Few people practice what they preach as ardently as Noa Santos. As the co-founder and CEO of Homepolish—a service that connects style-conscious homeowners and renters with accessible interior design experts—he urges potential clients to recast the way they think about their homes. “We want people to talk about design the way you talk about fashion. You don’t wake up one day and say, 'OK, I’m going to start building my wardrobe this month, and then next month it’ll be done.' The clothes you wear constantly reflect where you are in life, how much you make, what geographical area you live in, what your style is. That is what your home should be. Your home should be constantly be evolving.”
Perhaps no one has taken that advice to heart quite like Santos himself, who has lived in as many as four different rental apartments in the last five years. “I enjoy moving around the city, experiencing the different neighborhoods and, of course, decorating my new apartments,” he says. “With each place, my own personal taste becomes more honed, my style becomes more distinct—it’s more me.” Such was the case for his latest residence, in a hi-rise condo building in New York City's Hells Kitchen neighborhood, where he recently moved with boyfriend Ross Matsubara. There was, however, one notable exception. “For this apartment, I really wanted to do something that challenged me as a designer. I wanted to push the boundaries, specifically regarding pattern and color.” So, seeking to gain some insight into the design process from a Homepolish client's perspective—and to help him think outside of his own admittedly neutral box—Santos enlisted the help of DwellStudio founder and executive creative director Christiane Lemieux. “Noa and I are very much on the same page [in terms of design], so it was an easy partnership,” says Lemieux.
Another major goal of their collaboration: find a balance between Matsubara's bold, pattern-influenced aesthetic and Santos's timeless, more subdued sensibility. “I spend my whole day around design, so I want my own home to be a sort of palate cleanser,” says Santos. “I don’t use a lot of color. I really like my home to be a vehicle to exhale.” So Santos and Lemieux set to work finding pieces that satisfied both requirements, deciding on a graphic black-and-white palette and bringing in tactile elements throughout. “We wanted to create rich colors and textures in the furnishings and fabric choices so that Noa had some modern luxe,” says Lemieux. “It’s the perfect backdrop for this stylish couple.”
It helped that the apartment was essentially a blank slate: the only items that made the transition from Santos and Matsubara's last apartment were a tufted-leather chesterfield sofa and a gilded wheat sheath lamp purchased from a flea market. With the establishing pieces in place, the living room came together thanks to a high-low mix of furnishings and accessories. A graphic black-and-white rug grounds the expansive main seating area, which features a pair of lacquered coffee tables from Chairish, fur floor pillows from RH, and charcoal ottomans by Bryght. Color comes courtesy of a vibrant fiddle-leaf fig tree, patterned throw pillows, and pastel-hued artwork. The result is a space that is ideal for the cocktail parties the couple likes to host, at once inviting but with a definite point of view. “I think the mix is a great reflection of the inhabitants—it’s layered and rich and just a little bit over the top,” says Lemieux.
The bedroom provided an opportunity to take Santos even further outside his comfort zone. Lemieux introduced a tufted-velvet bed in a rich crimson shade and a Berber-inspired rug, both by DwellStudio. “The rug was a big departure from my normal style," says Santos. “Normally I don’t mix pattern and texture, but Christiane loved it. I put it in the bedroom because I thought it wouldn’t work, and I actually really love it.” Santos also questioned the use of two different end tables as nightstands but was pleasantly surprised with the outcome. “It's a learning process,” he says. “You can only learn what you like if you experiment.”
For Santos, there's no better place to experiment than in a rental apartment. Though it seems counter intuitive, he insists that the impermanence of the space is precisely the draw. “Doing your apartment while you rent is something that everyone should experience,” he says. “Things happen. You make mistakes and you learn from them. If you wait till you have a bunch of money, you run the risk of making all of the mistakes you'd make in an apartment more expensively because you haven’t had the chance to explore what you love and don’t love.”
Santos knows from personal experience. In his second New York City apartment, he opted for deep colors and dark rooms. “It’s a very editorial look," he says. “I had a lot of stuff in the room. It was like a grandma’s closet kind of feel.” But once the redesign was finished, he had an epiphany. “I thought, This is cool. I really like it. It photographs well. But then I realized, I really don’t want to live here. I never would have learned that if I hadn't tried it.” Which brings him back to his current apartment. “Now I know I like my place to be a respite for me from design in general, and I want it to function as a place to relax.”
That said, Santos admits the obvious limitations of a rental unit. “If I owned my own apartment, I would love to do things like concrete floors and wood beams. I can’t do that.” Still, he's willing to accept the things he can't change with a more enthusiastic focus on the things he can—even if that means testing his own design limits. In this instance, the risks reaped big rewards. “I think the space is amazing,” he says. “It’s as close to the perfect representation of where I am now as I’ve gotten in all of my apartments, and it's probably the best reflection of Ross and me, the two of us together.”