It said in the advertisement for the apartment, ‘Featured in House Beautiful,’” remembers Sarah Meister of this postwar three-bedroom in a Richard Roth–designed building on the Upper East Side. “I discovered the article that called it ‘The Problem Apartment.’”
This was in late 2013, and she and her husband, Adam Meister, bought it anyway from the niece of the original owner. It turns out that the article, which ran in the August 1967 issue of House Beautiful, was praising how the designer Edward Wormley had prescribed walnut paneling to camouflage the six doors that crowd the entry foyer and to modify the L-shaped living-and-dining area — the two “problem” attributes of the apartment. He also designed the whole thing: the bookshelves, cabinets, and woodwork paneling.
“I think when everyone else saw the apartment, they thought, Ewww, take out all this dark wood,” she says. “And I thought to myself, Don’t do a thing.”
Of course, the Meisters did end up doing a few things. “There was 50-year-old wall-to-wall carpeting over the original parquet,” she says. They painted the floors teal, opened up the kitchen, and removed two partitions that interrupted the living room and dining space, but left the remainder of Wormley’s woodwork intact: “When we moved in, indeed, all we did was wipe them down with Pledge!”
Wormley distinguished himself as one of the country’s leading modernists, though perhaps he was not as well known as his mid-century contemporaries. He grew up in Oswego, Illinois, studied at the Art Institute of Chicago, and did a brief stint as an interior designer at Marshall Field’s before being hired by the furniture company Dunbar in 1931. He served as its design director for decades and also had a small interiors firm on the side.
The paneling sets the tone for Meister’s interiors, and the rooms are furnished with a mix of pieces: a Jonathan Adler sofa, finds from eBay and 1stDibs, an original Wormley console in the entrance hall, along with a Wormley tête-à-tête sofa — still in production by Dunbar — in the living room.
The couple have two teenagers, which explains the ping-pong surface over the dining table. “We were trying to think of ways to make the apartment fun for the kids,” Meister says. “I’m fairly certain it was my husband’s idea.”
Meister, who spent more than 25 years as a curator in the photography department at the Museum of Modern Art, is now the executive director of Aperture (where she started the Aperture Photo Book Club.) The apartment is full of wonderful photographs, including John Szarkowski quadriptych that the Meisters bought together to celebrate their first anniversary and “a photograph of the stars that appears to shine even after they are gone, given to me by my colleagues when I left MoMA,” in the entrance hall.
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