By Sian Ballen & Lesley Hauge
Photographs by Jeff Hirsch
Of all the coolest people to have been the previous owner of your apartment, Fred Astaire must top the list—and the designer, Garrow Kedigian is now the current owner of this spacious, graceful Park Avenue property—a considerably different space to the charming walk-up featured in our previous 2009 HOUSE interview. We wondered if Astaire’s ghost still danced there from time to time but if he does, he probably wouldn’t recognize the apartment in its present incarnation: a lovely enfilade of rooms, both striking and subtle. Though Garrow obviously loves the new apartment, we did talk about the strength of attachment one has to the past spaces and routines. “Sometimes I wake up at night,” he says “and I’m like, ‘Where am I?’”
So, first question: did you mind being described as a “marmoset” in the first NYSD HOUSE interview we did with you way back when?
Hmmm … I read that, yes. Didn’t you say “beautiful marmoset”?
Garrow in his previous NYC apartment that we dubbed 'Garrow's Garret.'
It was the highest compliment I could think of. I think marmosets are one of the most beautiful animals in the world.
Well, I’ll take it as praise. [laughs]
And … why did you move?
I moved to New York in 2000 and I loved my little apartment. I really loved it. And it was charming and it was nice, but after twenty years of doing this for clients, it was really sort of time to do it for myself. It’s always such a challenge when you’re working on clients’ projects—you really don’t get to fulfill a vision. [After] I walked through this apartment, I sat down and made this huge list of what I wanted to do to it and I did every single one of them.
Garrow was inspired by the townhouse of William Riley when designing his new living room space. After many different color schemes he settled on this unique almost 'non-color' which was termed by the head painter (Jennie Sheuler of J. Gordon Painted Finishes) as 'Brown Paper Bag'. The high-gloss tone of the walls is animated with each panel featuring a single gilded line within the panel.
A red-winged back chair from Todd Romano is angled near the living room's classic French marble fireplace mantle. The Persian rug was inherited from one of Garrow's clients and turned to its underside in order to mute the tones.
A tufted chocolate brown armless banquette fills a corner of the secondary seating area in the living room. The pillows are made out of an assortment of fabrics from Holland & Sherry and Clarence House.
The painting over the banquette was based on a classic Old Masters painting scene; the image came from one corner of a small Italian painting. Garrow had his print-shop print the image into canvas and scale it oversized for his living room. A pair of small tables purchased in Stamford serve as coffee tables. The side table is 18th century Dutch and was purchased from Evergreen Antiques.
Garrow loved the simple lines, curved glass and filigree of the hanging lantern that he purchased at the Marché aux Puces. To enlarge a vintage mirror that found at the Cambridge Antiques Center, an outer black frame was added to the original mirror.
Found objects collected over the years are carefully arranged upon a Dutch 18th century side table from Evergreen Antiques.
A staircase maquette and an ebonized column lamp stand atop an English 19th century pedestal table purchased at Olympia Art Fair.
A bronze Greek head purchased at the Marché aux Puces "for a song" was later appraised to be the real thing. The lamp, also purchased at the Marché aux Puces, is vintage Mid-Century Modern and is one of a pair to the one on the library end table.
Friend Tommy Raynor of Paul Ferrante made the custom console table. The design was inspired by a piece Garrow had spied in Paris.
Garrow says it was a struggle to create two seating areas in the large living room. After many trials he settled on a floater anchor sofa facing opposite the fireplace. The sofa was designed by Garrow and custom made by Albert Vitiello Decorators in a fabric from Chelsea Editions.
An art project painted by Garrow in art school hangs above a vintage Parzinger campaign chair.
And why this particular apartment? And let’s also talk about the Upper East Side, because people, nowadays, don’t want to live here.
[Hushed voice] Why not? I love the Upper East Side. I grew up in Montreal in, Westmount, which is a very townhouse sort of neighborhood, so it reminds me of home in a way. We don’t have the large block buildings but we do have the tree-lined streets and townhouses all over.
How was the hunt? Buying property in this city seems to be one long nightmare.
The hunt. Yes, well as a designer you’re so picky, so picky. And when the confluence of those things comes at such a premium, as everything does in New York City—and you’re shocked to see what comes at a premium even without those things. But … after twelve years of living in a small walk-up …
Garrow chose to keep the space open through the dining/music room. "I wanted to be able look through from the library and see into the living room through the dining room and vice versa," he says.
The dining/music room houses a grand piano, a gift from Garrow's parents when he was a mere three-years old. It has been positioned so that music can filter through to the adjacent living room and library.
Garrow plays the piano on Sundays.
A set of 19th century chairs upholstered in Schumacher's 'Shockwaves' surround a dining table from Mecox gardens. Gold paint enlivens the base of the table.
A contemporary mirror from Greenwich Living in Stamford hangs on the upholstered walls of the dining/music room. A quiet pattern, Diamonds Green fabric from Chelsea Editions, was coupled with large-scale nail head trimming and the trim was painted in a high-gloss black paint from Fine Paints of Europe.
Looking across the dining/music room into the living room.
The original display cabinets were re-painted in a faux-limestone finish.
Do you run round and round the apartment with all this extra space?
[whispers] I do! [laughs] It’s true! Sometimes I wake up at night and I’m like, “where am I?”
But it must be fabulous—you’ve gotten what you wanted. Although I’m always a bit frightened of that—I think I’m going to be punished for it.
I know, I know. That’s how I sometimes feel too, like I’m not going to get any more work or have it taken away. But when I was thirty five, I said to myself by the time I’m forty, I’m going to have my forever-apartment and I’m going to have my fortieth birthday party there.
And you did?
And I did. I had a hundred and seventy five people over—it was a black tie event and the theme was Fred Astaire, of course. I had a harpist and a pianist playing music. And it was catered—it was the most fabulous party.
Garrow, a collector of old books, wanted his library to be "something fresh, fun and a little unexpected." He spent weeks working on the exact shade of blue and in the end it was a mixture of Benjamin Moore Alfresco and Benjamin Moore Mozart Blue rendered in a high-gloss oil paint using Fine Paints of Europe.
A reproduction Bergère chair covered in a fabric from Pierre Frey is pulled up to a Mid-Century Modern desk purchased from Stephen Miller Antiques. The custom rug is from Stark Carpet, the Doris Leslie Blau Collection.
The 19th century spoon back side chair is covered in a paisley fabric from Schumacher.
The library TV is disguised behind a shelf of faux leather book fronts.
A painting by Garrow of an ocean scene in Maine hangs above the library fireplace mantle. Nearby an 18th century Bergère chair, a gift from Garrow's grandmother retains its original antique blue silk velvet. The coffee table is from the Marché aux Puces.
Collections of old books and found objects fill the library bookshelves. Garrow wanted the color of the ceiling to have strength to counterbalance the weight of the blue so he chose a caramel/orange tone. The curtains in an embroidered Etro fabric pull the orange color into the room.
In a corner of the library, a round pedestal table attributed to Jansen from Bardin Palomo Antiques displays a Murano vase, brass tray from Morrocco and a small architectural drawing by Garrow.
Looking across the library.
Views across the library, through the dining/music room to the large living room.
Inspired by David Barrett's powder room designed by Elsie de Wolfe, Garrow wanted his guest bath to have a jewel-like quality. A large Victorian urn stands below a painting done by Garrow when he was an art student on a trip to Florence.
One of the things Garrow fell in love with in the apartment was the guest bath's vintage sink with Calacatta stone marble, an under-mounted Sherle Wagner sink basin and a vintage P.E. Guerin faucet set. The hand towels are from Schweitzer Linens.
Oh great! Did people dance?
People danced, people sang … it was really wonderful. And actually it was my showcasing of the apartment. I had moved in in October—actually the day of Hurricane Sandy, if you can believe it. It came through Monday night, if you remember. I never thought the [movers] would show up!
Who were the movers? We should give them some publicity!
They were Big John’s. They were fabulous. They were like, “Let’s do it! Let’s do it!” The grand piano and everything.
I’ve just moved house and the only time I can remember being this tired was when I had a baby. Have you found it exhausting?
It really is. It took me a good year to get over the move. And new routines. Ironically I got used to the ambulances on 80th Street and you don’t hear them here. It’s so quiet here.
To thread a bit of glamour into the second bedroom, which was annexed into the master bedroom, a grid-work was added to the perimeter walls. A bust from Lexington Gardens stands beneath a console purchased at the 26th Street flea market.
Peeking out from the master bedroom to the original mirrored hallway cabinets.
To create a feeling of height the canopy bed hangings in Schumacher's Malandros stripe fabric were attached directly to the bedroom ceiling. The French 19th century bed was purchased at a penny auction in Montreal.
A mid-century clock hangs front and center atop a 19th-century hutch purchased while antiquing in Maine.
Old books, found objects and art fill the shelves of the master bedroom hutch.
Pillows and more pillows top the canopy bed.
A bedside table purchased at the 26th Street flea market is filled with photos of family and friends as well as found objects collected over the years.
I just hadn’t realized how you dig yourself into your life and how fine-tuned you are to so many tiny things that you then lose.
I had really planted my roots so deeply into the apartment on 80th Street. It was the place I had lived the longest in my entire life. When I moved, as much as I loved this huge apartment, I felt displaced, like “When am I going home?” That was for the first three months. And there is this feeling of loss—as you say, all these small things that you had just become so accustomed to. I had this little ornament, like this Christmas ornament, that hung on my bedroom door, and I would open and close the door and it would hit against the wood and it would make this really pretty little dinging sound. I loved that sound and every time when I would go to bed, it would make that pretty sound. [starts laughing] And then I tried it here … and it doesn’t make the same sound. It’s more like a “dunk”. I was like, “Oh nooo!”
So tell us about progressing with your life after the move—have you been busy?
I’ve been busy, thankfully. It’s a tricky economy.
When deciding on the walls of the master bath Garrow drew upon an idea that had occurred to him in his very first Boston apartment: white walls with thick two-inch black line borders, adding an inner line that he lamented not adding on the first go-round. A grandfather clock and carpeting make it "feel less like a bathroom and more like a room," he says.
A view facing east from the master bath.
An oversized printed painting of Adam dominates the hallway.
The walls of the main hallway feature subtle wall paneling and new crown and baseboard moldings painted in a high-gloss black finish. The floors are covered in Garrow's "all-time favorite" antelope-patterned carpet from Stark.
What sort of things have changed since we last interviewed you?
The clients have been a lot more careful about spending their money. People won’t spend the money on getting the right painter. I want to use Fine Paints of Europe high gloss – it’s expensive but for me it’s a priority. For me the things that a designer wants to do to have the apartment really stand out, are sometimes put on the back burner.
What are they prepared to spend money on then?
Kitchens and bathrooms – expensive mosaic and plumbing fixtures. But I always tell them: don’t do that because you won’t have any money left in your budget for furniture.
I was reading something in The New York Times about how the demand for bathtubs in remodeled bathrooms has dropped by more than half. People don’t want them anymore.
Isn’t that funny? In New York, people don’t have time to take baths.
The walls of the breakfast area are covered in a raffia paper. A built-in window seat was designed to be high enough for eating meals but also deep enough to lay down on. The breakfast table was fashioned out of iron bars with a glass top.
In the kitchen Garrow re-purposed walnut cabinetry that was about to be thrown out during a client's townhouse project. A hand-forged iron hanging fixture, Calacatta marble countertops and walnut wood tones are all layered together to give the kitchen a warm, comfortable feeling.
So clearly you haven’t gone for the airport lounge look and now there are all these new builds incorporating what I call traffic light colors: bright green, red and yellow splotches here and there in some attempt to incorporate color. Your colors are so subtle.
Color is a beautiful thing but you have to be careful with it. These new buildings are full of white boxes with a bunch of modern, cheap things in them.
Are you still playing the piano on Sundays?
I am. One of my good friends is a professor at Juillard and he came to my Christmas party. And he played—it was just beautiful, the sound of the piano whirling through the apartment. You could imagine Fred Astaire dancing around in here.