It’s the type of provenance only a 150-year-old Manhattan apartment could have: a list of owners that includes Grace Coddington, Vogue’s famously flame-haired creative director—who called it home for more than 20 years—and French actress-singer-model Joséphine de La Baume. By the time Trevor and Christina Winstead moved in, it was obvious that the flat had spent nearly three decades as the stomping ground of single, jet-setting females. The 1,225-square-foot top-floor unit was essentially one huge open space with the tiniest of kitchens and a treacherous spiral staircase leading up to the bedroom and roof deck. Luckily, Christina knew just whom to call—her old friend Katie Martinez, a San Francisco interior designer.
A native East Coaster who worked for New York City’s Rockwell Group and Bay Area decorator Nicole Hollis before launching her own firm in 2013, Martinez was more than game when Christina asked for help in transforming their Manhattan digs. Having grown up in traditional single-family homes, the couple wanted to inject a bit of old-school elegance into the loftlike co-op. So began a yearlong construction and design process (in collaboration with architect Anastasia Amelchakova of studio PPARK) that included adding a second bedroom; dramatically expanding the kitchen; and trading the steel spiral steps for the coup de grace, an elegant curving staircase.
Along the way, Martinez translated the couple’s occasionally conflicting design visions into interiors that effortlessly meld vintage lounge chairs, powder-coated reading lamps, and heirloom silver. An updated master bath exudes understated luxury in a palette of marble and porcelain. And in place of a cooking area more conducive to ordering takeout stands a new kitchen perfectly suited to family meals—a sure clue to the next chapter in this brownstone apartment’s story.
1. Make an Entrance The home’s front door originally opened directly into the main living space. Winstead convinced her co-op board to let her incorporate the public landing—a 23-square-foot area at the top of the building’s stairs—into her unit. The result is a gracious vestibule with hidden storage for keys, dog leashes, and other necessities, as well as a physical and visual pause between outside and in.
2. Add a Visual Frame Martinez expertly mediated the marriage of traditional and modern with subtle design choices, such as installing crown molding along the floorboards but not the ceiling. “[The omission] made the ceilings look higher and emphasized the clean lines of the space,” says Martinez, “while the molding along the floors kept it from feeling too spare.”
3. Think Big, Build Big Replacing the compact spiral steps with a formal staircase and adding a second bedroom behind ate up square footage. But instead of making the apartment feel smaller, the addition of an outsize architectural element actually yields more visual presence, establishing the illusion of space.
4. Create a Cozier Command Center Monolithic kitchen islands are a mainstay these days, but a lighter piece was needed for this project. “I wanted something furniture-like, as opposed to something with a hulking permanence,” says Martinez, who designed a custom-made wood-topped island in inky black. More like a modified table, it’s light enough to be moved when needed, but substantial enough to store all the Winsteads’ cutlery.
5. Say It with Lights Each fixture in this home is emblematic of the owners’ overall style philosophy: clean lines and a modern sensibility combined with a deep respect for classic materials and traditional craftsmanship. In the kitchen, a trio of Original BTC pendants in hammered copper adds warmth against an expanse of white cabinetry. Over the dining table, a globe light sports an exposed bulb and chain-link detailing. And in the master bath, silver-dipped bulbs and simple porcelain fixtures act as foils for the herringbone-tile shower floor and crystal-knobbed vanity.
6. Say It with Paint A restrained palette can speak volumes. Martinez opted for a white with warm undertones in the living areas to encourage conviviality, while bedrooms are cloaked in a cool gray for a calming effect. The same sheer lined curtains and dark-stained floors are used throughout to tie the home’s spaces together.
7. Forgo the Hinges Martinez avoided typical swing doors as often as she could in order to keep sight lines clear and wasted space to a minimum. A simple slider closes off the new downstairs bedroom from the main living space; when it’s open, the view extends from the apartment’s front all the way to the back windows. And between the master bedroom and the new master bath, a pair of custom-built folding doors lies flat against the wall, virtually disappearing when opened.
8. Quiet on the Set “The main pieces shouldn’t scream at you,” says Martinez of her choice of neutral tones for the built-in fixtures and sofa. Rugs from Doris Leslie Blau in the living room and master bedroom up the ante, while vibrant prints from local artists and a chunky hand-dyed natural wool throw by Lana Smith provide color and whimsy.
9. Expose Yourself Don’t just trick out your open shelving with an impersonal array of store-bought tchotchkes and tomes. Martinez worked with the Winsteads’ actual collections of books and objects, and through careful editing came up with a deeply meaningful wall that holds everything from family photos to heirloom silver to wood for the two fireplaces.
10. Slim Down on Storage The Winsteads were originally wooed by the home’s walk-in closets—one in the kitchen and one in the master bedroom. But after living with them for a year, Christina found them to be more of a curse than a blessing. “You waste all this space ‘walking in,’ and then they just become a trap for stuff,” she says. Martinez solved the issue by ditching the large closets and designing ultra-efficient cabinetry, shelving, and in-wall storage units in their place, restoring significant square footage into both the bedroom and kitchen.