Roy's South-to-North Big Switch

Roy's South-to-North Big Switch

Name: Roy Otwell, SWITCHMODERN
Location: Hell's Kitchen — New York, New York
Size: 570 square feet
Years lived in: 1½ years during renovation, 3½ after — owned

Like so many others, Roy's New York story is a second chapter. Like a lucky few, Roy was able to shape his second home into exactly what he needed it to be, to make a new New York life work for him. Sure, this is partly a renovation story, but lots of lessons here for the renters and penny-pinchers to take back to their own homes.

A Southern gentleman to the core (although his signature house cocktail is a Ginger Martini, not a Mint Julep), Roy wanted a distinctly New York backdrop to start this second act, and he found the perfect stage, in a pre-war landmark with famous neighbors and an enviable short stroll to Central Park.

But at first sight, Roy knew there was work to be done. A friend quipped that Roy "took a studio and made a Classic 5," and that's not far from the truth. This small space has an established elegance, and actual rooms that keep this work-at-home gent from going stir crazy. Roy did it in ways that might seem counter-intuitive: way more walls went up than came down, and in some cases, ceilings were lowered. But these choices make the space live far larger than the 570 square feet it actually occupies. Those lowered ceilings? They house built-in speakers and recessed lighting. The overhead coffers? One faux beam to make the necessary evil of the immovable first look intentional, not accidental, and lows that only make the highs seem higher. And those double-thick walls? Not just a reference to the building's gracious bones and public spaces, but concealed cubbies hiding the less-than picture-perfect.

Like the décor decisions of many, Roy's interior motives are as revealing as tea leaves left at the bottom of a bone china cup… an articulated lamp, stainless steel backsplashes, and Crest-white built-ins reveal his past life as a dentist. And those few pieces of traditional Southern gentility scattered throughout the polished white box? Also a voice from beyond… Roy discovered, even to his own surprise, that the decorative and decidedly un-modern pieces which survived his scrupulous south-to-north pre-move edit all came from one source: "Mother Lou," a favored matriarch in his Spanish Moss-covered family tree.

The fact that he had some inside sources (he's a furnishings industry insider, with SWITCHMODERN) and was able to embark on a year-long (plus!) remote renovation doesn't diminish his sizable success in such a diminutive space.

Less art, but each piece with muscular presence, walls left intentionally bare with only the downwash of light to accent them, a rigorously limited palette, texture doing the heavy lifting of interest, oft-repeated colors and materials: These are the tricks to take away, free of charge, and without budget constraint. And Roy, ever the gentleman, will let you. After you've finished your cocktail, of course.

Apartment Therapy Survey:

My Style: Direct and to the point. Thoughtful, clean, without fuss and clutter. Just need a place that's restful and nourishes my soul.

Inspiration: Pop culture, Mies van der Rohe, Central Park, Andree Putman, Émile-Jacques Ruhlmann, Louis I. Kahn, Versailles, Mark Rothko, Zaha Hadid, Steven Holl, Karim Rashid, Arne Jacobsen, Antonio Citterio, The Cloisters . . . the list is endless.

Favorite Element: Location, location, location. And I like my closet an enormous amount too.

Biggest Challenge: Fitting 5 lbs of jelly in a 1 lb jar. The NYC Dept of Buildings was no picnic either!

What Friends Say: "Damn, gurrl, that's a mighty good Ginger Martini!!"

Biggest Embarrassment: My neighbor who propositions strangers and guests. And the fact that she doesn't proposition me.

Proudest DIY: Hidden ultra-efficient trashcans in the bath and the kitchen, small space-savers attached to the inside of the cabinet doors. Assembled from easily found, inexpensive parts. Perfect solution and done in a few hours.

Biggest Indulgence: Facials, delivery (of everything), and my Dee-luxe sound system: six speakers and wireless control from my laptop! NPR is crystal clear in every room. (I can print wirelessly too!)

Best Advice: Go to bed early. Be willing to pay for ideas, not just products. Never use knockoffs and do not support the industry that produces them. Spend at least as much time on planning as on execution. Shop at SWITCHMODERN!

Dream Sources: Well, SWITCHMODERN of course!!

Resources of Note:


    • Desk Light : 360 by Sir Norman Foster, Fontana Arte
    • Floorlamp: Noguchi
    • Desk Stool: Flexform
    • Desk: Custom
    • Rolling cart: Ycami
    • Artwork: James Rosenquist "Flamingo Capsule"


    • Small Elmwood Chest: Vintage Japanese on custom metal stands (also used as bedside table)
    • Suspension Floorlamp: "Ecart," Ralph Pucci
    • Bronze silk on pillows: Donghia
    • Sofa: "Magnum" (oh my!), Flexform
    • Side Tables: "Tulip" side tables, Eero Saarinen
    • Drapery Fabric: Glant
    • Solar Shades: Georgia Blind
    • Rolled Paper and Sumi ink Wall Sculpture: Jae Ko
    • Multi-media Artwork: (orange canvas): Suk Ja Kang-Engles


    • Wall light: Tolomeo, Artemide
    • Dining Chairs: "Cab" Chairs, Cassina
    • Dining Table: "Tulip" table, Eero Saarinen


    • Cabinetry: Poliform


    • Artwork: Charcoal Florals, Barbara Quinn
    • Bedroom Chairs: Alvar Aalto
    • Bedding: Poliform


    • Fixtures: Dornbracht
    • Sink and Commode: Catalano
    • Wall Panels: Custom retrofit of Poliform closet components


    • Interior doors (throughout): Tre-Piu

Thanks, Roy!

Images: Patrick J. Hamilton

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