Janine Carendi MacMurray

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Designer Janine Carendi MacMurray lives in that elegant, tranquil apartment we all want—the kind of place that fuels those fantasies in which we own a few beautiful things and nothing more. It’s an aesthetic that requires discipline although she did say that they had hidden all her kids’ toys behind a door that Jeff wasn’t allowed to open. Because her father is Swedish and her mother is Mexican she grew up in Mexico, Colombia, Sweden and then Connecticut, a childhood of difficult transitions that she says made her more flexible. Although she loved the vibrancy of life in Colombia and Mexico, she is most drawn to the quieter Scandinavian design sensibilities, “… if you look at Swedish design, it’s very purposeful; there tends to be a purpose for everything … I feel more comfortable with quiet.”

I wanted to start off by asking you about something I saw on your website, which is that you have a number of ‘before and after’ photographs—I was wondering why so few designers have those kinds of photos to show?

I don’t know if it’s partly because we specialize both in the construction management and design, so I think some designers might focus on the furnishing and hire an architect to do the construction. I think if you were to include photos of the clients’ furniture, before and after, people would be afraid of being judged. I think it might be a little embarrassing.

A large mural by artist Joe Davis dominates a wall of the front entrance hall.
In the powder room a lithograph by George Bellows hangs atop lacquered and textured walls. The solid Carrara marble sink is from Artistic Tile.
To give the front entrance hall a sense of grandeur, Janine designed the space with floor-to-ceiling mahogany doors.
Near the front door an abstract painting by one of Janine’s favorite artists, Jean Marc Louis hangs upon walls done by decorative artist Andrei Kievsky using his signature metallic wall treatment. The stenciled floor is also by Andrei Kievsky.
A view across the living room. The 1980s burl wood chairs are covered in fabric from J. Robert Scott.
Janine added visual interest to the ceiling with additional beams and a coffered dining room ceiling.
The dining and living room, originally separate rooms, were opened up to create one large space. A pair of 1940s Swedish chairs, covered in a Schumacher fabric, face a Lucite coffee table by Pierre Vandel. The rug is from Serena and Lily.
Custom sized Klismos chairs surround an ebonized mahogany table. Hanging above the fireplace mantel is a 1930s painting by Judson Smith.
The built-in bar was designed by Janine’s husband John MacMurray.

How do you get over that problem about how fearful people are of being judged for their taste? How do you get to the bottom of what they really want, not what they think they should want?

Actually we just came back from a final interview with some clients … [breaks off] Don’t even open that door. That’s where we hid all the toys that we didn’t want you guys to see … anyway …  a lot of the work is getting to know the client. Sometimes they think that they know what they want and are very sure about what they want—but in reality, they want something very different. We walk around with them and see how they react to things, perhaps in the D&D building—or if we go to a restaurant, we see how they react to noise levels and light. One of my clients told me, “I want tons of color” but as I got to know him, I realized he didn’t like color at all.

Looking across the living room into the library. Floor lamps from Restoration Hardware flank a sofa covered in a silk velvet from Stark.
In a corner of the living room a pair of kudu horns are arranged atop a Biedermeier table from Sutter Antiques. The cityscape is by Argentine artist German Tessarolo.

Shagreen boxes, art and design books and fresh flowers are carefully arranged atop a coffee table by Pierre Vandel.
An abstract oil painting by Joe Davis hangs above an American Empire side table.

Family photos and a pair of kudu horns stand atop a Biedermeier table.

How did you figure that out?

I would show him things like textiles with lots of color and he would brush them aside and then, because he traveled a lot, I asked him which hotels he liked and he liked the Mandarin hotels—the ones that were [decorated] in more neutral tones.

Where did you grow up – it was like all over the place wasn’t it?

Yes, I grew up all over the place, so I think that’s influenced a lot of my aesthetic. I think the disciplined [look] maybe comes from my Swedish side—my dad is Swedish and my mother is Mexican. They met in an elevator and they married ten days after they met. It was a very romantic story until the divorce—but the marriage lasted 35 years.

Looking across the library. Janine designed the library’s millwork to integrate with the rest of the apartment’s prewar details and hide the A/V system. She mixed the blue paint with help from her 5-year old son and worked with Gracie to create the custom mural surrounding the fireplace mantel to match what she calls “Macky Blue”.
A Maison Jansen coffee table from Sutter Antiques stands atop a wall –to- wall cowhide rug that Janine purchased in Argentina.
Brass fixtures from Ralph Lauren illuminate the library bookcases.
Looking into a corner of the library a 1960s Italian lamp stands behind a leather chair from Lawson Fenning.
Janine’s five-year old son, Mac, provided the artwork that flanks the opening to the library.
A painting by Joe Davis opens to reveal the movie projector.
The Crestron A/V system was designed and installed by Anthony Benjamin of Ultimate Sound.
Zimmer + Rohde fabric was used to make the custom window seats which provide additional seating when the movie screen is tucked away.
Family photos are displayed throughout the apartment.

How much time did you spend in Sweden?

So, I was born in Mexico and I lived there for four or five years and then we moved to Colombia, which was fantastic. My Swedish grand-parents who lived all over the world, were there at that time, so we had a multi-generational family and friends. I loved the people and the warmth and the music but it wasn’t the best time to be in Colombia because of the cocaine wars. Then we moved to Sweden … very different. It was cold, we didn’t speak the language and there the nuclear family is important but the extended family not. And it was a shock.

Did you go to a Swedish school?

They tried [to send me] but it didn’t go well. We didn’t speak the language and my mother would dress me in, like these poufy dresses and everybody was wearing H&M. We ended up going to international schools there. Now, I love going back. Some of my best friends are Swedish—they’re the most loyal, human and caring people. I feel very at home in Sweden although my dad lives in Geneva now.

An oversized mirror in a 1950s frame opens up the living room space and reflects light from the west facing windows.
A print by Takashi Murakami hangs above the living room fireplace mantel. A custom chaise lounge is covered in fabric from Duralee and topped with pillows in a Jerry Pair fabric.
Another artwork by Mac is framed in an antique gilt frame.

Where does your mother live?

Here and she has a house in San Miguel de Allende. When we lived in Sweden, she loved going to Swedish auction houses and I think I bought my first antique there when I was nine years old.

What was it?

Actually my daughter is going to get it. It’s a little toilette dressing table with three mirrors, Gustavian style but made in the 1920s. I wanted it so badly!

And then at fourteen, you moved to New York?

No, to Connecticut. And that was another shock.

What have you learned from all these difficult transitions?

I have learned to be flexible. I can understand people from all different backgrounds—I think I can read people.

A view into the family kitchen.
Janine carved out a seating area in a corner of the family kitchen. Etchings from original blocks by Gerard Audran after Charles Le Brun’s “Crossing of the Granicus” hang throughout the kitchen. The fabric on the banquette is “Bon” by Schumacher.
Vaquero, the family blue-headed parrot inside his open acrylic box made especially for him.
L to R.: A highchair from Ikea for daughter, Adele, stands near a corner of the windowed kitchen. The classic cabinetry is custom as is the oak herringbone floor. The counters and backsplash are out of Carrara marble and 3-inch thick End Grain butcher block. The sink is by Kallista and the faucet is Dornbracht.; An 1830s Swedish corner cabinet is tucked into an entry corner of the family kitchen.
Looking across birds of paradise flowers towards an oversized painting that was given to Janine by her father.

How similar is your style similar to the style of the houses in which you grew up?

It’s different. My dad is very much influenced by mid-century design. I didn’t appreciate it at the time, I was like, “Oh it’s all so dreary!” and now I’m like, “Where are those pieces?!”

I can’t deal with it. I just can’t. I grew up with an avocado oven …

Er, I don’t think I could go for an avocado oven.

And your mother’s taste? What was that like?

She loved more of the Gustavian, sort of French. Our house was a mixture of Swedish and French. So growing up, my bedroom was all antiques. I loved them. My mother is very bohemian.

Peeking into the master bedroom. The walls are covered in a linen from Philip Jeffries, the rug is from Stark.
An etching by Giovanni Battista Piranesi of the Piazza del Popolo hangs near built in bookcases filled with more family photos.
An abstract painting by Joe Davis hangs above a bed from Ralph Lauren.
An abstract painting by Joe Davis hangs above a bed from Ralph Lauren.
A mirror from William Sonoma hangs above a Danish Biedermeier chest.
More views of the master bedroom.

A painting by Takefumi Hori hangs above a glass desk with chrome sawhorse legs.
The impressive master bedroom closet has a place for ‘everything’.
L to R.: The handsome master bath is outfitted in Carrara marble
tile and a floor from Ann Sacks.; A custom dressing table is tucked into a small master bath niche.

You don’t strike me as very bohemian.

No, my family is generally pretty formal—I think my dad has had the strongest influence.

Where did you train or go to college?

I went to Parsons but I went to Wesleyan [before that] and it was just a phenomenal experience … it had a huge impact on me, all that questioning of everything. I remember my mother showing up in a full fur fox coat … and a hat. I was like, “Mom, what are you thinking?” I thought somebody was going to throw something at her.

She sounds great!

She’s definitely an interesting person.

Looking into ‘the kids’ room from the master bedroom.
The bunk beds are made up in linens from West Elm with pillows out of Quadrille fabric.
A Phillipe Starck desk chair is tucked under a drop leaf desk that is part of the bunk beds and storage unit. Janine designed the bookcases so that book covers are visible and easily accessed.

A painting by Gus Heinze hangs near the stairs leading up to Mac’s bed.
Mac’s toy cars and trucked are tucked in a drawer under the stairs.
Canvas bags from the Container Store provide storage in Adele and Mac’s closet.

So if you have the formal Swedish influence on your work or indeed on your personality, where is all the exuberant Latin or Mexican side of things?

My house is more quiet and I think it’s because I feel more comfortable with quiet … actually I think my personal taste is pretty masculine. Also if you look at Swedish design, it’s very purposeful; there tends to be a purpose for everything.

Yes. You’ve got the Lutheran side but perhaps less of the Catholic!

I don’t know. I can explain the concept for other people’s apartments more than I can I explain the concept for my own apartment. Here I’ve just picked up things over time that I have liked.

So how did you start your own business?

Actually, I used to raise funds for children’s charities. I got burnt out and I then I got a job at Lehman Brothers … and I lasted, I think three weeks. It was for event planning and it was horrifying because literally you had to use a certain green, a certain font, a certain number of words. It was very, very formulaic. I’ve never quit anything before.

The bedroom hall is paneled and painted in a Benjamin Moore deep teal. Custom floor-to-ceiling doors have vintage glass knobs.
Janine retained the prewar details of the kid’s bath by keeping the original claw-foot tub. The wall and marble herringbone floor tiles are from Artistic Tile. Whimsical wallpaper from Schumacher lines the wall of the kid’s bath.

So what did you do after you quit?

I went from there in my Lehman’s outfit to Parsons. School was starting in two days and I just sat in the admissions office. They told me there were no spots but I said that I was just going to sit there for a while longer. Then the woman had me come in and talk to her and I had to fill in the application form right there. Within six months of studying, I started getting work from friends.

So when you’re not waking up and texting or emailing three o’clock in the morning, what else do you do?

Other than design? My kids. I don’t cook. I’m a terrible, horrible cook. I burn pasta.

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