The moment artist Elle McGrath walks into the historic Art Deco building in the original New York City suburb of Brooklyn Heights, she realizes she’s at home. Like all things worth having, securing merchandise has not been without challenges; “I came home in a daze because we had less than two weeks to leave and couldn’t find an affordable apartment in a decent location that was also dog friendly,” she recalls. Elle and I were roommates at the time, and after a few years, we finally had to accept that we walked out of our windowless, steeply sloping and impossibly noisy apartment, and so began our searches. She had just adopted Nala the AussieDoodle and was commuting to Manhattan frequently due to her work with a fine jewelry brand, both of which were taken into account in the research.
After touring countless apartments, each one more exasperating than the previous one (there was a shower located near the stove so you could cook dinner while you shower), I reached out to a contact I had from a building I had toured just for fun a while back. Complete with ornate brickwork, tiered balconies, and elaborate ornaments, it also happened to be one Manhattan subway station—yet it feels a world away, thanks to the 18th-century brownstone and tree canopy lining the street. even better? It was one of the few dog friendly options in the area. Corner unit opened a month later, so after a bit of waiting and a competitive submission process, the proverbial castle keys are finally theirs. That’s when Elle’s brother, Patrick, of Patrick McGrath Design, steps in to help turn it into a real home.
“Patrick has helped me decorate every rental I’ve lived in since I moved to NYC for school when I was 18,” says Elle—so it’s safe to say he goes the extra mile to make it feel home in style. “I’m drawn to organic and nature-inspired pieces,” she says. “My priority has always been function and comfort, so everything I choose tends to be more comfortable and cozy.” Speaking of his own style, Patrick adds, “While I certainly don’t take myself very seriously as a person, I do take interiors very seriously.” He gravitates toward clear lines and prefers classic touches over modern ones. So what happens when they defy? “Patrick comes to give it a more elegant edge,” Elle laughs, and the two create a magical blend of understated elegance that references both traditional design and sophisticated touches.
This time around, he wanted to furnish the 850-square-foot apartment in a way that would look timeless and wearable over time and in different environments, so he decided to get nearly all of his expensive items from West Elm. Then he combined Farrow & Ball paint colors, antique touches, and special elements from family friend and designer Michael Bargo. It is a magical and relaxing combination.
One of the main perks of the apartment is the wall space. “I have a lot more space to display art than I have in the past,” says Elle. “So I wanted to take advantage of all the wall space by recycling old pieces as well as introducing new ones. Patrick saw the biggest opportunity for that in the spacious entryway. He turned it into a gallery because it didn’t have any windows and because there wasn’t much floor space for the furniture, So the use of walls was very important in the entrance.”
Due to the small size of the apartment, the dining table can be seen directly as you enter. So Patrick repurposed a Ruemmler lamp shade into a pendant to highlight and separate the dining area while creating visual interest upon entry at the end of the hall. He made it wired so it could be dimmer and plug right into the wall because it’s firmly secured to outperform the ambient mood lighting.
In the living room, Patrick settled on a scheme that makes it seem as if there are “many rooms within the room.” Also worth noting is the use of unique paint colors. “You can see there’s this faded mold in there, so we just followed those lines and then painted over the beams while the flat and horizontal surfaces were left white to play with the moldings,” says Patrick. In the living room, he chose Peignoir by Farrow & Ball because he’d always wanted to try a neutral purple and Elle was up for adventure. Even better, one of the sofas is cleverly disguised as a pull-out bed, perfect for a tight-knit family that visits each other regularly.
Because she likes blue and green so much, Patrick also made sure to incorporate it into the other rooms, such as in the halls and the kitchen. “We used the same color for the kitchen and hallways to create continuity” but then chose something unique and special in the bedroom and living areas. The open plan also helps to indicate that they are separate visually and functionally. At the same time, the shades he chose are subtle enough to calm the eye in moments of transition.
Aside from repainting all the cabinets and adding new appliances, Patrick transformed the kitchen by adding a kitchen island that doubled the surface area. They chose one from West Elm that has a lower shelf, allows for stools to enhance the look but also gives Elle a more casual dining and work space, and decides to place it opposite the landmark rather than float it so the walkway is clear. There was also a white marble option, but he opted for something simpler and more organic. So don’t quarrel with the fun wall color and artwork. “It was also important to me to bring back that organic look and feel that ‘there’s a lot more wood in this apartment than there used to be and everything is very functional,'” Elle shares.
Patrick also used green in the bedroom, and this time, he chose a deeper shade of green, Mizzle, which he says was inspired by Carrie Bradshaw’s apartment (not the luxury apartment, he asserts, but rather those from “Early Sex & City Days”), Elle mentions. in the countryside. She told us, “It’s very calming. I don’t think I’ll ever get a bedroom another color again, although I wouldn’t have thought of that before. Patrick suggested we use colours.”
Regardless of overall color schemes and style, getting the scale right is of paramount importance, especially in small town residences where items that aren’t too bulky and likely designed with a suburban home in mind can be difficult to find. If you want to get the proportions just right, Patrick strongly suggests making accurate measurements of both the area and the element in question and then mapping them. Either you draw it in an app or a map, just use the painter’s tape to block it. When you take all the guesswork out, you are more likely to be happy with the end product. In the bedroom, this meant exercising restraint, because it was not as spacious as the main living area, and just to highlight its most private elements. West Elm flirts with collector items, like Jackie O.’s childhood side chair.
Although the siblings’ trendy tendencies—for example, she and Patrick agree that “leopard print is neutral”—could easily steal the show, it’s the layers of emotional pieces in each room that really set their space. Souvenirs from her father and siblings, art from her grandparents, pictures of her beloved mother, handwritten letters from friends who became family, healing crystals litter like hidden treasures around every corner. Although these are decorative items, they have become a staple in a sometimes chaotic city.
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