The Eskimos are said to have a hundred words for snow, but in an impeccably bespoke interior by Geoffrey Bradfield, there are nearly as many synonyms for gray: pearl, dove, pinstripe, oyster, fox, seafoam, mist, moonlight, pebble, mushroom, taupe, smoke, cloud, steel, platinum, ash, pumice, slate and, of course, silver. Add the graphite lacquer of a vintage Rolls, a dash of velvet blue and eau de violette, and mix liberally with a palette of whites (meringue, frost, linen, goose down, chalk, ivory, diamond and Attic marble), and you have Bradfield’s recipe for one of Park Avenue’s most delicious little flats—his own.
The French call this kind of nest a garçonnière , for which the literal translation is “bachelor pad.” Innumerable bedroom farces of the fin de siècle were set in a garçonnière (the “ garçon ” was usually a married rake). But perhaps everyone with an overcommitted life needs such a hideaway, and not only for romance. Bradfield lives around the corner in a pristine town house (also all white and gray, and very high maintenance—the limestone floors get buffed almost every day) that is both a residence and an office (see Architectural Digest , September 2005). “I love the sense of community I have with the young people who work for me, and my dog loves the garden. But when I want to be alone, or alone with a friend, I escape to the flat—it’s a self-contained island of serenity.”
As one knows, the best way to find love is not to look for it. Bradfield had been designing a client’s grander apartment in the building (a whitest-of-glove co-op) when he learned, by chance, of an estate sale. The two rooms, a bedroom and a living room, “begged for a blowtorch,” he says, “but so much the better—I hate ripping out someone else’s investment decorating.” Without hesitating, he bought it. Its allure, besides proximity to his house and a blank canvas for his fantasy, was an enchanting view: “It’s as close to Florence as you can get in Manhattan.”
Bradfield’s windows overlook two stately old churches, one with a cupola, the other with a Gothic spire, and their soulful presence influenced the décor, he says, though in unexpected ways. “I love unapologetic glamour—the world of Hollywood movies from the ’30s—those shimmering mirages of penthouse high life. My aim here was to create the same kind of all-out seduction in miniature. But I also collect ancient sculpture, which is becoming fashionable and important again. The head of a goddess on the coffee table, the torso of Asclepius on a pedestal, the marble nude of a hero on my desk—these are relics that transcend the decorative. They inspired worship millennia ago, and still do. As Borromini put it, The Greek and Roman religions have long since gone, and a large part of our own will go someday, but what is lost for faith is retained for beauty.'”
It’s a tricky feat of discretion to juxtapose the sacred with the profane, though not for Bradfield, who, like his interiors, manages to project both consummate sophistication and old-fashioned propriety. The detail of an 18th-century painting by Tiepolo—three young servants in court livery preparing to launch a gondola—caught his fancy, so he played with the image on a computer and enlarged it for his bedroom walls. “I go to sleep like a Venetian prince,” he says, “surrounded by footmen and under a crucifix.” (The photo montage is a playful conceit, but not the cross—he’s a devout Anglican.) In the living room, Bradfield “spoiled” himself with opulent, even racy, textures and finishes. He topped the pilasters and framed the windows with bullnose molding leafed in platinum and upholstered an antique settee and Art Moderne slipper chairs with taut satin. The portrait of a gamine—a Japanese Holly Golightly—by Tam Ochiai dominates the only unmirrored wall. “I had lots of fun designing the rug,” he says—a deeply carved Art Moderne-esque carpet with a motif of pearlescent acanthus leaves. Above the consoles (prototypes from his new Millennium Modern collection of acrylic furniture) he hung chrome sconces that evoke the inverted branches of a willow glazed by an ice storm. They are warm and cool at the same time—like the décor itself.
The refrigerator in the tiny kitchen, which doubles as a library for Bradfield’s art books, serves mostly to chill champagne. When one asks him where the stove is, he laughs and gestures toward the elevator—the building has full hotel services, so when he feels like hosting an intimate soirée, he sets a table in the entrance hall (it seats four, on white-painted Victorian chairs), and the chef sends dinner up.
If it weren’t for the gravitas of the antiquities, the décor might seem a bit arch, like one of those comedies in which Jean Harlow wears a bias-cut charmeuse negligee and John Barrymore has a wooden leg. “Fashion is ephemeral,” Bradfield says, “and contemporary art tends to be ironic.” (Jeff Koons, who shares Bradfield’s penchant for, as he puts it, “pushing the envelope,” created the glossy blue balloon dog on his bedside table.) “But the secret is to find a balance between wit and sincerity. The masters who chiseled these classical figures, and paid homage to the eternal in them, help keep one pure of heart.”