In the era of the skinny, super-tall skyscraper, Herzog & de Meuron’s 56 Leonard stands out—literally. Not just because it looms 821 feet above TriBeCa, a neighborhood in Lower Manhattan known for its 19th-century cast-iron low-rises, but more so for its bizarre shape. Made of uneven cantilevered blocks—no two floors are the same—the design becomes progressively incongruous toward the top. Taken as a whole, it looks unstable, almost shaky, which is why it’s now affectionately referred to as the Jenga tower, after the block-stacking game. “This building was iconic before it was even built,” says the interior designer Richard Mishaan, who can see the expressive concrete-and-glass structure from the conference room of his downtown studio. “It’s an extraordinary feat of engineering.” What Mishaan brought to a sprawling apartment there with four terraces, austere interior architecture, and panoramic views was a similar kind of balancing act.
Mishaan designed the space for a young family. He played to the parents’ avidity for contemporary art and glittering gemstones while providing stimulation for the children in the form of wild patterns and bright colors. “You can’t be too slick in a family apartment—kids have to be kids,” he says. That said, he sidestepped a “Fisher-Price child-friendly” palette with a scheme of rich hues that would appeal to just about any age group.
Because contemporary luxury architecture tends to favor spartan interior aesthetics, Mishaan could not have hoped for a more blank canvas. In the entry, he sought to create a “big, beautiful welcome,” with a playful mural painted by street artist Rostarr, bunny sconces by Hubert Le Gall, and marble-inset parquet flooring that leads to the master bedroom door, which is upholstered in purple velvet and trimmed with nailheads. “Walking into the apartment, you get the sense that this is going to be an adventure,” he says.
A left turn into the living room confirms this notion. The open expanse is a medley of warm reds and browns—“jewel tones and spices,” Mishaan says—with a golden ceiling. Sofas by Liaigre and Romeo Sozzi anchor the space, along with an alabaster sculpture by artist Manolo Valdés. Mishaan deliberately selected oversize furniture for the room to avoid pieces being dwarfed by its 16-foot ceilings and gargantuan scale. “This area is for grown-ups, yet the colors are cheerful in case the kids want to stop and look,” he says. “But don’t touch anything!” he adds with a laugh.
Since there are no walls in the apartment’s public spaces, moving between vignettes is seamless. As in a Gothic cathedral, the living room acts as a kind of apse from which the chapels of the dining room, entertainment room, and kitchen all radiate.
The clients’ fascination with gems becomes more pronounced with each change of scenery. The entertainment room, with its custom-colored malachite rug and mural depicting a geode, is the most literal. “You get this feeling of stone, but I didn’t want it to be like a mausoleum,” Mishaan says. The dining room light fixture is a jewel unto itself and one of the home’s main attractions. Designed by the American architect and artist Johanna Grawunder, the piece is composed of two acrylic wings that hang below a laser LED, which projects an intense straight line onto the cerused-oak dining table.
With its towering wall of azure cabinetry, the kitchen area, which abuts the dining room, gives the sense of cooking inside a sapphire. And beyond the aforementioned purple velvet doors is a sapphire even more vivid and intense: The California king bed and Theodore Alexander sofa are both upholstered in a sumptuous royal-blue Maharam mohair. “It’s like being in the sky,” Mishaan says. Indeed, the apartment, which is near the top of the 57-story tower, is high enough that its occupants occasionally notice helicopters flying past their windows.
Mishaan admits that this project was one of the more challenging of his 26-year career as an interior designer. Balancing sophistication with family-friendly comfort and function and making sure that none of the apartment’s gorgeous vistas were obstructed was a lot to juggle. But that’s also what made the project fun—almost like a game. “Designing this apartment,” Mishaan says, “was like building a Jenga tower of my own.”
Produced by Parker Bowie Larson
This story originally appeared in the December 2019 issue of ELLE Decor.
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