By Philip Mitchell
A home should be a beautiful reflection of who you are and what you love; this is the foundation on which I base my design principle and my first book. I enjoy taking the wonderful things that a homeowner owns — from artwork to heirlooms and things they love to collect — and making more of them. Layering these things with new elements elevates a space from the everyday to the unexpected.
I love the grand drawing room in this six-bedroom apartment on Fifth Avenue in New York, on the market for $39m. Its incredible architectural details, craftsmanship and history are the perfect backdrop for displaying collections and artwork. This can be done in a way that will create a much more compelling and modern space, which reflects its new owners.
Retain original features
People often consider tearing out existing mouldings and trim to create a contemporary space, thinking this is the only way to make it feel current and not compete with art or other collections. Instead, I would recommend painting the entire space a beautiful chalky white such as Farrow and Ball All White (from £49.50 for 2.5l). A light decorative distressed paint finish could be added to lend casualness to the space. This would create the perfect backdrop for furniture, collections and artwork in a distinctive, multi-layered space.
Display with pride
I love to incorporate my clients’ collections into their spaces, rather than leave them stored in boxes. I want them to use and enjoy the things they have. A grouping of like objects from a collection such as candlesticks or paperweights is dramatic and tells a story. Equally important is what they are displayed on. In a room like this you want to balance the traditional space with modern elements: this Zach wall shelving unit by Woood (£195 from Cukooland) adds an abstract touch to the space.
Mix and match
Sleek lines and clean finishes mix beautifully with traditional details. Most people think of art as a painting or a sculpture, but furniture can serve as its own form of artistic expression. I love mixing furniture and art from different periods and styles because the contrast and tension created produces a dynamic harmony. This modular sofa, the vanilla white Amsterdam by BoConcept (£8,248), adds energy to a room and can easily be considered art.
My favourite gallery wall creations incorporate an eclectic mix of old and new. An abstract piece next to a traditional oil painting makes an arrangement feel less like a museum display and more like a reflection of personal style. The mouldings in this room are the perfect three-dimensional backdrop for an art collection. Most people would think you need to centre a painting within a panel, but I think artwork that spans the moulding, almost ignoring it, creates a more modern and interesting way to hang art.
Treat floors but don’t compete with the art
The wood floors in this room are exceptional. I would suggest staining them a greyish ebony and layering them with rugs of different periods, patterns and textures for personality. When you have more than one seating area in a space as large as this, it is better to find complementary styles to give the room a collected look and a more casual feel. Layering an antique Persian rug, but in muted modern tones, over a larger jute carpet or adding contemporary rugs such as this geometric one from the Conran Shop (£1,395) will make each seating area a statement while not competing with the art and furniture.
Use lighting to highlight a collection
Unexpectedly modern lighting in a traditional setting can transform the entire space, with fixtures designed to catch the eye and add visual interest even when switched off. This classic room would gain an edge from this sculptural piece from Lindsay Adelman ($31,500). Combining organic, handwrought materials such as blown glass with the strong industrial beauty of machine-milled components, her lighting systems illuminate with radiant warmth, enhancing as well as becoming part of a room’s art collection.
Photography: Annie Schlechter; Mayfair International Realty; Lauren Coleman