New York designer Lilse McKenna gives the living room of a classic West Village rental a colorful and feminine attitude.
In transforming a standard-issue white box of a prewar apartment in the West Village, Lilse McKenna knew the living room needed to be as self-assured and untimid as the client herself, design publicist and blogger Nan Philip. “Nan is only in her mid-twenties, but she’s confident, adores color, and has next-level taste,” says the Brooklyn-based McKenna. To reflect Philip’s age and adventurousness—plus her desire for trend-proof classics with longevity—McKenna put a twist on traditional, combining vibrant hues and personality-packed patterns with timeless silhouettes. The result is a rental with character and citified sophistication, loaded with nimble pieces that can seamlessly transition to whatever leased space—or style—Philip moves on to in the future.
Brooklyn-based designer Lilse McKenna
McKenna’s client, design publicist and blogger Nan Philip.
The Blank Canvas
“With square footage at a premium, furniture in New York City needs to work twice as hard,” like the space-saving banquette and sleek oval table, which turn the sunny spot by the window into a combination dining area/home office. The seating’s outsize Samarkand Ikat print is also a versatile design chameleon and pulls attention to the view. “This ikat is my magical go-to, because I swear it works for every project. The scale makes a dramatic statement, and there’s such a depth to the saturated blues.” To maximize light and soften the geometric casements of the windows, semi-sheer linen curtains in a wispy aqua stripe were left unlined. “They seem almost weightless, and the effect is very ethereal. Outlining them in a raspberry ribbon trim is the kind of crisp punctuation and customization Nan gravitates toward.”
“Nan really trusts me, so she didn’t blink when I suggested a sofa in a vivid sapphire velvet. The intense blue has the visual heft to anchor the room, in a way a neutral wouldn’t, and the brightness emphasizes the simplicity of the rolled arms and the tight back on the sofa form. The Brighton Pavilion fabric on the larger cushions, with the birdmotif and the florals, breaks up the expanse of the blue, and introduces a chinoiserie, Palm Beach preppy element. The print was the catalyst for the room’s entire palette, and contrasts and complements the coral undertones of the pink walls. Pink could have been another controversial choice, but Nan lives alone—there was no one else to veto the unabashed flirtyness.”
An airy etagere wrapped in rattan adds texture and open storage, and its straight lines counterbalance the arched doorway. Also providing texture: the nubby seagrass rug, a favorite of McKenna for its practicality and cost efficiency. “Street dirt is a fact of life in Manhattan, and investing in pricey rugs here is risky. Myadvice to city dwellers: spend on furniture and fabrics, rather than rugs.”
“I always make sure to turn over a fabric to inspect the backside, to see what the colorways are like on the reverse. When I flipped a very formal, intensely-hued hunting scene, complete with quails nesting in the brush, I saw this and knew it was exactly what I was after. It’s muted, like a watercolor, and resembles a toile. I love that it’s hard to pinpoint, as if maybe it’s a threadbare, sun-faded heirloom passed down from an English country estate. It gives the space more of a collected-over-time individuality, important when almost everything in an apartment is newly purchased.”
“A button-tufted, rounded-back chair this feminine and diminutive would have looked grandmotherly if it was upholstered in anything too staid. A boho batik fabric upends expectations, and makes it a lot more age appropriate. It’s similar to a textile Nan could have purchased in a far-flung bazaar during her backpacking travels. The size of the print doesn’t overwhelm the chair’s proportions, and the tightly edited palette—it’s just two colors—makes it calm, not chaotic.”
“I’m big on balance, and a believer that you should meet bold with bold. Nan already owned the black-and-white round mirror, and it required something just as take-charge to match its daring. A fearless glossy teal lamp topped with a dainty posy pattern shade holds it own with the mirror’s size and presence. To me, a hand-crafted fabric shade is the finishing touch to personalize a room, and the way it diffuses light with a warm glow is unmatched.”