The first time Phillip Thomas decorated his older sister Caroline's Park Avenue apartment, he was still in college, finishing his bachelor's degree at the New York School of Interior Design. "She had a tight budget, she was dreaming big, and she had free labor," he says of the 2005 project. Nearly two decades and countless dinner parties later, Caroline called him back in to give the place a needed refresh. "Why not make it something dynamic and different?" he asked her. Now a trusting repeat client, she let him go bolder. Thomas preserved the home's pristine pre-war architecture, but worked in his signature splashy paints to make the space an apt backdrop for Caroline's impressive collection of antiques and art.
"It was really about color," the designer explains. "Color and finishes were very important. There is nothing less than a satin finish on any surface in this house!" Even accessories were painted: For the living room, Thomas "literally took paper lamp shades and spray-painted them with intense blue stripes, giving them all new energy."
One of Caroline's favorite colors is pink. So in classic little brother fashion, Thomas "wanted to do something that was kind of like pink on steroids" for one of the rooms. Benjamin Moore's Aniline Red—a juicy, rosy fuchsia—now covers the library walls, while an equally bold yellow, Dalila by Benjamin Moore, graces the adjacent living room. To make these two intense colors work side-by-side, Thomas employed connecting threads between the two: "For example, in the living room and dining room, we use the same window treatments in the same golden yellow taffeta fabric by Christopher Norman," he says. "We also use the same carpets. This creates an air of familiarity from one space to the other. It almost is as if they're related."
Perhaps unsurprisingly for such bold and saturated surfaces, most of the design budget went not towards furnishings, but paint. "From having the walls skim-coated throughout the apartment to using metallic finishes on the ceiling in the living room and library, it was about creating a kind of glow in the space," Thomas explains. "To me, a paint job is 90% about preparation of the surface and 10% about the final application of the paint."
The cheerful apartment is also designed to be used: Those higher-gloss finishes are more durable than eggshell, and furniture and accents were cast in stain-disguising patterns. This way, Caroline can welcome guests (not to mention her own chocolate Labradors) without fear of any accessories getting hurt. But these days, she's pretty content to have it all to herself. "The apartment was finished right before COVID," Thomas explains, "and until then she was working nine to five outside of the home. But she appreciates it all the more now that she's been working there, you know, 24 hours a day!"
"The Thomas family loves a yellow living room, so in this instance we really wanted to amp it up and make it a neon yellow. It was all about saturation in the space," explains the designer, who added a yellow submarine sculpture because "there was such a charm to it and a tongue-and-cheek feel to it." The piece was purchased in Chile, where the Thomas family is originally from. Meanwhile, a chocolate brown border added to the broadloom antelope-print carpet (perfect for disguising paw prints from Caroline's pups) grounds the look and gives a custom feel.
Paints: Benjamin Moore Dalila (walls), Modern Masters Metallics Flash Gold (ceiling). Club chair fabric: Pierre Frey / Boussac. Club chair pillow: Osborne and Little. Tablecloth fabric: Brunschwig & Fils. Stool fabric: Ralph Lauren Home. Sofa frame fabric: Manuel Canovas. Sofa cushion fabric: Romo. Mirror: Global Views. Candle sconces: vintage Italian, Pamela Lerner Antiques. Art to left of fireplace: Totoy Zamudio (Galeria La Sala Santiago Chile).
Why the dark paint, seemingly out of nowhere? Because it makes everything in the room pop. "It's almost such a neutral to me that anything feels bright and energetic in that space," Thomas explains, "from a bowl of fruit to some beautiful crystals or China that's stored in the kitchen."
Paints: custom, Fine Paints of Europe (walls) and Decorator’s White, Benjamin Moore (ceiling).
Originally upholstered in a white fabric, this sofa was reinvented in "this exuberant, almost jungle animal print," says Thomas. "We change it from three cushions to two cushions and modified the arms. It just shows you don't have to throw out everything from your past when it comes to planning for the future."
Paints: Aniline Red, Benjamin Moore (walls) and Modern Masters Metallics Flash Gold (ceiling). Sofa fabric: Pindler. Yellow pillow fabric: Brochure. Tiger fabric: Ralph Lauren Home. Bergères vinyl: Innovations. Curtain fabric: Christopher Norman. Sheer fabric: Clarence House. White lamp: Visual Comfort. White lamp shade: Custom graffiti: Andrew Tedesco Studios.
An aubergine lacquer on the walls draws in every bit of sunlight the windows let in. "The high-gloss paint demands a flawless surface," says Thomas. "Sometimes with higher sheens, I will have the finish sprayed onto the walls to avoid any texture, either from rollers or paint brushes. When it's done, you feel like you're going to go and touch the wall and your hand is going to go through the surface because it just has that much depth to it."
A sculpture that depicts repelling cartoon figures was found on a trip to Miami. "It's art that has movement and energy to it, even though it's made out of a ceramic material," muses the designer. "It's important to have pieces that provoke some kind of reaction," he opines. "People say, 'Oh, I want a very peaceful room.' But to me, I think the best interiors are the ones that keep you interested and keep you thinking about things."
Paints: custom, Fine Paints of Europe (walls) and Marry Me, Benjamin Moore (ceiling). Headboard: Brochier. Bed pillows and club chair fabric: Quadrille. Bed linens: Matouk. Nightstands: Pottery Barn. Lamp shades: custom, Blanche Field. Curtain fabric: Casamance. Curtain hardware: RH. Standing lamp: Artemest. Mirror: William Wayne & Co.
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