Interior designer Shawn Henderson had clear priorities in his search for a new home in the West Village, New York. Having spent four years renting a studio apartment, the interior designer was ready to commit to his own place and, together with his real estate agent friend, scoured the leafy district.
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‘There was a list of properties in my price range but this particular one didn’t have a doorman or an elevator so I told my friend, “I’ll look at it but there’s no way I’m buying it”,’ Shawn recalls.
Yet stepping over the threshold, the space beguiled him entirely, throwing off his list of essentials and, up just one flight of stairs, the elevator was no longer a deal-breaker.
‘When I saw the apartment, it was crazy how it looked but the light was absolutely beautiful. I fell in love. It’s an old tenement structure with four floors. It felt very private and quiet. The views from the sitting room face towards the Hudson river and with no tall buildings in the way, the afternoon light flooded in.’
The previous owner had decorated the apartment with ornate wallpaper and extravagant mouldings, which Shawn immediately stripped back.
‘The rooms were laid out in what in the US we call a railroad style, meaning that you could only access the second bedroom through the first, so I took out the first bedroom and instead made it into a corridor off which is a small powder room and a large walk-in closet,’ Shawn explains.
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The sitting room
‘I didn’t want drapery in the sitting room, so I bought the shutters, which have a wonky look making them feel quirky and original.’ Floorboards were exposed and stripped of the orangey varnish to give them a bleached appearance.
Shawn stripped the large birdcage of paint and rusted it with vinegar and water to create a distressed look. It now serves as a bar.
He painted the entire apartment in the same warm, off-white, against which his collection of mid-century and design classic furniture brings rich woody tones.
In contrast to the simple furnishings, a floral armchair sports the only print in the apartment, ‘I call it my grandma chic moment,’ Shawn says laughing.
The master bedroom
In the master bedroom, the textures of paper, fleece and leather provide interest against the plain walls in this sculptural corner.
Paying tribute to the bones of the building, Shawn added reclaimed wooden beams to the ceilings and exposed the brickwork in the bedroom.
Shawn’s vision came to life when he visited the apartment for the first time after the demolition of several walls. ‘I was inspired to make the space feel more like a loft. It was such a humble building that I wanted the interiors to be simple.’
The kitchen, which leads through to the bedroom, brings a contemporary edge that moderates the classic elegance of the rooms either side.
Shawn used tiles to create the impression of brickwork, while aluminum cabinets below and smoked gray oak above are divided by a luxurious marble countertop he was given by a friend.
Another joyous addition was that of a washer-dryer. ‘I had lived in New York without one for 24 years, so putting it in was a big priority along with centralised air conditioning,’ he adds. The simple and painless transformation took only six months with Shawn employing his trusted contractor to do the work.
Opposite, a tall antique oak armoire provides a cavernous pantry space. ‘It was important to include plenty of storage,’ says Shawn.
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The dining room
Like a true New Yorker, rather than cook, Shawn often prefers to eat out or sit on the sofa with a takeaway, his two dogs Alfie and Gus joining him. ‘I don’t do much entertaining and I’m more likely to use the dining table as a place to work,’ he confesses.
The decorative backdrop in the dining room is a screen given to Shawn by a friend, while the rich rosewood furniture in the dining room is both elegant and timeless.
Outside, the streets of the West Village are remarkably calm. ‘This area is amazing – so beautiful and charming with cobbled tree-lined streets. The apartment is my refuge.’
See more of Shawn Henderson's work on his website.