September 1, 2010

Downtown, A Love Story: Ghislaine Viñas Designs A Colorful TriBeCa Abode

Ghislaine Viñas and Paige West call themselves sisters. These two vivacious women share no DNA, but they connect on every conceivable level, from a madcap sense of humor to a shared passion for color. One recent afternoon, as Viñas dismounted from the orange bicycle that she rides around town and parked in front of the town house she’d designed for West, the pair were delighted to discover they were both sporting Opi’s Shrek nail polish, Viñas in green and West in blue. “We’re at the stage. . .” the designer begins—before her six-time client interjects “. . .where we finish each other’s sentences!”

Since an introduction by a mutual friend several years ago, West, a contemporary-art expert who owns the Chelsea gallery Mixed Greens as well as curating a corporate collection in Pennsylvania, has commissioned Ghislaine Viñas Interior Design for everything from a beach house in Montauk to commercial spaces. But while those projects weren’t exactly plain vanilla, the pair’s latest endeavor—decorating a six-floor, 15,500-square-foot house for West and her husband, real-estate developer JC Keeler of DDG Partners, and their three young sons—is the most colorful and ambitious to date.

It was Keeler who discovered a 1915 warehouse on a busy street in TriBeCa, near City Hall, and decided to turn the crumbling building into a home for his family. His partner at DDG, Peter Guthrie, who studied architecture at Yale University, handled the renovation. Rather than go the easier route of demolishing the warehouse entirely and replacing it with the ubiquitous glass box, Keeler and Guthrie made sure the new house would still blend into the cityscape. They retained the facade’s profile and window placement while replacing original brick with bluestone quarried in upstate New York—a nod to Keeler’s native turf in the Catskills. “We thought a lot about our footprint, too,” Guthrie says. Nothing but the joists, however, remains inside. The family lives on the top four stories, with a green roof accessible via a ladder. On the lower levels, a separate guest duplex features a double-height climbing wall that Keeler scales when no one’s around.

Where the architecture is restrained, the furnishings are no-holds-barred, an amusing mash-up, as Guthrie describes it, of “Bauhaus and Gone With the Wind.” Partly clad in the same bluestone, the shared lobby sets the tone. Other walls and the ceiling are covered in orange fleurs-de-lis on gray polka dots, a pattern by Viñas and her graphic-designer husband, Jaime. Near armchairs dipped in orange paint and a table covered in silver duct tape stands a floor lamp with a spindlelike turned base sporting a fluffy white knitted “sweater.” A self-portrait by Vik Muniz, known for his work in chocolate, stares out at a chandelier made from Ping-Pong balls. 

The Muniz occupies a spot between the front door of the duplex and the elevator to the upper stories, where a hand-carved wooden staircase with white-painted plaster balustrades winds upward to a skylit top landing. West, who grew up in Philadelphia but has roots in the South, imagines her ancestors having “a plantation house with a big swooping staircase like this one.” Much less traditional is the inverted layout here: With bedrooms below, the common areas above can take advantage of city views. “The goal was to have a grand space in a relatively small building,” she says.

Some of the best panoramas are from the sixth-floor library. Its front wall is all glass, and a window cut out of the built-in bookshelves frames the side view. (Viñas organized the books by spine color.) A double chaise longue, big enough to hold the whole family, faces two armchairs upholstered in a floral linen that Viñas vinyl-ized. “They can easily be wiped off. We’re always thinking about stress-free living with kids,” she says. Alongside the chaise, strewn with wooly pillows, a couple of sheep sculptures graze on the green rug.

Throughout, she and West indulged their yen for bright colors. The kitchen island is painted yolk yellow, and the counter was custom-tinted to match. Two thick red stripes run, race-car style, around the playroom for the boys, a 5-year-old and 3-year-old twins. Meanwhile, West handed Viñas a photograph of a parakeet as color inspiration for the study. She obliged with a massive pendant dome sprouting turquoise feathers, a bookcase backed in wall­paper in turquoise and sulfur yellow, and a desk lacquered turquoise and white. 

Both the architecture and decor engage in a playful dialogue with the artwork, from the Styrofoam tower rising through the center of the stairwell to the murals in the boys’ room. Viñas and West were even inspired to contribute their own installations, including the clusters of yellow or white flea-market plates on a wall in the kitchen. “It was like being a kid,” West says. And finding a best friend to play with.

Follow Cindy Allen as she tours the six-story urban townhouse in TriBeCa.

Photography by Eric Laignel.


Jes Paone, Chris Nogoy, Stephanie Kim, Katheryn Salazar: DDG Partners. Vané Broussard; Giovanna Sguera; Karina Dharmazi; Mandi Marsh; Andra Dovalle; Stephanie Shepherd; Sophie Bernhardt; Abby Savage: Ghislaine Viñas Interior Design. Kit Middleton Architect: Architect of Record. Richard J. Saver Architectural Lighting: Lighting Consultant. Robert Silman Associates Structural Engineers: Structural Engineer. Plus Group: MEP. Bjork Carle Woodworking: Woodwork. Fritzmartin Electric: Electrical Contractor. Palone Bros.: Mechanical Contractor. Heirloom Wood Flooring Corporation: Flooring Contractor. B&G Full Construction: Finish Contractor. 3 Fingers Painting: Painting Contractor. 

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