John Douglas Eason's Past Life Apartment

House Tour

Name: John Douglas Eason
Location: Chelsea — Manhattan, New York
Size: 800 square feet
Years lived in: 5 — owned

A past life. Good bones. Ghostly grays. Moving walls. Sleight of hand and clever disappearances. But this is no Sherlock Holmes mystery, no dark yarn spun by Poe. It's the story of the former home of a talented interior designer who listened to a building, followed his instinct, knew when to save and when to splurge, and created an interior that's dapper, tailored, and haunting. But in a good way.

And while this is no ghost story, it started as a Gothic romance. "I'm drawn to kind of dark interiors," says interior designer John Douglas Eason, so this commanding 1931 Gothic revival building drew him in with its sense of moody history. That inside-out conversation is one John always honors. "When you come from an exterior space into an interior space, they need to tell a story together." He continues that stately Wayne Manor vibe with Gothic high back chairs, a smoky palette, and rich patina.

The apartment's great bones needed only slight realignment. Moving closet access from foyer to bedroom achieved two high priorities. "It's always important when you walk into an apartment to have a focal point." Reorienting the doors also gave John the second must on his list: "a big closet in my bedroom!" There wasn't much else that didn't fall under the cosmetic category: removing picture rails, adding crown molding to the walls and ceiling coffers, and beefing up the baseboards to match the solid, settled feel of the apartment.

Like all compelling stories ghost or gothic, this apartment held a secret: it housed John's design practice, and all the stuff that brings and breeds. "The driving force for how that room functioned is the fact that my office was in the living room." The solutions hide in plain sight. A breakfront gobbles up almost 100 binders, clippings and swatches. Storage flanks the sofa, in the form of clever Crate & Barrel cabinets. John had the pieces coated in a lacquered linen. "I think the linen cost more than the desks did," he chuckles, "but at the end of the day, what it gave me were two very elegant looking cabinets that served a world of purposes."

John's desire to control the chaos and hide the carpet samples doesn't mean he's not subject to a profession that's at times more art than science, and even when carefully orchestrated, still serves up the unexpected. "I love to plan things, but as much as anything, I love the surprises that sometimes come along as you're working on something." In this case, in this space, John envisioned the breakfront along the side wall of the long room, but it made the space list like a poorly loaded freighter. "It literally made the room feel like it was half the size it was." The piece found its way opposite the window wall, where it seems perfectly suited.

At first glance, the palette seems limited and tame. Of this monochromatic base, John says, ""I like the calmness of it." Just don't confuse his love of the monochrome for fear of color. There's lots of it, much pulled from the city around him-- rust, verdigris, steel, and stone. How does he yield elegant, quiet effect from such gutsy colors? "Getting wall colors right is really important." For John, that means using what he calls "muddy" colors. "I find it helps absorb the bright colors, and it brings them down to a place of balance."

Color continues in the bedroom, in art, bench, bedding and large ceramic pots ("Lavender, coffee, and they were half price," John beams.) inspired by the purple mountains in an oil landscape. John also proves colors should never be saddled with strict gender roles. In the bedroom, there are plums and lavenders, but this is a room where both Nora and Nick would feel right at home.

The light fixture was discovered in a junk shop in Buenos Aires. "I don't think it was even rigged for lighting, but I saw it and I knew immediately that that's what it needed to be... and it needed to be in my bedroom." From the alleys of Argentina, to a high place of prominence, it's the room's enlightened Evita moment.

While John has access to exclusive sources and gorgeous things, not every piece was brought home in overhead compartments. He's the first to recognize a good catch from big boxes and chain retailers. John redressed the kitchen in a deft mix of high and low that hides the cabinets' Home Depot origins. How? "I kept them simple, simple, simple." Upscale hardware was used like Tiffany cufflinks on a Gap shirt. But his big trick comes once again from color: "Honey, if you're doing cabinets that don't look great, keep 'em dark!"

John has moved on, this time to a high-rise whose décor will no doubt reveal another facet of this dapper designer. He'll be working with new construction, and 11-foot floor to ceiling windows framing 42nd floor views. Again inspired by the space itself, John predicts a more modern twist. But even with this time travel to a newer architectural era, there is certain to be some similarity from old apartment to new: John predicts lots of familiar grays. "For my own environment, things do have a bit of a sameness." Why the repetition, when he's literally facing carte blanche? The reason is pretty personal: "I look good in gray, and I think you should always decorate in colors you look good in."

As John turns a new page, hopefully, we'll be invited back to see what he's done with the place. It's sure to be a thriller. No mystery to that.

Hear more from John, including why he remains totally dog friendly, here! You also might remember John from his contribution to "It Gets Better: NYC Designing Men."


Apartment Therapy Survey:

My Style: Eclectic, well edited, layered and almost always with warm, saturated, deep color.

Inspiration: I like to think I look good in grey so I surrounded myself with lots of it!

Favorite Element: The flush mount light fixture in the bedroom, found it in a dilapidated antique store in Buenos Aires and brought it back home in the overhead storage on the plane then had it made into a light fixture for the bedroom.

Biggest Challenge: Combining the living room and my office so that the office could disappear when the sun goes down.

What Friends Say: Sophisticated with beautiful eclectic elements, calming, peaceful, timeless yet of the moment, 30's glam with a modern edge.

Biggest Embarrassment: The single piece of furniture and/or design that gets the most attention and commentary is the cheap $900 breakfront in the living room that was purchased for the sole purpose of hiding my work cr*p, not

Proudest DIY: Kitchen floor, painstakingly removed all of the 1950's linoleum from the floor myself and slapped down 2 coats of varnish and voilá, instant gorgeous industrial feeling concrete floor

Biggest Indulgence: Antique ebonized teak cabinet from Stair Antiques. I love the finish and patina on that piece so much that I could look at and touch it for hours on end (o.k. seriously, more like 2 minutes ever so often)

Best Advice: Surround yourself with furnishings and colors that you love, then edit the heck out of them!

Dream Sources: Wyeth Antiques, Blackman & Cruz, Holland & Sherry Fabrics, Maharam Fabrics, Innovations Wallcoverings, Coup d'Etat, Bernd Goeckler Antiques, Karl Kemp Antiques, Paschal-Boyer Gallery, Maison Gerard, Christianson-Lee Studios, Flair Home Collection

Resources of Note:

ENTRY

    • Antler Table: vintage; can be purchased new from Crystal Farm Antler Chandeliers
    • Vintage Grey Glass Vessel: end of the world nyc
    • Gun Metal Wallpaper: Innovations
    • Painting: Peter Hammar

LIVING ROOM

    • Sofa: Thomas O'Brien Collection Hickory Chair
    • Sofa Fabric: Base: Lee Jofa; Cushions and pillow velvet: Fabricut
    • Curtain and Upholstered Chair Velvet: Fabricut
    • Undercurtain Sheer: Cowtan & Tout
    • Upholstered Wooden Arm Chairs: Housing Works "Design on a Dime"
    • L' Orangerie Dining Table: Niermann Weeks
    • Petrified Cocktail Table: Housing Works "Design on a Dime"Design on a Dime
    • Lacquered Linen Sofa Side Tables: Crate & Barrel; Lacquered linen Two Worlds Arts
    • Wall Lights: Porta Romano through Zoffany, Inc.
    • Venini Crystal Chandelier: Vintage
    • Table Lamps: Emmisary Home & Garden
    • Lamp Shades: The Accessory Store
    • Large Ebony Cabinet: Bluefish Trading; Curtain fabric Cowtan & Tout/Larsen
    • Painting above Sofa - Peter Hammar
    • Minerals on Side Tables: Bartky Minerals, new jersey

KITCHEN

    • Cabinets: Home Depot
    • Cabinet Hardware: White Chapel
    • Window Shade: Delia Shades, NYC

BEDROOM

    • Bed: John Douglas Eason Design, Fabric- Holly Hunt
    • Bedcover Fabric: Bergamo
    • Blanket and bed linens: John Matouk & Co.
    • Large Roll Style Pillow: Fabric, Lee Jofa
    • Small Bedside Table: John Douglas Eason Design
    • Floor Lamp: Catherine Memmi
    • Tree Stump Bedside Table: Carson & Company
    • Bedside Table Lamp: Regina Andrew
    • Lampshade: The Accessory Store
    • Landscape Oil Painting: Stamford Antique & Artisan Center
    • Watercolors of Owner's Dogs: Patsy LeVan
    • Silk Mohair for Draperies: Holly Hunt
    • Painted Bench: Painting ,Two Worlds Arts; Purple Linen: Holland & Sherry Inc.
    • Wooden Blinds: Hunter Douglas
    • Wooden Arm Chair: Vintage, fabric Lee Jofa
    • Armoire: Stair Antiques Hudson, New York

Thanks, John!

Images: Patrick J. Hamilton

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