Back before work-from-home became the status quo for much of New York City, Richard Ouellette was already mastering the art of the home-as-studio in his small Chelsea apartment. It was two years ago when the Montreal-based designer, one half of the creative force behind Les Ensembliers (along with his partner Maxime Vandal), found himself taking on two big projects that would require him to temporarily relocate to Manhattan: a spot in the Kips Bay Show House and a collaboration with Brunschwig & Fils. A pied-à-terre was in order.
Ouellette and Vandal found their ideal spot downtown, on one of the oldest streets above Houston. “I loved the idea of making my studio there and having an atelier where I could create [the Brunschwig & Fils collection],” says Ouellette. The one-bedroom rental was petite—just 750 square feet—but plenty charming, with two marble fireplaces, original moldings, and (slightly slanted) stenciled parquet floors.
“Maxime wanted a simple pied-à-terre, but I wanted completely the opposite,” Ouellette recalls. Much to his partner's chagrin, he leaned into the bohemian feel, filling the apartment to the brim with pieces from his former homes. Since he couldn’t hang anything on the walls, he leaned art everywhere. “I like that sensation of things being imprecise and unorganized, of being surrounded by pretty things that I love seeing every day,” he adds.
Ouellette kept much of the decor at eye level, something he considers key when designing a space. In the living room, a low-slung sofa—placed on a diagonal—performs double duty as both a room divider and focal point when entering the apartment. “My sitting area, my dining area, and my library area—everything revolved around the low sofa,” he says. Lacking a proper foyer, he turned the living room's cocktail table into a de-facto entryway console, with a favorite catch-all to hold keys and other essentials.
Opposite the “living” side of the room, Ouellette created a work area with a wall-spanning set of bookcases (the one piece of furniture he bought expressly for the apartment) that hold samples, swatches and references for his multiple projects, and a round table covered in bone trays and silver cups for storing office items. The only thing that Ouellette doesn’t use the space for is eating, he jokes; like a lot of city-dwellers, he prefers to go out to grab a bite with friends at a restaurant rather than try to cook in his tiny kitchen. (As a result, the kitchen counter holds art and fresh flowers rather than pots and pans.)
For all the hard work the living room does, the bedroom is a single-purpose space, an oasis to drown out the noise of the day. “It’s really just about sleep, so instead of having a lot of elements, all I wanted was the bed and nightstands,” says Ouellette, who used vintage chairs to serve as his bedside tables. As far as decor, Ouellette limited himself to just a few pieces of art—all leaned, of course.
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