With lush colors, rich fabrics, and bold gestures, decorator John Barman and his associate, Jack. Levy, pull off a daring riff on a classic Italian style Pop meets palazzo in a Manhattan family apartment with surprising colors and Venetian-inspired details.
IT ALL STARTED with the curtains. The stylish New York City couple knew that they wanted a look inspired by the romance and faded grandeur of Venice, but they also craved strong color. Combining the two in their boxy modern duplex appeared next to impossible. But then their decorators, John Barman and his associate, Jack Levy, discovered a traffic-stopping Italian silk taffeta in iridescent blue with an electric red sheen. "That's it!" said the wife, fingering the luxe Schumacher sample. The fabric, which would become three walls of curtains in the couple's living room, opened up a new design direction: Call it Venice on vitamins. "It's like carnival colors," says Barman. "The challenge was to translate the opulence of Venice to a contemporary apartment.
The decorators' second great operatic gesture was to give new life to the family's.comfortable English furniture from the apartment's previous formal Anglophile decorating scheme, covering it m pumped-up blues, reds, and yellows. They introduced sumptuous silks and velvets, awning stripes, gold damasks, and decorative wall finishes to the staid high-rise rooms. "I had to look at this regular stuff with a Venetian eye," says Barman, pointing to a scalloped red lacquer Chinese coffee table from Holly Hunt, accented by a pair of heavy antique Murano fish and an opalescent Venetian seashell.
Where the designers truly departed from tradition, however, was in their choice of flooring. The building's rules requiring wall-to-wall carpeting and the practical needs of four children aged eight to thirteen made marble inlays out of the question. Unfazed, Barman and Levy decided to recast traditional Stark carpet patterns in daring, custom colors.
After sifting through baskets of brilliant yarns, they hit upon cherry red with hot pink paisleys for the living room, sherbet-colored stripes for the girl's room, black-and-white graphics for the boys' room, and gold-on-ivory damasks for the master bedroom. "Any moron can put down wall-to-wall carpeting," says Levy. "It took spunk and attitude to do it this way" It also required clients with the imagination to go along with them. Ornate faux finishes add to the Grand Canal atmosphere. Trompe 1'oeil painters transformed the small square foyer into the dazzling veined-marble entryway of a grand palazzo.
Barman and Levy installed four marbleized Roman columns between the foyer and living room and gave the walls of the living room a brilliant lemon yellow stucco finish. The dining room's mahogany Queen Anne-style chairs were antiqued in blue and upholstered in pink chenille. "Venetian chairs are always painted," says Barman.
Today, the apartment not only looks larger than life, it also functions as if it were larger. "They were running out of space in 4,500 square feet, because no one was using the biggest room," says Barman of the apartment in its former incarnation. The pretty textured chenilles and indestructible tone-on-tone carpets he introduced cleverly draw the kids back to the public rooms. And the living room curtains, while theatrical, also have a very down-to-earth function:
They can be adjusted to block the sun glare that had previously made the family's flat-screen television unviewable. "Now we actually hang out in this room and use it," says the wife. At night, the couple retires to the one room where Venice is hushed. with pillowy upholstered walls, soft Roman shades, and a gold velvet bed, the master bedroom feels like a soothing jewel box. Stressful clutter has been banished to an adjoining room that was once a home office. Now it's a contessa-size closet with everything in its place. "They didn't just decorate my apartment," says the wife, "they also helped organize my chaotic life:"