Photographs by Jeff Hirsch
Designer Lucinda Loya divides her time between Houston and New York, living in an ultra-modern house back in Texas and an apartment in a renovated Victorian building that lies just off Stuyvesant Square in Gramercy. Originally an Episcopal Church, it has been occupied by the Salvation Army and Smith College. It was also once a rehabilitation center, officially called the Hazelton Rehabilitation Center but nicknamed “Clapton Hall” after Eric Clapton, who had been treated there, gifted money towards its renovation.
The gold-and-black designs on the soaring ceilings are original and eventually inspired the overall white, gold and black color scheme. The solution to the right color palette was arrived at, Lucinda told us, after many sleepless nights when she lay awake overwhelmed by the dimensions and grandeur of the space—not to mention the fact that, after a pretty unglamorous upbringing in small town Indiana, she couldn’t believe that she now had her very own Manhattan apartment.
I just realized as I walked in with my big red bag that apparently you don’t like people bringing red things into your apartment because of your color scheme.
Oh I’m over that! That was something that was initial. It took me a while to get over it but now I wear red and welcome it. It’s fine! I don’t have any rules on color anymore. I ended up buying the Zhang Peng painting with pink and red in it and it totally changed the rule. But I was completely like, passionate about it in the beginning.
That’s very funny.
You know, it was in a light way … but at the same time, I kind of meant it.
So you decided this [black, white and gold] was going to be the color palette—why so strict? Were you overwhelmed with freedom?
Right. Once I got through my excitement of owning an apartment in New York, something that I never imagined would ever happen in life considering my background—it seemed like there was a thousand choices. So after I had wrapped my head around the fact we were going to have a New York apartment and we might live in it, I had to understand how I would live here. It took me to this crazy place where I couldn’t sleep trying to figure out how I was going to decorate this unbelievable space.
So how did you arrive at your solution? Was the place a wreck when you bought it?
No, it wasn’t a wreck. It was newly developed and everywhere was painted white. It was clean and new but being a historic building some things had to remain intact—Eric Clapton had restored the ceilings when he lived here for a short time and the black and gold was there. [Eric Clapton was involved in restoring the building in its incarnation as a rehabilition center having once been treated there.]
And that was your inspiration?
Right! That’s what caused all the problems! After I went through the entire rainbow of colors, I finally woke up one day and realized, white! White, gold, texture. I was done.
What is your house in Texas like? Is that a traditional house?
No, I built a modern home in a traditional neighborhood. It’s all white and beige.
I was a little bit ahead of the game—for Houston.
How did you find living in New York after living in Houston?
We loved it. I’m a big city girl and I grew up in tiny small town in Indiana. I always knew I wasn’t going to settle there. I didn’t know what I was going to do but I had bigger ideas.
So when you grow up poor, what do you think stays with you forever?
It gets instilled in you just to make the most of everything and not to take anything for granted.
Are you one of those people who saves all the aluminum foil and things like that?
I will rinse it, yes. And I loved when the paper towels came out and they had like the division where you could tear away half the towel! Here’s the funny part—it turns out they cost more. But there’s just something about only using half of it. So yeah, waste is a big thing.
How did you grow up then?
I grew up with a single mother for the most part. I didn’t know my father until later in life. I went to meet him when I turned thirty … so that was interesting. You probably read that I slept in a car, twice, actually, for a week or two. I remember walking to school eating a mayonnaise sandwich and dinner was a hot dog, with a fork in the oven—my brother and I would just roast ’em like that. My mother didn’t have much of a career, got married early, had kids early—small town story, basically. She had me when she was fifteen or sixteen. She did her best. She wasn’t a drug addict or an alcoholic or anything. She had a large family. She was one of seven so there was a lot of love. That’s why I’m mentally okay today. I feel very solid in who I am.
How did you set yourself apart?
I think that was maybe just something I was born with—a broad, open mind. But I wasn’t exposed to anything and had no clue what was out there in the world. I had never left Indiana.
So did being poor make you ambitious?
It made me ambitious. It made me independent. I learned early on I had me and only me to count on. I was always aesthetically aware. I used to babysit and I would re-arrange their furniture. I’m a neat freak. I would wash all the dishes and fluff all the cushions. I made the places as pretty as I could make it.
Did you ever get hold of interior design magazines or anything like that?
I didn’t know there was such a thing as “interior design”! Period!
So how did you turn all this around?
I didn’t go to college—when I finished high school, I was like, “Yay! I’m done with that!”. We had moved to Tennessee and then I moved back to Houston. I started working and I went through the entire yellow pages and got two jobs. I didn’t even know how to spell aerobics but I got a job as an aerobics instructor! I mean, I was a cheerleader—I ought to be able to do this! I ended up in a marketing job that paid well and as a sidekick, I started fashion styling. I just went out and got business cards made. Then I started doing apartments when girlfriends asked me. So when my husband and I met, I did his apartment.
How did you meet?
Just being single and being out in Houston. He was 25 when I met him and I was 30. He had just started in the energy business and he would bring his friends over to my highrise apartment and I started getting projects with oil and gas industry people. But I still had my marketing job in the medical field. When we finally got married, he said, “When are you going to quit this job? We’re married. You don’t have to pay the rent anymore.”
So you were clinging to the job out of security?
Of course! It was mine! I worked hard for it. I would get up and get cute and walk into offices and say, “Hey, use our MRI services.”
How are you now about money?
I like to work. I am a busybody and I couldn’t imagine not being involved in something. I’m high energy. It took me a long time to figure out what I was passionate about. And also, having girls, I want to set that example to them. You’ve got to do it, girl. You’ve got to figure it out.”
What’s it like in terms of professional and design differences between working in Houston and New York? How are people different in terms of what they want?
Well for one, you’re talking about apartments and Mac Mansions, usually. Houston is also a melting pot, like New York, but I actually like working in smaller spaces because you have to make the most of it—that’s what I’m used to. I’ve had to make the most of anything in life, all the way along.
Sometimes when there’s a marriage in which one partner has a huge business, that puts a strain on it but that doesn’t seem to be the case with you. [Lucinda’s husband, Javier Loya, is Chairman and CEO of OTC Global Holdings, a brokerage firm in the energy sector]
No, we are each other’s biggest cheerleaders. And we respect each other a lot. You can’t have a marriage without respect. Also, I’ve got my own life, my own identity. You can’t live off the shirttail of your husband because he’s going to get bored with you. He used to say that he wanted me in negligée on the sofa when he came home.
And, er … he was kidding?
It never happened! But if it was time for him to come home by gosh, if I only had ten minutes and I might have been ripping out magazine pages all day and they would be all over the bed, I jumped up. I’m not going to let my husband find me at home the way he left me. In my house in Houston but for some reason I can hear him pull up through a vibration. I jump up and I’m like, “He’s home!” I make sure everything is the way I want it to be—all of it.
What we’re saying is deeply politically incorrect—heresy, really.
Here’s where it comes from. And it would be important if you write about this to mention. I have never forgotten why I married him. I don’t want him to forget why he married me. It’s not even about pleasing a man, it’s about having respect for the relationship.
What are your fun things to do together in New York?
We love to go to Nobu 57 and sit in the bar. And they just opened one in Houston!