After a catastrophic fire, a New York apartment finds its soul


In October 2016, a three-alarm fire engulfed the upper floors of a six-story luxury apartment building on Jane Street in Manhattan’s West Village. By the time the fire was brought under control, smoke and water damage had destroyed more than half of the units in the 1930 condominium building.

Thankfully no one was injured, but the result of the damage meant “years of heartache” for the displaced tenants, says Sarah Mendel, founder of interior design firm Cochineal Design. But recently, Mendel and his Cochenille partner Risa Emen helped one of those tenants move back into a converted studio. “[The client] took it as an opportunity and lived in many places – Brooklyn, Nashville, London and Asheville, North Carolina. It all influenced what it would be like when she got it back,” Mendel explains.

The small kitchen, painted in Farrow & Ball’s favorite red, features Peter Celsing sconces from 1stDibs.

Joshua McHugh

Mendel founded Cochenille (named after an insect that produces red dyes, in a subtle tribute to Josef Albers) in 2015, and Emen joined in 2018. The two met through the Interior Design MFA program at Parsons School of Design. Experimentation guides their practice, fueled by an annual retreat they call A Beautiful Mind, where the two pin inspiring images and set goals for everything from how they want to photograph an interior to dream collaborators and choices. Design. Each project is guided by its architectural context, location and client, with a balance of dark, medium and light tones. “These are unifying factors but still allow us to have variety, creativity and open-mindedness,” Mendel says.

This was the approach to the Jane Street apartment, which was a one-bedroom ‘white box’ with an open-plan kitchen when it was returned to the client after years of mandated code repairs and upgrades by the New York City Department of Buildings. Instead, Emen and Mendel, working with architect David Moore of DM A+D, transformed the unit into a studio, removing the walls and taking advantage of daylight. The client, from a textile family, brought many material references to the project; the designers helped her reduce them. “It really pushed us to use bolder materials than in the past,” Mendel says. “And that made her focus on what she wanted to live with rather than just what she loved.”

rue cochenille jane apartment
In the bedroom, the custom “walnut wiggle” headboard was made by RJ Millworkers and upholstered in Erica Shamrock fabric.

Joshua McHugh

The designers started with the intimate kitchen. Since the client doesn’t do much cooking, Cochenille focused on the nook as a lush display for her ceramic collection. Custom cabinetry in Farrow & Ball’s Preference Red has a matte finish and lived-in look, while a polished Breccia Capraia marble slab creates a dramatic backsplash. A pair of 1960s Band sconces by Swedish modernist architect Peter Celsing complete the gallery-like nook.

Mendel and Emen then wrapped the rest of the apartment in custom walnut furniture, a banquette built into window surrounds, dressers, and a curved headboard (dubbed the “walnut” and upholstered in velvet mohair from Erica Shamrock Textiles). Built-ins “unify the whole apartment,” says Mendel. “It’s our warm mid-tone throughout, and it allows us to be playful elsewhere.”

rue cochenille jane apartment
Cochenille selected cream-colored furniture for the living room, juxtaposed with a luminous painting by Walter Stomps Jr. The designers discovered the column during the renovation.

Joshua McHugh

Creamy furniture, like a sheepskin sofa, serves as a backdrop for artwork purchased from Wright; 1930s Scandinavian ceramics and metal tableware from Freeforms by artists such as Just Andersen and Gunnar Nylund; and vases from the client’s collection. The coffee table uses a leftover piece of marble from the kitchen and sits on a funky Lucite base.

For the bathroom, the designers and the client first drew simple light fixtures; that is, until they discovered a shower on display by Barber Wilsons & Co. Cochenille finished the look with a custom enclosure from Kent Steel, lilac marble, black and white zellige tiles from Key, and light pink walls.

Due to fire damage, many apartments in the Jane Street building were under construction at the same time. Mendel says this led to a guild environment, where designers, artisans and contractors shared advice and discoveries. For example, Mendel spotted a Tuscan column on display in another unit and thought there was something similar hidden under a bulky cement cylinder in his client’s living room. “We sandblasted the concrete and got this simple column, then very carefully exposed an original pine beam,” Mendel explains. “The tenants had all experienced such trauma together,” she adds. “There was a lot of sharing and generosity. It was very friendly. »

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