October 9, 2018

Elements of Surprise Define a Dreamy Manhattan Aerie by Dufner Heighes

“I have an ops brain,” Erica Holborn says, referring to her propensity toward streamlined operations. That’s true at the office—she is the president of SANDOW, Interior Design’s parent company—and at home in her one-bedroom apartment high up on Sutton Place. When Holborn and her husband, Andrew, purchased the 900-square-foot co-op, it had only one bathroom and a kitchen barely big enough to stand in. Fortunately, designer Gregory Dufner and architect Daniel Heighes Wismer of Dufner Heighes also have ops brains. But “ops” in their case means they look for opportunities.

European oak floor planks are custom. Photography by Eric Laignel.

By narrowing a hallway and taking over a closet, Dufner and Wismer found space for a badly needed powder room. Then, by walling off a raised platform next to the living room, they created space for a larger kitchen, plus a breakfast nook. Adding walls actually “allows for those separate experiences that make the apartment as a whole seem more spacious,” Wismer says. “We made the layout better,” Dufner adds.

White oak fronts kitchen cabinetry. Photography by Eric Laignel.

But efficiency is hardly their only strength. Dufner and Wismer have become known for a style they call “minimalish.” The goal, they explain, is to place eye-catching elements amid uncluttered settings. For the Holborns, whose love of efficiency was coupled with a desire for liveliness, that meant painting the living room soft white but giving the fireplace a new face of richly veined Italian marble. Choosing upholstery in mustard, coral, peacock blue, and a Hella Jongerius floral lent even more “quirkiness,” Erica Holborn says, to the palette.

Acacia wood and antiqued brass furnishings accessorize the master bedroom. Photography by Eric Laignel.

The tone is a touch quieter in the master bedroom. Wall covering is a soothing swirl of pale blues and golds. “It’s hypnagogic,” Dufner says of the pattern, “like you’re dreaming before you even fall asleep.” Blush felted wool covers the headboard, while white leather upholsters the Arne Jacobsen Grand Prix chair at the vanity. “When I sit there, I feel glamorous,” Erica Holborn says, also noting that Marilyn Monroe once lived in the building. Similarly, Dufner and Wismer chose silver mylar to line her closet. “Every time I open it,” she says, “it provides an element of surprise and a bit of joy. There are many special things here I never would have thought of. That’s why you hire a designer.”

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