Photography by Joel Barhamand
Architect Reinaldo Leandro doesn’t have hard and fast rules for arranging a home. “When it’s right, you know it. You feel it here,” Leandro explains, while emphatically gesturing to his gut. “If you don’t feel it, you keep moving things around until you do.”
It may seem like a nebulous remark coming from one of the founders of Ashe + Leandro, a New York-based architecture and design firm co-owned by interior designer Ariel Ashe, but it would be a mistake to confuse bluntness for flippancy. Leandro believes that your home—and how you live in it—is so deeply personal that it shouldn’t be limited by anything as inconsequential as rules.
It’s this unwavering faith in gut instinct over traditional design norms that landed the small seven year-old firm at the top of Architectural Digest’s “Ones to Watch” list—and earned the duo an impressive roster of clients, from celebrities (Seth Meyers) to art world powerhouses (Rashid Johnson) to musicians (Jonny Buckland of Coldplay).
“When Ariel and I meet with clients, we don’t sit around in a conference room looking at tearsheets,” explains Leandro. “We go to their homes. We see how they live. We walk through their daily routines. We do all of these things before we even start talking about design.”
Leandro recently gave us a first-hand look at his design process when he gave us a tour of his New York City apartment, a space he shares with boyfriend Patrick McGrath, a visual merchandiser for Armani.
“When Patrick and I moved in together, we didn’t buy anything,” explains Leandro. “We tried to find ways to make the things we already owned work together.” Any couple that has ever undergone the dreaded “marriage of possessions” (and come out the other end intact) can attest to the relationship strain an ugly armchair can ignite. But this couple managed to avoid all the usual pitfalls, marrying Leandro’s contemporary style with McGrath’s love of antiquities and Old Masters, by making a few smart design tweaks.
In the dining area, for instance, the original white laminate top of a classic Saarinen table was swapped for a slab of sleek black Nero Marble instead. Dining chairs, which originally belonged to Leandro’s grandmother and were shipped from Venezuela, were recovered in soft black leather. And in lieu of a big, statement light fixture, a simple swivel lamp by New York designer Billy Cotton was affixed to the wall. When not in use during meal times, the fixture doubles as task lighting, swinging to hang above the kitchen bar (left) or to shine on the Dogon African mask on display (right).
Similar alterations can be seen in the sitting area, where two well-loved but mismatched sofas were redressed to complement each other—one, reupholstered in rich mahogany-tone velvet; the other, draped in an Italian linen sheet. The most noticeable change, however, wasn’t made to the furnishings but to the apartment’s layout. Leandro widened the doorframe between the living area and bedroom, replacing the single door with a set of French doors instead.
“It actually wasn’t a huge investment,” says Leandro of the three-day project. “But going from a regular door to French doors, with all that glass, added so much light to the bedroom. It really changed the feel of the whole apartment.”
It also helps that the couple chose a neutral palette— rich browns and soft tans, stark whites and subtle beiges—a design tactic Leandro recommends to all his clients. “We [Ariel and I] use a lot of neutrals, blacks and whites, in our projects,” he says. “It gives you a clean canvas to start from, and then you can work from there.”
What this space lacks in color, however, it makes up for in layers-upon-layers of gorgeous texture: a shaggy Moroccan wool rug lays next to a tightly woven straw rug shot through with leather; light linens are contrasted with heavy velvets; and wood grains play against marble, concrete and stone accents.
“I used a lot of natural textures because it felt very contemporary but not fussy; very light, elegant and comfortable,” explains Leandro, a sentiment that feels like a fitting description of not only the textural mélange but the inviting apartment itself.
“At the end of the day, I wanted to be in a space full of the things I love,” he says. “The art on the walls, the furniture that was inherited from family, these are what make this apartment feel like home.”