How a Fifth Avenue Apartment Went From Drab to South Beach

Interior designer Keith Lichtman created a boutique-hotel look in a 950-square-foot space.

Figure skater turned interior designer Keith Lichtman gave his client’s cramped and outdated (balloon curtains, granny chandeliers) a South Beach–style renovation.

Keith Lichtman can’t say that he always wanted to be an interior designer. His first love was figure skating — he won the U.S. National Junior Figure Skating Championships and choreographed for the 1992 Winter Olympics. But he will say that his skating experience informs his work as a designer “1,000 percent,” and he applied his expertise to a recent 180-degree makeover of a prewar on Fifth. The before photos show a palette of more than 50 shades of brown. Here, the entrance foyer and corner of the living room before Keith did his magic.
“My client told me she loved South Beach,” Keith says. “So creating a boutique-hotel look, à la South Beach, was an ongoing vision for the entire space.” The reno included sanding and refinishing all the floors of the 950-square-foot space and banishing all brown furniture.
Let the demolition begin! The cramped kitchen, on the other side of this wall, had no relationship to the rest of the apartment and was totally demolished, as was the bathroom. Walls throughout the apartment were torn down, and the electrical and plumbing were totally replaced.
“Perhaps the most dramatic change was creating a wide and tall opening on the shared wall of the kitchen to the living room,” Keith says. “More than a typical suburban, duck-your-head pass-through, this opening allowed the new kitchen to breathe and let the beauty and consistency of each room flow into the next. Now a tall, sculptural goose-necked faucet makes a statement where a solid wall and bookcase once stood.”
The dining area before the renovation had a little bit of everything going on: balloon curtains, woven café chairs, and a granny chandelier. Out with the old …
… And in with the new! The new palette works off a neutral base with bursts of color and a continuation of certain elements to tie things together, like the Osborne and Little curtain fabric in the dining room. Keith used a blend of polished nickel and chrome along with white lacquer and clear glass for the new, “sleek, clean, mod” aesthetic that his client was after.
More balloon curtains, a very tired, very brown sectional sofa, and a Victorian floor lamp were waiting for their glass-slipper moment in the living room.
Seriously? Is this even the same room? Keith put down a barely there white-and-gray cowhide rug that adds shape and texture to the bleached floor. White matchstick window shades have replaced the balloon curtains, and the same Osborne and Little crisp geometric patterned curtains flank the windows as in the dining room. The coffee table from Johnston Casuals adds a sculptural element, and the chairs and sofa from American Leather through Jensen-Lewis add a dash of sweet color. The chair pillows are from Jonathan Adler, and the floor lamp is from Arteriors.
“The kitchen was, in a word, orange,” Keith told me. “It was also tight and isolated from the living room, which was awkward.” This applies to a million kitchens in this city.
This kitchen shows what an ugly duckling can become with white painted custom cabinets, a bleached wood floor replacing the orangey-brown stone tiles, and the lift of the horizontal marble-tile walls and backsplash from Cancos Tile. The countertops are Silestone quartz, and the refrigerator is Sub-Zero.
The prewar bathroom had not been touched in 30 years, so Keith had but one thought: “The concept was clear from the get-go: spa, baby!” He was able to go all the way with this concept, as his client didn’t want the bathtub.
And doing away with the tub made room for the small windowed alcove bench and a wider shower. The herringbone shower tiles are from Artistic Tile, the floor and wall tiles are from Cancos Tile, and the fixtures are from AF Supply.
Keith didn’t mince words about the state of the bedroom. “It really epitomized a shabby-but-not-chic room.” Plus, he said, “the bed was facing the wrong direction. Total revamp time!”
Keith’s client moved out of the apartment for two-and-a-half months while all the work took place. When I asked him if there had been a reality-TV-style moment when she cried and gasped, he said no, but there was a series of “aha” reckonings during the process. “She rejoiced over each and every part of the renovation process,” he says. In her bedroom, the bed from Bobby Berk is now facing the right direction, and the Madeline Weinrib area rug picks up color and patterns off the walls, while the Kartell desk chair and ModShop desk and night table would live very happily in South Beach and, as it turns out, on Fifth Avenue, after all.
See a ‘Drab to South Beach’ Apartment Renovation