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When a Designer Designs for Another Designer

Controlled chaos in Washington Heights.

The living room. Photo: Annie Schlechter
The living room. Photo: Annie Schlechter

For 14 years, Ross Alexander lived in a 200-square-foot studio apartment on the Upper West Side. Last October, the interior designer felt it was finally time to be able to walk more than two feet to cross the room (one morning when he woke up, he simply moved his arm and knocked over a lamp, which was the “last straw”), so he found a larger apartment, a rental in a prewar building in Washington Heights. “It’s so much more fun to bounce ideas off someone,” says Alexander (who worked variously for the late Prince of Chintz, Mario Buatta; Robert Couturier; and Robert A.M. Stern before becoming director of product development at Kate Verner + Associates), so he turned to his good friend Brock Forsblom, also a designer, for help. “I told him, ‘Think Manolo,’ ” as in the designer Manolo Blahnik. Dries Van Noten’s home outside of Antwerp was another inspiration with its rich palette and overlay of antiques and patterns. “There is a general opinion that maximalism is about clutter,” Forsblom says, “but everything in this apartment has its spot, and every object engages the eye.” They created specific “zones,” which helped create aesthetic order: “There’s the garden living room, the gentlemanly entry hall, the scholar’s study, the Zeffirelli-Mongiardino caravan-of-dreams bedroom,” Forsblom says.

Working pro to pro, the designers could banter about all the geeky details, as when Forsblom asked Alexander, “Shouldn’t we do a tiny little shantung flange to dress the cord twist, or would a tiny welt pipe be better?” And every morning, Alexander would be greeted by a flurry of text messages with links to various items Forsblom had found at online auctions. The two designers enjoyed the process so much, Alexander says, “we’ve joked about sending it all back to auction and starting over.”

In the living room, seen above, the 1920s Chinese rug was purchased at auction. “It was the first thing we bought,” says Brock Forsblom. The Roman shades and scrim sheers are done in coordinating Carolina Herrera prints. “The view doesn’t exactly exist,” he says, “so we wanted a window that would feel open and airy even when it was closed.” The sofa and chairs were both found at auctions; the sofa was covered in Voutsa’s Poppy fabric and the armchairs in yellow wool from Ralph Lauren. The painting over the sofa, by the artist Sophie Larrimore, was commissioned for the room.

The Living Room: “The purple armchair, like so many things in this apartment, was originally white,” Forsblom says. He reupholstered it in purple velvet and added the custom-colored cord-twist fringe and acid-green silk shantung flange, because it’s all in the details. The side table is a Housing Works find that Alexander painted green; the top photograph of artist Louise Nevelson, taken by Diana MacKown, was found at auction from the estate of fashion designer Arnold Scaasi. The towering dogwood branches are from the flower market on 28th Street. Photo: Annie Schlechter
The Foyer: The living-room entrance from the foyer is defined by a portière in the same Carolina Herrera silk print as the window Roman shades. The console, decorated with tole flowers, was found at a flea market in Chelsea, and the bibliothèque was purchased from an estate in New Orleans. The windows are covered in hand-embroidered fabric by Clare Louise Frost, purchased at Tamam on East 5th Street. Alexander collected the wall art from galleries and auctions over the years. Photo: Annie Schlechter
The Bed: The bedcover is a mix of Holland & Sherry plaid and an Oscar de la Renta toile panel from Mood Fabrics. The large pillow is from Tamam, and the sleeping pillows are covered in patchwork silk to match the window curtains. The canopy is a mix of purple African wax-resist fabric and green shantung. Photo: Annie Schlechter
The Bedroom: The lamp is made from a 19th-century Japanese candlestick with a custom shade by Blanche Field. The haori jacket was a gift to Ross Alexander from Forsblom. The curtains are custom-made panels of patchwork silk from Amin Fabrics on West 39th Street. The Japanese screens are from David Duncan Antiques. Photo: Annie Schlechter
The Bedroom: The mirror (reflecting the Japanese screen) was designed by Alexander and fabricated by Walter P. Sauer in Brooklyn. The dresser is an Edwardian butler’s chest found at an auction. Photo: Annie Schlechter

*A version of this article appears in the August 19, 2019, issue of New York Magazine. Subscribe Now!

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