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Tour The Former Apartment Of Interior Designer Michelle Smith

Tour The Former Apartment Of Interior Designer Michelle Smith Tour The Former Apartment Of Interior Designer Michelle Smith

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“I wanted the living room to be a place that would function under many scenarios—not only a comfortable place for people to be together but where I could entertain,” Jaymere says. “I hosted 30 people for Thanksgiving there and was able to use everything in there. I wanted a space that was warm and inviting without being too cluttered.”

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Upon seeing her apartment for the first time, Smith was immediately smitten, as it had been virtually untouched by the previous owner for years. While her aesthetic has a decidedly collected-looking appeal, it’s not excessively decorative or too traditional. She prefers a quietly sophisticated design scheme that borrows from old-fashioned American, European, and artisanal sensibilities. “I longed to keep the apartment’s simplicity and history intact, so I began with an earthy color palette, embracing the pre-existing ‘old lady’ hues,” Smith says. “I even held on to a humble kitchen chair that had been left behind.”

Seven months pregnant, Jaymere shares her home with her husband and their Cavalier King Charles spaniel, Izzy.

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That apartment is a product of her, 1,000%. She just let me have fun giving her what she wanted.

Anyone who has lived in New York City knows that having a second bedroom can be both a blessing and a curse. “I always have houseguests who stay forever. Because I have a second bedroom, they never go home,” say Smith. Of course, many of her guests, including her mother, are very welcome, and Smith makes sure the bed is made just so for their arrival. “I think down comforters can look messy, so I do a tight coverlet and just fold the comforter on the bottom so that it’s intentionally messy but you have some neatness to balance it.”

The block of Tenth Street between University Place and Broadway is best known for the landmark restaurant Il Cantinori and a passel of top-tier antiques dealers such as Karl Kemp, Bernd Goeckler, and Maison Gerard. It’s no wonder, then, that many people don’t even notice the understatedly elegant 1930s apartment building just down the way. But when a two-bedroom apartment there came on the market during the economic downturn of 2009, Michelle Smith was ready to pounce. At the time a practicing lawyer on the verge of making a career switch, she transformed the space virtually overnight, but preserved much of the charm and original details, including the limestone fireplace mantel, wood floors, and original lead-glass casement windows.

Smith has been in love with decorating for as long as she can remember. “I should have known I’d wind up an interior designer, because during my childhood I would add ‘Decorating my bedroom and bathroom’ to my Christmas wish list every year,” she reminisces. A native of Morgan City, Louisiana, Smith has been collecting antiques and furniture her entire life, and many of her most beloved pieces can be found throughout her new digs. “I was renovating this apartment while working at a big law firm, and after leaving work each night and checking on the status, I realized that my passion for drawing cabinet elevations and choosing bath fixtures surpassed my interest in reviewing litigation documents.”

Smith left law to work for designer and architect Daniel Romualdez, who taught her about the quirks and nuances of the design business. In July 2012 she launched her firm, Studio MRS, where she practices a stylish, urban approach to design, inflected with a bit of her trademark southern charm. To this day her favorite antiques show is at Marburger Farm in Round Top, Texas, where she travels each year to load up her father’s horse trailer with treasures. She also routinely haunts the Paris flea markets and New Orleans salvage auctions to build up her antiques arsenal.

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Jaymere moved in with a lot of furniture and decor but needed Michelle’s help with layout. “She didn’t have anything where it ended up,” Michelle says. “She didn’t think a dresser should go in front of a window. I was like, ‘Of course it should.’ I did move a lot of things around.”

New York City oozes a rare brand of cinematic serendipity; it’s almost like Woody Allen is orchestrating from a director’s chair above. For Jay Meredith (“Jaymere”) Stein the chance moment was when she accidentally walked into interior designer Michelle Smith’s Union Square apartment, planning to look at a different unit for sale in the building. As she stepped into the two-bedroom flat, it was love at first sight—and then she realized she recognized the apartment from Rip + Tan and One Kings Lane, as the space had been published on both. “This has been my dream apartment, and the universe kind of gave it to me,” Jaymere says.

“I wanted the two bedrooms to be really different, and I think they completely are,” Jaymere tells us. “In the guest bedroom, it’s more bright colors, and there’s a lot more active energy going on there.”

Smith prefers to paint doors what she calls “noncolors” such as black or taupe rather than white. In the guest bedroom the black door adds a masculine edge to an antique brass bed and marble table.

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Smith, an admitted design-book addict, only keeps out titles she references regularly for inspiration. A crocheted lampshade, recently scored at a flea market in Florence, makes the perfect topper for a vintage lamp.

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“Once I ‘got’ her, and I found the right inspiration—a little bit Lee Radziwill and a little bit Renzo Mongiardino—it was very easy,” Michelle tells us. Much of the living room is inspired by a room created by the Italian design master Mongiardino. His design “has a mirror similar to her Moroccan mirror that she already had. Then, ottomans that are teal blue, and a lot of pink. That was my color inspiration for the room,” Michelle says. A set of plates frames the room’s mirrors.

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Interior design was always part of the plan for Michelle Smith—the native Southerner jokes that she grew up in a Home Depot because her mom was always renovating houses—but she kicked off her career as a lawyer. “I thought design was going to be something I did later in life,” she says. In 2009, when she was practicing law in New York City, she found the perfect challenge: a two-bedroom apartment in a 1930s building whose previous tenant hadn’t fixed anything in 60 years. She bought it and quickly realized she enjoyed renovating more than reviewing court documents.

Jaymere had already wallpapered the master bedroom in a floral pattern before Michelle began working on the home.

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“I love the dresser with studs and the big ball feet,” Michelle gushes over the antique find. “It makes me want to buy plain dressers and put nail heads on them.”

The plates framing Jaymere’s peacock mirror are made by interior designer Penny Morrison. “Aren’t they cute?” Michelle says. “Now everyone loves the [Richard] Ginori plates, but I feel like these are cooler.”


“It’s funny because it didn’t even smell like my apartment anymore,” Michelle says. “You walked into a green foyer with a yellow ceiling. The master bedroom was already wallpapered in that floral. The other bedroom was already a light purple.” The project became much more about making sense of Jaymere’s pieces, optimizing the furniture plan, and choosing fabrics and accessories that pulled it all together. “If you look at her finished apartment versus mine, they’re totally different,” Michelle says. “She loves color. She loves floral. She loves pattern and cool blues and true colors. Meanwhile, I like noncolor colors like white and camel,” she adds. “That apartment is a product of her, 1,000%. She just let me have fun giving her what she wanted.”

Smith isn’t precious with her vintage finds; she puts this fancy china, found at a New Orleans estate sale, to work every day. Antique gold flatware adds some glitz.

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One of my favorite things is curling up with design magazines and a cup of coffee.

Smith ingeniously turned a shallow, unused living room closet into a place to store (and display) her shoes. To keep her collection under control, she limits herself to the number of pairs that will fit this special space.

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Smith painted the living room, dining room, and foyer walls and trim in Benjamin Moore’s Gray Mist. She then furnished the living room with an oversize blue oriental rug, a curvy sofa from ABC Carpet & Home, two Baker slipper chairs covered in a Christopher Hyland blue velvet and Samuel & Sons trim, and a vintage glass coffee table she scored on A striking portrait by New Orleans artist David Harouni hangs above the sofa, giving the old-world atmospherics a cutting-edge accent. Pedigreed design pieces include a column lamp by Karl Springer, a Milo Baughman chest of drawers with brass pulls, and a Chiavari chair; these are offset by one-offs like a homemade tortoiseshell sculpture and oversize whisk lights in the kitchen that Smith had repurposed from a salvage shop. The latter is beautifully accented by custom cabinetry, painted in Farrow & Ball’s rich Charleston Gray.

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Michelle found room for a comfortable antique settee at the foot of the bed—perfect for slipping on your shoes or tossing clothing.

Aside from that fact that Michelle had lived in the apartment herself, what made this project different was that Jaymere already had a lot of decor. “It was really a lot of fabric play, furniture plan, and some new lighting,” Michelle explains. “She had already painted. Wallpapered. She had a few pieces of furniture, but she was open to reupholstering them.”

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Smith, who is currently working on a client’s house in Palmetto Bluff, South Carolina, is also designing a new line of hot-off-the-press American-made furniture, called Mrs. JG, in partnership with a childhood friend. But despite her country roots, she’s still staying focused on life and work in the city. She even transformed an almost useless closet in the living room into an artful repository for a Carrie Bradshaw–worthy shoe collection, complete with shelves of Manolo Blahniks and Jimmy Choos alongside vintage moccasins. Make no mistake: Michelle Smith means business.

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Smith’s classic taste and love of neutrals translate into her wardrobe as well as her interiors.

A small empty corner of the guest room becomes highly functional with the addition of a stool-cum-luggage rack. The tight palette helps make vintage finds, like the monkey painting and the Audubon print, look cohesive.

A version of this article appeared in the March 2014 issue of New York Cottages & Gardens with the headline: New Girl in Town.

“If you buy something you love, there’s always a place for it,” says Smith, who reupholstered two Baker slipper chairs from her previous apartment in plush periwinkle velvet to give them new life. She pulled her color inspiration from the blue in her rug, a purchase that proves her passion for good design: “I found it at a trade-only place and had to beg them to sell it to me.” The pieces add a rare pop of color in the otherwise neutral living room painted one of Smith’s favorite colors, Benjamin Moore Gray Mist. In a nod to her love of fashion, a shallow linen closet was converted into a dreamy living room shoe closet, complete with blue interior.

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Despite Jaymere’s love for the original space, this was no copy-and-paste project. Jaymere moved in with a fairly extensive collection of furnishings, including many sentimental heirlooms from her grandmother—plus she’d made a few changes in her first three months of ownership.

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Smith opened her own boutique design firm, Studio MRS, in 2012 and has worked on numerous projects since then, including the home and showroom of fashion world luminary Prabal Gurung, and her Sag Harbor weekend home, but this airy 1,500-square-foot Union Square apartment can be seen as her thesis. It’s like the decor version of Smith’s clean, chic personal style, down to her commitment to neutrals and perfectly imperfect vintage accents.

I love that it’s a place people like to come and like to be. It’s all about the company that you keep inside of it. The apartment wouldn’t be anything without that.

The kitchen island from Smith’s previous apartment is repurposed as a makeshift bar in the living room, ideal for entertaining.

Although she collects a lot of amazing objects, Smith keeps her space from feeling cluttered by corralling pieces into vignettes and letting other areas breathe.

Smith updated the original limestone fireplace with a more convenient gas insert, making it a great place to daydream. She uses the mantel to display pretty objects such as silver Georg Jensen candlesticks and “dry and creepy” natural elements like Spanish moss. The art arrangement—hung low and close together—is a Smith signature. “I like to layer art one on top of the other, especially if it’s all flea market junk,” says Smith. “I didn’t have any grand piece to fill the whole space over the fireplace, but two pictures together look prettier.”

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Whether you’re coming or going, an unfinished carved wood table and a grandly framed flea market find create an eye-catching moment in Smith’s entryway.

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A peek into the guest room, just off the main living space, reveals a Charivari chair.

Mixed metals including a bronze spray-painted table that Smith borrowed from her grandfather and an antique queen-size bed create a feminine look in the master bedroom, which she uses her for more than just sleeping. “I’m never home except in the mornings, so I wake up at like 5:30 or 6 a.m. just to have two hours of morning to myself,” she says. “I have coffee and my computer, iPad, and phone in bed with the TV on. It’s my favorite time.”

A clever tile built-in hides the formerly exposed radiator while adding storage. A trophy from Mardi Gras doubles as a planter, while the metal scale, a souvenir from Syria given to Smith by her journalist boyfriend, works as a jewelry catchall.

The all-white bathroom is an oasis of porcelain and metal thanks to the subway tiles and the custom unlacquered brass shower. The goal was to keep the room uncluttered and sleek.

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Friends often gather around the rustic Maine-made trestle table to eat. “We eat in the dining room, but we always end up in the living room,” says Smith. “I’ve had proper parties for 35 people and it still feels okay to just use the whole space.” The wood of the table is nicely balanced by fancy chairs bought at an estate sale in New Orleans, a decorative chandelier, and a copper mirror from Marburger Farm Antique Show in Texas.

Don’t let the Wolf stove fool you: Coffee is usually the only thing Smith makes in the kitchen, unless she’s plating takeout. “I’m not a big cook by myself,” she says. “Any time I can make it an event or a party, like for the Oscars or the Super Bowl, I’ll cook.” But the kitchen’s light-flooded original casement windows and witty repurposed industrial whisk “lampshades” make it a nice hangout spot. With the help of a contractor, Smith put up inset-frame Shaker-style cabinets painted Farrow & Ball Charleston Gray (the color she chose for her office). “If you want a color that goes with everything, that’s it,” she says.

The pair have quite a bit in common. For starters, they’re both from the South and the same age. “We shared a very similar aesthetic,” Jaymere adds. “She really has a great sense of old and new and vintage and modern, and she’s incredible at mixing. I saw that right off the bat. It was just a lovely place to live and be.”

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Jaymere wanted the first room in her apartment to be more of an entry than a dining room, as Michelle had had it when she lived there. “She skipped the dining altogether, except for that little round table that seats four,” Michelle says. Jaymere’s love for vibrant color—she had painted the ceiling yellow and installed the teal grass-cloth wallpaper before hiring Michelle—is quite evident.

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As Michelle describes it, her future client made an offer right away. Three months or so later, the phone rang in Michelle’s office. “She was like, ‘Hi, I’m Jaymere. I bought your apartment. I should have called you from the beginning because I realized I love the apartment the way you had it.’”

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Smith decided on a seamless Carrara marble counter and backsplash for its modern and clean look.

There’s only one pop of red in the whole apartment, and it’s this flea market painting of a little boy in a red shirt. Smith couldn’t resist, because the dimple on his chin matches hers and her grandfather’s.

The designer tells us her favorite finds for the space are the bedside tables in the master bedroom: “There’s really no space for a queen bed and two tables, so they’re just drink tables. They’re so tiny. They’re so cute. They have a scalloped edge and are nickel with little brass threads that lift them up or down so you pick the height.”

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