AD October 2014 "The Life Eclectic"
"Over his 20-plus-year career, Colombian-born interior designer Richard Mishaan has built a reputation for being the ultimate mix master. A favorite among collectors, he arranges disparate elements, say, a 17th-century console and a striking contemporary sculpture, into harmonious juxtapositions. It's a skill that's on inspiring display in his second monograph, Artfully Modern, due out in November from the Monacelli Press. And one that also defines the homes he has decorated for himself, including retreats in Cartagena, Colombia (Architectural Digest, May 2012), and Long Island, New York, as well as an apartment in Manhattan.
That last residence, located on a gilded stretch of Fifth Avenue overlooking Central Park, is where he has lived for 18 years, and where he and artist Marcia Rolfe Mishaan raised their now-college-age son and daughter. For them the apartment is very much a family space, albeit one filled with fine furniture and museum-quality art-- a testament to their appreciation for beauty and to the decorator's refusal to follow prescribed design dictates. As he puts it, "I hate having constraints about what goes where."
Evidence of this is front and center is the entrance hall, where a table by Guy de Rougement hosting a stainless-steel piece by Chinese artist Zhan Wang stands near a neoclassical carved-wood console. On the wall hangs an exuberant assortment of works, ranging from glass droplets by Rob Wynne to a scene by 19th-century Italian painter Federico Andreotti. Bracketed by the cerulean-blue cove ceiling and the green-and-white marble floor, the unlikely combination of art and furnishings feels at once comfortingly traditional and defiantly original. "For Richard, the apartment is a but like a lab," Marcia says. "He's constantly trying new things."
Individualization is the theme of any Mishaan project, since, the designer explains, "I'm always working to create a context for my clients' lives, rather than forcing mine on them." When it comes to him own spaces, the well-traveled decorator makes liberal use of idiosyncratic art by high-profile friends and associates, such as the vibrant painting by Donald Baechler over the living room sofa or the Andy Warhol Brillo-box sculpture in the library. The works of Fernando Botero, a family friend, are also a conspicuous presence-- though one now appears a bit different from when it was first produced. For years, says a slightly chagrined Mishaan, he exhibited a Botero drawing in the living room without a protective layer of glass-- that is until a makeup-artist pal decided to brighten the black-and-white sketch with a daub of blush.
Among the living room's other treasures is an elegant bronze chair with a heart-shaped back designed years ago by Eric Schmitt for Homer, Mishaan's home furnishings store (now in Greenwich Village). Another is an 18th-century fauteuil that was recently determined to have belonged to Marie Antoinette. And then there is the multitude of creations-- some sculpted, some painted-- by another family intimate, Manolo Valdes, many of them inspired by Diego Velazquez's circa-1656 masterpiece Las Meninas. It's an eye-catching array that Mishaan pulls off by sticking to a mostly neutral palette for floor coverings, upholstery, and window treatments. "In an art-filled room, the art is the only place you should have color," he cautions.
Of course, there are times when the furnishings can be as intriguing as what surrounds them, as is the case with the powerhouse Piero Fornasetti carpet that runs the length of the hall leading from the apartment's public rooms to its private sphere. Depicting slithering serpents and rendered in shades of green, black, and red, the rug makes a vivid statement, at once alluring and menacing, a blend Mishaan finds compelling. "When I was growing up in Colombia, it was a violent society," he says. "But it was one packed with incredible art. I think my sense of color and boldness comes from that."
Though outfitted in pacific shades of taupe and cream, the master bedroom has its share of visual drama as well, what with a David Hockney painting (one of the designer's early purchases) and a Valdes metal bust that is enveloped by a swarm of butterflies. Like every room in the apartment, this spot speaks to Mishaan's eclectic eye and the irresistible pull that comes with stumbling upon the perfect object-- even when there isn't an obvious place to put it. "I just like discovering things, and that's what I do," the decorator says, adding, "Collectors buy first and then ask, 'Where is this going?'" Clearly, it's a strategy worth emulating."