In the living room of designer Robert
Couturier’s Manhattan apartment, the
oak-and-porcelain table is by Jacques
Adnet and Maurice Savin, and the mirror
is Louis XIV; a Louis XV armchair is
upholstered in a Clarence House silk,
an Egyptian throne serves as an ottoman,
and a Turkish kilim is layered
over a white rug. See Resources.
ED0511_Couturier_r1.indd 162 3/16/11 4:34 PM
Sleepless in Manhattan
for tireleSS deSigner robert couturier, the ultiMate
hoMe office iS a Soho loft with plenty of french
flair—and hardly any bedrooM
Text by David Colman · Photography by William Abranowicz
Produced by Anita Sarsidi
ED0511_Couturier_r1.indd 163 3/16/11 4:34 PM
FACING PAGE: Couturier at home. THIS PAGE:
In the living room, Couturier designed the
sofa, which is upholstered in a suede by
Edelman Leather, and the photograph is by
Ron Agam; the chrome-and-sheepskin chair
is from the 1960s, the Frances Elkins cocktail
table is circa 1930, and the plaster screen is
by Marc Bankowsky. See Resources.
ED0511_Couturier_r1.indd 164 3/16/11 4:34 PM
the only Son of an old-line, well-to-do family, Robert Couturier
grew up in Paris in the 1950s. But his upbringing might just as well have
occurred a century earlier. “When I was a little boy, Paris was very much
still a 19th-century town,” the New York decorator recalls. “You never
went to shops. Children were taken to a dressmaker who made your
clothes. You didn’t see the public very much. It was very cloisonné, a
divided world—not unlike India.” He was even bundled off to boarding
school at the age of seven.
It comes as no surprise, then, that on the few trips he made to New
York as a teenager, the city and its shiny 20th-century freedoms beckoned.
At the age of 25, he moved to Manhattan.
So has Couturier held tight to his past or broken from it? Does he live
in a sprawling apartment in a grand Park Avenue building? Or did he
head downtown to inhabit an expansive raw loft without walls or labels
or boundaries? The answer is both.
Couturier does live and work on two floors of an Italianate cast-iron
loft building in SoHo. But while the layout is modern and flexible, the
decor, which features French furniture ranging from Louis XIV to Art
Deco, suggests the ancien régime that is his birthright.
ED0511_Couturier_r1.indd 165 3/16/11 4:34 PM
The library’s Louis XVI table is surrounded
by Louis XIV chairs, the glass shelves are
custom made, and the cabinet is by André
Sornay; the Couturier-designed armchairs
are upholstered in a cashmere by Chapas
Textiles. FACING PAGE: The console and mirror
in the hallway are by Josef Hoffmann, and
the rug is by Fernand Léger; a portrait by
Sébastien de Ganay and photographs by Ron
Agam and Adam Fuss are reflected in
the mirror. In the living room vestibule, works
by Gerald Incandela hang above a pair of
mahogany cabinets by Jean-Michel Frank;
the Turkish kilim is antique. See Resources.
ED0511_Couturier_r1.indd 166 3/16/11 4:35 PM
If the place feels well balanced between old and new, formal and
relaxed, the result was hard earned through a process of slow evolution.
Couturier lived on the Upper East Side for some 20 years,
maintaining a separate office and apartment, before deciding that he
wanted to simplify his life and combine the two. He found a duplex
space in SoHo in 2000 and installed his offices on one floor and
his living quarters on the other. But his business soon expanded,
and his own office and a meeting room for clients had to be surrendered
to his growing staff. So he moved his residence to one of New
York’s new all-amenities, all-glass monoliths, becoming the first tenant
on a then-empty floor. The problem was, he hated the modernity;
he hated his open-plan apartment. “I spent a terrible year being very
upset,” he says. “It was just not me.”
Years later, the phrase “open plan” still elicits an expression of distaste.
Indeed, as much as he appreciates American informality, the
Couturier view is that walls serve a valuable purpose. “Americans
have these fancy apartments and nice areas—living rooms, dining
rooms, and so on—and then they live in the kitchen,” he says. “French
people never live in the kitchen. It’s not something we grow up with.
So the idea of opening up the living room to the kitchen is not something
that occurs to us.”
After his experiment in modernity failed, Couturier moved back to
the Upper East Side and into the Carlyle hotel. But as much as he
enjoyed living in this fabled lap of luxury, he wanted a real home. So
back he went, down to his space in SoHo, reclaiming the upper floor.
He turned the vestibule into an elegant library and meeting room,
with a set of Louis XIV chairs and a Louis XVI table, a handsome
André Sornay wood cabinet from the ’30s, and a great wall of books.
He styled the living room as a reception area. A long oak table by
Maurice Savin and Jacques Adnet is flanked by matching white
sofas designed by Couturier and enormous photographs of flowers
by Ron Agam. A plaster trompe l’oeil screen that resembles billowing
sheets stands in the corner.
The decorator left the kitchen as it was, a little cube of white cabinets
and blue-green walls that sees so little activity it could be converted
to a rec room. “Yes,” agrees Couturier. “Only spelled w-r-e-c-k. There’s
really nothing in there. I eat dinner out four nights a week, and I’m
never here on the weekend.”
The most ingenious hybrid, however, is the single chic space that
serves as both bedroom and office. A pair of faux-bamboo English
armchairs and a ’50s zebra-pattern sofa face a ’30s desk in the center,
all grouped around a stunning red circular rug, an Ernest Boiceau
ED0511_Couturier_r1.indd 167 3/16/11 4:35 PM
ED0511_Couturier_r1.indd 168 3/16/11 4:35 PM
above 19th-century English cabinets
flank a portrait by Richard Cosway in
the office; a faux-zebra sofa from the
’50s, English armchairs upholstered
in a Clarence House linen, and a pair
of Louis XV bergères upholstered
in a Jagtar silk surround a vintage
Ernest Boiceau rug. See Resources.
ED0511_Couturier_r1.indd 169 3/16/11 4:35 PM
ED0511_Couturier_r1.indd 170 3/16/11 4:35 PM
In the bedroom, a daybed upholstered in a fabric
by Chapas Textiles is topped with an antique
Asian throw; the curtain is of a Bergamo silk, the
photograph is by Robert Mapple thorpe, and
the brocade on the Louis XV chair is original.
FACING PAGE: The desk and lamp are vintage, the
circa-1920 iron stool is by Elsie de Wolfe, and a
Spanish wood stool retains its original tapestry;
the photographs, far left, are by Adam Fuss, the
nearby portraits are by David Seidner, and
the carpet is by AM Collections. See Resources.
design from the ’30s. In the corner of the room, behind a curved wall, a
daybed upholstered in a crisp cotton-linen looks ideal for napping—
and is, in fact, where the master sleeps. (Or doesn’t, more often:
Couturier suffers from terrible insomnia.)
Et voilà. What makes the place so charming is not just its refinement,
but how it embodies Couturier’s Franco-American lifestyle. “I’ve been
told, ‘You’re such an uptown gentleman—to have this life downtown
seems so strange,’” says Couturier, with a chuckle. “But all week I live
a very formal life. So this is comfortable for me.
“I did this very consciously,” he continues. “I am not going to
live the way my parents and grandparents lived, nor do I think you
should. And American informality is much more pleasant—but,
you know, that has its limits too. So this is a nice way to make both
ED0511_Couturier_r1.indd 171 3/16/11 4:35 PM