In the ideally located neighbourhood of Gramercy Park, this New York City apartment—originally built in 1945—had so much potential. Despite the need for a renovation, the owners—a couple who work in fashion and finance, plus their two cats—were immediately convinced it was their next home.
To transform the space, the dwellers trusted the talented team of nune, founded by British-born interior designer Sheena Murphy. Originally from Hertfordshire, England, Murphy lived in Lyon, France; London; Bangalore, India; and Seattle before settling down in New York City, where she did a post-graduate degree in interior design at the renowned Parsons School of Design. In 2014, she launched her practice in Brooklyn, where she lived for seven years with her husband and their daughter. Today, the studio continues to flourish in New York. Murphy decided to go back to her roots, however, and return to the U.K. with her family in late 2018, launching her London office.
“We focus on supporting small and independent businesses and designer-makers as much as possible, and we care about the environmental and human impact of our sourcing and design decisions”, Murphy says. The interior designer put this vision and her refined aesthetic at the service of the 12-month makeover of this Manhattan apartment, partnering with AF Architecture on some of the design’s structural elements.
Facing a private and quiet interior courtyard with windows on only one side, the space, which occupies a portion of three levels of the building, was initially too dark. Opening up the space required the demolition of a large pantry, which stood in the centre of the living area; the removal of old dark stained wood shutters in the main living space; refinishing of the floor in a lighter tone; the addition of Crittall windows to the mezzanine level; and whitewashing of the brick.
“The client was very drawn to monochromatic palettes and metals, so we used lots of light materials and contrasted those with darker moments and mixed metals for some drama and glamour, without losing the airiness of the space”, Murphy says.
The materials were chosen with the dwellers’ lifestyle in mind. Preventing cat scratches was a necessity. Leather, felted fabrics and tightly woven upholstery add a refined and warm touch to the whole space. “The trick was to mix up the types of hides and the tones here so it didn’t feel too repetitive or one-dimensional”, explains Murphy.
The lighting by Apparatus, Materia Designs and Allied Maker, and furniture pieces by Egg Collective, BDDW and Poritz & Studio reflect both the owners’ taste and Murphy’s preference for local names. “We love to have people’s homes be a mix of humble, honest materials, and great design with an underlying focus on sustainability”, notes Murphy. “We strive to create interiors that are not only easy on the eye but also good for the soul, good for humanity and good for the earth.”
Designed in collaboration with New York City artists who handled the plaster finish on the wall, the stairs are one of Murphy’s favourite architectural features in the home. “They were originally very dark and closed in, with an outdated railing detail”, notes Murphy. “By reconstructing the stair to have floating steps, a Venetian plaster wall and blackened steel railing, we were really able to visually open up the entire area. We also put step lights on the stair landings so the shadows cast by the light through the open stair treads are really beautiful.”
Currently working on a number of renovation projects in New York and a commercial space in London, nune is starting a new chapter, with Europe at its heart. “Working with an ocean between my business partner—Tor Sauder—and I, with bimonthly trips certainly comes with its challenges but it is a really exciting time for us”, confesses Murphy. “Europe has opened up to us in terms of vendors and clients and we are eager to see what opportunities might come from that.”