, “to listen to the client, to understand his or her wants and needs. Some designers try to fit their sensibility onto a client. But that’s like a fashion designer trying to put his own measurements onto a customer’s figure. And what service does that provide?”

Passal’s personal touch is evident in his projects, both in his careful consideration 
of a client’s lifestyle and in his attention 
to detail. Though the aesthetics of his interiors vary according to his clients’ tastes,
 his level of craftsmanship never wavers. “In all our projects, we find a way to add ribbon or special trimming to our upholstery or drapery,” he says. “Anything to provide a special touch.”

Passal had the opportunity to add many special touches to a recent project: the renovation of a three-bedroom apartment on New York’s Upper East Side for “a very hip older couple.” Though classic and elegant in its furnishings and color palette, the apartment is peppered with art and objects that surprise the eye and enliven the space. “The client emphasized that she wanted ‘bright, modern, punchy’ touches,” Passal says. “She didn’t want the apartment to dwell in the past. She wanted her home, like her personality, to celebrate today.”

Passal carefully integrated the clients’ extensive art collection into the apartment’s decor. This abstract painting provides a contemporary foil to a traditional armchair.

A leopard stands watch over the suede daybed. Brass fixtures and lively cotton prints give the room balance and texture. Terra-cotta Corinthian capitals are a classical touch to the room’s urbane decor.

Passal upholstered a Lucite-legged bench in green Scalamandré tiger stripes. He chose a pair of chartreuse porcelain lamps to add zest to the living room. And he settled on an iconic tree-of-life pattern, Arbre de Matisse by Quadrille, to cover the sofa. “That seemed so perfect for my clients,” says the designer. “A tree of life.”

The sofa, upholstered in Quadrille’s Arbre de Matisse print, serves as the centerpiece of a living room alive with pattern. An ottoman covered in a Scalamandré velvet is juxtaposed by a diamond-patterned wool rug. Brightly colored damask throw pillows complement an abstract painting.

Under a Parsons-style console, a sea-grass basket provides texture and storage. An artfully tarnished antique mirror seems strikingly contemporary when paired with a modern nude watercolor.

The breakfast room provides serene views of Manhattan.

Red lacquered walls and brass chinoiserie trim lend drama to a powder room.

Dark walls and vibrant carpet transform a narrow hallway into a sophisticated space. The brass swing-arm light fixtures provide perfectly dim lighting, bathing the space with a warm glow.

The master bedroom’s unexpected touches—a peacock blue armchair, a Lucite bench with tiger-stripe velvet upholstery—lend a masculine edge to its feminine palette.

The dressing area and vanity continue the color scheme of the master bedroom. A Roman shade adds softness to the space, framing views of the city.

Passal’s design philosophy is based on the importance of relationships in the creative process. “There has to be a great deal of trust and understanding,” he says. “It’s vital when you’re looking for someone to make your house a home.”

What Traditional means to Robert Passal:

  • Classic forms in unexpected, updated colors
  • The juxtaposition of traditional and modern goods
  • De Gournay murals

  • A classic French bronze lantern with white parchment shades

  • Anything lacquered

Photography: Patrick Cline
Art Direction: Michelle Adams

Traditional Home