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Brandolini Makes A Bold Choice Mixing Pattern And Color

by Rick Anderson

Birds of a feather,” as the saying goes, “flock together.” But when opposites attract, the relationship can be downright electrifying. AD100 interior designer Muriel Brandolini —an ardent enthusiast of arresting colors and madcap patterns—couldn’t be more different in temperament from one of her longtime New York clients, a cerebral, business-minded woman who initially discovered Brandolini’s work in a magazine and picked up the telephone. “I’m a very analytical, linear thinker,” says the client, who asked the Manhattan-based decorator to revitalize an Upper West Side apartment she and her husband had bought a few years ago. “Muriel leads with passion and feeling. I wanted to ask questions, and she would just say, ‘It’s beautiful. I can’t tell you why it will work, but it will.’ ”

It’s beautiful. I can’t tell you why it will work, but it will.

The couple’s duplex apartment, on high floors in a handsome prewar redbrick building—boldface residents have included Harrison Ford and Georgina Bloomberg—boasted fantastic views and abundant light. Darkness, in fact, was the primary reason they vacated their previous Brandolini-designed apartment, which they had shared with their children for 15 years. But the rooms in the new place generally were small (except for the sprawling second-story master bedroom), and the coffered ceilings throughout, while classically elegant, were low. The clients considered undertaking a major renovation—to take down some walls and better reconfigure the spaces—but ultimately chose a more cosmetic approach. “The interiors were very traditional and not really our style—we prefer things more modern,” explains the wife, who, with her husband, has a strong collection of art, including works by Agnes Martin, Milton Avery, Fay Ray, and Caio Fonseca. “But we thought we could make it distinctive with Muriel.”

A fabric by Harlequin covers an office/guest bedroom. Cork bed by City Joinery; custom pillows by Brenda Colling in Holland & Sherry corduroys; rug by Fedora Design.

Bold, eclectic interiors are the calling card of the designer, the daughter of a French-Venezuelan mother and a Vietnamese father. She was raised in Saigon and then on Martinique, studied fashion in Paris, and married a debonair Italian financier, Nuno Brandolini. She didn’t train to be a decorator, so she’s not beholden to some set formula about furniture placement or how high artworks should hang on a wall. She does, however, have a prescription for rooms lacking volume: “When a ceiling is low, if you don’t create busyness, you see misery.”

One thing decorator and client do have in common is an allergy to beige, monochromatic interiors. “My husband and I like things to be interesting and energetic. We like furniture and design that make you think,” says the wife. In her office/guest bedroom, one wall is covered in red felt, another in a large leaf-pattern print, and the bedspread is a busy stripe. Matchy-matchy it is not. The husband’s office features three different corduroy wall coverings, and the moldings have three shades of paint, while a lemon-yellow quilted wall cocoons that massive master bedroom. And forget about making the dining room’s four decorative columns, installed by previous owners, disappear by, say, painting them the same bronze color as the walls. Inspired by wood candlesticks she had seen in Sri Lanka, Brandolini had each column painstakingly hand-painted in stripes—every one a different width and hue. “If I didn’t go for it enough with color, she would say, ‘Go for it more,’ ” Brandolini recalls.

For the couple’s first apartment collaboration, the designer took her client to Milan to scour the design boutiques and vintage shops. “She wanted to see every inch of the city,” Brandolini remembers. “She was always, ‘What’s next? What’s next?’ ” This time around the women dug deeper, visiting warehouses and garages in Milan and Turin that held furnishings from 1900 through the midcentury that would eventually get scooped up by dealers. They weren’t shopping for expensive pieces, just ones with good bones—such as 1960s floor lamps, a 1950s French desk—amid the broken chair legs and frayed fabrics. “They’re common things that come from the grandmother, or an uncle who has passed,” Brandolini says. “Italy is so secret. I go to these dark, out-of-the-way warehouses and I wonder if I’m not going to be murdered,” she observes with a laugh.

But it was while simply walking on a street in Milan that the two women spied through the door of an architectural firm a 1960s light fixture made of various white-glass shapes dangling at different lengths. It was exactly what they wanted for the apartment’s central stairway. So they entered the office, Brandolini negotiated with the owner, and a week later it was on its way to New York.

During the process the husband had few requests, just that the seating be comfortable and the apartment feel homey. “We wanted furniture that you could put coffee cups on—not precious or delicate—and Muriel totally embraced that,” says the wife. “I’m laughing,” she continues, “because my husband was not very involved, and the decor would have ended up 80 percent the same even if I wasn’t involved. This is how it works with Muriel. She immerses herself in a project and moves very quickly. Yet she is very deliberate. She trusts her eye, and we trusted it too.”

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