The proverb “absence makes the heart grow fonder” is generally applied to the love between human beings, but it proves just as adept at encapsulating the affection of a tenant for his carefully appointed abode. Consider designer Charlie Ferrer’s recent, temporary leave from the West Chelsea studio apartment he has rented since 2016.
When the pandemic took hold earlier this year, Ferrer moved to Palm Beach to stay at his parents’ house (which, incidentally, he designed for them). A friend of his camped out in his New York place while he was away. This past summer, he moved back up north and continued to live with his parents at their home in Greenwich, Connecticut, also a product of his handiwork.
“I was almost afraid to go back to my place because I thought the small apartment would be really isolating and claustrophobic,” explains Ferrer, who eventually returned to Chelsea in the fall. “But when I gave it a chance, I felt really good. There’s a feeling here I’ve really missed, a feeling you can only experience in your own space.”
In this respect, Ferrer is just like those of us lucky enough to have a home of our own during trying times, finding comfort in the familiar and the personal, regardless of scale. Of course, given his profession and talents, Ferrer’s version of “personal” is far more refined than that of the average non-designer. A few years ago, he was living in a one-bedroom apartment farther east in Chelsea when he discovered the 1930s landmarked industrial building, home to his current residence, on a late spring afternoon. Taken with the block’s quiet energy and the seminary on its south side, he ended up revisiting the area in 2016 when he was looking to move; he had leased office space nearby and was hoping to downsize to a studio apartment to save money. What the space in the 1930s building lacked in size, it made up for with cool casement windows, plenty of light, and a working fireplace.
Ferrer made friends with the super, who looked the other way on the designer’s not entirely rental-friendly upgrades. He removed the cheap cabinets in the kitchen and added Donald Judd–style green shelves in their place, papering the ceiling in a vintage Italian wallcovering that he had bought in Provence and that reminds him of, as he says, “carpaccio.” Ferrer also added decorative paint (with help from Dean Barger) on the walls, changed the hardware on the cabinets, installed curtains, upholstered the inside panels of the bathroom and closet doors in a Perrine Rousseau textile, and stripped the woodwork on the fireplace mantel, while painting the firebox brickwork black.
“It was mostly cosmetic, but I definitely put some money into making it feel sexier,” he says.
In terms of the decor, the apartment is characteristic of Ferrer’s highly collected and layered style, with perhaps more color than he has employed in the past. He designed a showstopping, sky blue corner sofa-cum-sectional where he can host friends for drinks (during non-COVID-19 times). Above the sofa is a salon wall of artwork collected over the years, including pieces by Carlos Otero and Tam Ochiai. A large plaster work that Ferrer picked up in Paris crowns the mantel; its heft adds gravitas to the smaller-scale environs. A home office corner juxtaposes a Pierre Jeanneret desk with an egg-yolk-yellow Verner Panton chair. Throughout, Ferrer covered the floors in a sisal matting, on top of which he added a variety of rugs to help differentiate the various areas of the space. Most of the vintage furniture came from his design gallery on 1stdibs.
Despite the cozy intimacy Ferrer has invested in this studio rental, he is already planning for a future home, yet to be discovered. He would like to move in the fall of 2021, perhaps even to a new neighborhood; at some point, he would like to own a place. It is a typical New York rental story: You fill your home with love and care, knowing that one day you will have to leave it all behind.
“It’s sad to dismantle something you’ve been emotionally committed to and involved in and don’t necessarily want to separate from,” Ferrer says. “I’m getting better at being less attached to things and places. It’s healthy. But it’s nice to know that you’ve extracted utility from a place to the best of your ability.”
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