Decorator Richard Mishaan transforms a classic artist's loft in SoHo into a stylish family home, without losing any of its bohemian spirit.
Last year, after what began as a casual conversation with the designer Richard Mishaan, she finally got both wishes, without sacrificing the almost thrilling dimensions of the place or adding even the slightest element of claustrophobia, which was what Alexander feared most.
The Mishaans had known Alexander and Waterstreet socially for years. Richard is an art collector, while his wife, Marcia, is an artist who took a course in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, where Alexander was the teacher (it was a program sponsored by the Corcoran Gallery of Art). Mishaan has sold of Waterstreet's ceramic pieces in his stylish home-furnishings boutique, Homer, and he owns one of Alexander's stunning oil paintings of water lilies.
'I also knew that the word 'fancy' is not in John's vocabulary, that we needed to dress it up but not go overboard,' Mishaan says. 'John kept insisting that he loved the open plan, and Fiona kept resounding that it echoed.' To satisfy both, he came up with ingenious 17-foot-tall screens and metallic open bookshelves to divide the once-vast living area into an entryway, a dining area, a living area, a den-- where sports fanatic Alexander can watch his ball games-- and a small sitting area off the bedroom and kitchen (a configuration Mishaan likens to a hotel's presidential suite).
The collaboration turned out to be a perfect match. 'I'm not the kind of person to take over,' Mishaan says. 'I could make it too pristine, and it would lose its charm.' And while he added a distinct new level of what Waterstreet admiringly calls 'real design and power,' he was also practical. To the screens, custom made from ebonized-oak frames and natural linen panels, he added gallery rods to facilitate an ever-changing installation of small oils, watercolors, and drawings, while the linen serves a much-needed acoustical purpose. The shelves provide a home for the books once stacked on the floor, as well as a showcase for Waterstreet's work. The fabrics, formerly folded in stack or draped on almost every upholstered surface, became the upholstery itself. A chevron print and an ikat separately covering a pair of French chairs in the sitting room are from Waterstreet's collection, while the suzani on the daybed comes from Homer. The pieces themselves contribute tot he unfixed nature of the new 'rooms.' The chairs, along with zebra print-covered cubes, move into the dining room when needed-- even the screens are light enough to move around.
'Richard created rooms but kept them fluid,' says Waterstreet, who was so enamored of his changes she was ready to get rid of more than Mishaan would allow. He persuaded her to keep a chintz-covered cambelback sofa, for example, and made it fresh by covering it in a vibrant burnt orange, one of the predominant colors in the loft's new palette. Now it is the perfect foil for Alexander's gorgeous blue hollyhock painting that hangs above it in the small room. The combination is so powerful, it made even Alexander a convert: 'I had a 70's art gallery mentality. I kept thinking that it was better to show off these big paintings in this big space.' But now, he says, after seeing them in situ, 'they actually have more power.' He says, laughing, 'There's a real reason people call it decorating.'
Yes, but the finished product is a marvelous example of decorating without a heavy hand. 'This is one of the last undisturbed lofts in the city,' Mishaan says. adding he felt strongly that 'the metal ceiling and all the wonderful things about the space (including unstained floors) should be preserved.' He was also careful not to 'pile on' too much color on pattern. 'With this kind of artwork, who needs it?'