In the living room of designer Robert Couturier's Manhattan ...

In the living room of designer Robert Couturier's Manhattan ...


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.

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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

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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.

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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. 165

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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.

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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 167

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Ebony-and-tortoiseshell mirrors

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.

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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

work together.” 171

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