Clever design tricks make this apartment look twice the size

A compact Manhattan apartment has the impact of a place double the size, thanks to rich, jewel-like tones, glittering finishes and some dazzling design ideas

For a lot of people, 9/11 changed everything. Philip Gorrivan was one New Yorker who took stock of his life in the aftermath of those tragic events and decided to pursue a different career path. “I started looking at my life and thinking about what was important,” says Philip. He’d worked on Wall Street, in private equity, on internet start-ups and in magazine publishing, but his long-held passions were decorative arts and art history. It was time, he decided, to take a leap of faith and move from being a ‘weekend warrior’ – helping friends to do up their homes and using his own properties as experimental canvases – to being a fully fledged interior designer.
Today, more than twelve years on, the designer has just opened his second practice, in London, and is relishing his British experience. In addition to the residential projects he is currently immersed in there, Philip is launching a new lighting collection with Best & Lloyd at this year’s Decorex interior design showcase, and is also working on a range in conjunction with Savoir Beds. This opportunity to work with companies that have a long tradition of quality craftsmanship is perhaps the biggest difference he has witnessed between his New York and London experiences, but it is precisely this grounding in history that appeals to him.
Back in New York, behind the doors of what was once the Barbizon Hotel, on the Upper East Side, Philip has recently completed a rather tricky family apartment project. “The Barbizon was a residential hotel that catered for women only, a lot of them young upper-class ladies,” he explains. “It was converted into luxury condos about ten years ago, but some of the original tenants stayed on and still live there.”
One of the Barbizon’s most famous tenants was Edie Beale, a model, socialite and cousin of Jackie Kennedy who was also the star of the documentary film Grey Gardens. Philip drew inspiration from her and her fellow residents when he began work on the design for his clients’ home in this historic building on East 63rd Street. His starting point, however, came not from the building’s colourful roots but from the apartment’s modest size – it covers just 1200 square feet. “We decided to treat it like a jewellery box,” he says.
Maxi­mising space while achieving the rich, glitter­ing look he was after was a challenge that took a lot of expertise, design techniques and clever tricks to pull off. “Size constraints are a common issue in New York, so I tend to approach these properties as if they were luxury yachts – where you have to optimise every inch and give careful consideration to aspects like storage,” he explains, “When you open the front door, you feel you’re stepping into a trinket box. The designer is a master of illusion. The entrance is lined with mirrors, the ceilings throughout are hand-painted or have been given special decorative touches that wouldn’t look out of place in an art gallery, and the walls are covered with ultra-tactile wallpapers and fabrics or bespoke high-lacquer finishes. The purpose is two-fold: on a practical level, these finishes create the illusion of space and light; on an aesthetic one, the effect is very glamorous and very desirable.

This is just a taster, you can browse the full article with more stunning photography on pages 220-228, issue 96.

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Words Catherine Coyle
Photography Brian Doben
What A two-bedroom apartment in a former hotel building
Where The Upper East Side, New York