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”?
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.
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 …
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.