Inside Artist Jack Pierson's Dreamy Greenwich Village Apartment

David Colman, Architectural Digest, 6 November 2016, Visit External Site

In designing his Greenwich Village flat, artist Jack Pierson conjures a romantically evocative backstory 

Remember your fantasy New York apartment? I remember mine, concocted from snippets of old movies like Rear WindowBreakfast at Tiffany’s, and, yes, even Rosemary’s Baby. It would be in Greenwich Village, with 14-foot ceilings and huge casement windows overlooking backyard gardens. The walls would glow with light. There would be a chic little foyer, a commodious kitchen I could eat in, and, of course, a great big room with a working fireplace where all my friends would congregate regularly. In more than 20 years in the city, not only have I never found such a place for myself, I’ve never seen someone else in one, either—until I set foot in Jack Pierson’s apartment. A short stroll from Washington Square Park, Pierson’s home is exactly the kind of space I pictured glamorous, artistic New Yorkers living in—with the added bonus of a small terrace that can hold a table and chairs.

This impression, it turns out, was no accident. Back in 2008, after a dispiriting search, the artist and photographer saw a listing for the one-bedroom flat. It cost a bit more than Pierson wanted to spend, but he fell in love and jumped at the opportunity. To amplify his feeling of good fortune, he set about decorating it like something he had magically lucked into.

“I decided that I wanted it to look like an apartment that a rich aunt—one I didn’t know I had—had left to me, and that I had taken over in my gay bachelor way,” he says. “But, just to be clear, I don’t have a rich aunt.”

His vision was fueled later that year when The New York Times sent him to Paris to shoot the residence of Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre BergeĢ in advance of the big sale at Christie’s following Saint Laurent’s death. It was an eye-opening assignment. “I loved the layering of objects, how the shelves were filled right to the top,” he recalls.

At first Pierson thought he could just work with an architect, Elias Moser, to pull his place together. “But as the decisions started coming fast and furious, I realized I was in over my head,” he explains. “So I called Fernando.”

Pierson and Fernando Santangelo have been friends since the mid-1980s, and Pierson has seen countless projects by the designer, foremost among them the renovation of the Chateau Marmont. He knew that if anyone could relate to his “rich aunt” concept, it was Santangelo. “I loved the idea as soon as he said it,” says the designer. “And I added in my own ideas about a kind of old Park Avenue style that I’ve adored since I first came to New York.” 

The apartment’s shell got a full-on socialite-circa-1966 makeover. Woodwork and newly built bookshelves were painted a pale, stately shade that might be called dowager blue. A large window facing an ugly wall was covered with a phalanx of shutters. Modeled after Marlene Dietrich’s apartment, the fireplace was faced in antiqued mirror. The entry was wrapped in a hand-blocked black-and-gold wallpaper, and the kitchen was redone in classic wood cabinetry painted an old-school pale yellow. 

In the bedroom and bath, meanwhile, Santangelo tilted the vibe more toward uncle. The bedroom walls are clad in a subtle metal-blue fabric, the bed frame is upholstered in a caramel-color faux suede, and a wall of closets and cupboards wears book-matched mahogany veneer. The clean, crisp marble bath—presided over by an extra-long, extra-deep tub—was inspired by the locker rooms of the New York Athletic Club.

A man would have to work hard to find a nicer spot to lay his head. But while the bedroom, bath, kitchen, and terrace are all disarmingly perfect, it’s the main room—with its myriad artworks, specimen crystals, and books amassed by Pierson over the years—that feels most like a space out of time.

As an artist, Pierson is known for evocative photography and conceptual pieces that suggest something—a locale, an atmosphere, a mood—without explicitly explaining it. And that is precisely what he and Santangelo have created here—a posh wormhole linking the real world of today to a yesterday we can only dream of.

“Fernando took the idea and ran with it,” Pierson says. “It really feels like something from another era, but not some exact place and time we all know or remember. So it’s always evoking something for me, always renewing that original fantasy.”