This whimsical Manhattan apartment perfectly reflects the free spirit of its artist owner

A house that truly reflects its owner is always a joy to tour, and this one feels as creative and interesting as the artist who lives here

manhattan apartment contemporary
Manhattan apartment designed by DATE Interiors
(Image credit: Kirsten Francis)

In the eyes of Leena Nasser, house design and style should reflect the homeowner's inner ‘creative womb’. As a social scientist, writer, artist and dancer, her imagination is the driver behind many of her undertakings, not least her landmarked Upper West Side apartment built in 1915. ‘There’s a joy had in arriving here after a long walk up the stairs to discover this magical space. It has a charm – and the exposed bricks transport you to an older time,’ she says.

dining bench open plan brick wall with artwork

Banquette made by PO Design Creation. Vintage table, South Loop Loft. Chair, Stowed. Framing, Ilana Lobet. Chandelier, Julie Neill.

(Image credit: Kirsten Francis)

Leena found her interior designer – Molly Torres Portnof of DATE Interiors – through a recommendation and the pair met for the first time just as Leena was closing on the sale. ‘We had a great connection from the beginning,’ says Molly. ‘The apartment looked very different then with lots of builder-grade finishes, but we bonded over our excitement at its great potential with tall ceilings, exposed bricks and a gorgeous terrace.’

contemporary kitchen cabinet with stool white

Pendant lights, Worley’s Lighting. Terracotta tiles, Tabarka Studio. Quartz worktop, Cambria. Cabinets in White Dove, Benjamin Moore.

(Image credit: Kirsten Francis)

Over time, Leena and Molly’s partnership flourished. Leena, who was born in Saudi Arabia and lives between New York, London, Argentina and Saudi Arabia, often sent Molly ideas from her travels. 

‘There was an apartment in Amsterdam that we pored over. We both loved the classic New York look and were both drawn to a Parisienne influence,’ says Molly. In designing for one individual, Molly was able to celebrate everything that makes Leena unique rather than having to moderate for anyone else’s taste.

contemporary kitchen breakfast bar shelves in back with objects and artwork

The Frame TV, Samsung. Custom bar stools , Simonini. Walls in Memento Roman Clay by Portola Paints.

(Image credit: Kirsten Francis)

‘Leena studies the divine feminine and she loves the female form and its strength and power. She is also a dreamer, in every sense of the word. The mural in her bedroom was inspired by a dream she had about a waterfall cascading over a woman, so I wanted to make that scene a reality for her every day. Creatively, we were firing on all cylinders and it made a huge difference to the project as it felt like there was nothing we couldn’t do,’ Molly enthuses.

contemporary living room sofa shelving ladder

Ladder, Putnam Rolling Ladder. Custom sofa designed by DATE Interiors; made by Clad Home. Coffee table, R&Y Augousti.

(Image credit: Kirsten Francis)

‘From the moment I walk into my apartment I feel transported into a feminine goddess sanctuary. Each room in my home has its own magic and feels like you’re walking into a jewel,’ Leena adds. Both women were motivated to make the apartment as comfortable and beautiful as possible.

‘There is an inviting softness to it, which of course has feminine associations,’ says Molly. Sheepskin armchairs and plump sofas seduce guests, while the live-edge wood shelving and terrace foliage bring nature into the equation. 

‘In the bathrooms, we used zellige tiles, which are a personal favorite – I love that every piece is unique, bringing a real texture. We’ve captured a spa-like vacation feel of escapism,’ says Molly.

blue bedroom contemporary style mirror

Bedding, Julia B. Casa. Vintage chandelier, The Demolition Depot. Rug, Armadillo.

(Image credit: Kirsten Francis)

‘I’m someone who’s always thinking about Arab history and the stories of forgotten Arab queens. I love different cultures and fictional worlds, so I felt strongly that there needed to be historical elements throughout the apartment. We constantly talked about our favorite stories, from classics like Beauty and the Beast to more modern tales like the A Court of Thorns and Roses series,’ Leena continues.

green tiled bathroom in contemporary apartmnet

Custom terrazzo floor tiles, Concrete Collaborative. Zellige wall tiles, Zia Tile.

(Image credit: Kirsten Francis)

Molly maximized this sense of narrative by framing Leena’s collection of fairy tales. ‘We worked with a framer, Ilana Lobet, on the Upper West Side. You cannot underestimate how much fun we had framing more than 75 of Leena’s pieces – each one unique. It makes for a very arresting sight on the exposed brick walls of the dining area,’ says Molly.

‘As Leena’s a dancer it was also important that the furniture in the middle of the room was light enough to push aside when she’s practicing tango – or has the urge to paint a large canvas.’ Having created a city sanctuary for work, rest and play, the by-product of Leena and Molly’s endeavors is a firm friendship.

tiled bathroom in pale pink tiling

Basin, Nood Co. Cabinet, RH. Light, Pigeon Toe. Zellige wall tiles, Zia Tile.

(Image credit: Kirsten Francis)


Molly Torres Portnof shares her style inspiration 

What part of the finished project makes you the happiest?

The fact that Leena texts me every time she’s in New York to tell me how much she loves the apartment. 

Can you point out a small change that has had a huge impact?

Enlarging the doors onto the terrace – the change has brought so much light and life in. 

What color is your go-to when designing?

A combination of golden mustard with deep purples and greens. 

Who is your design hero?

There are lots of amazing Australian designers inspiring me at the moment. In particular Tali Roth and Flack Studio

Can you tell us your favorite building?

I’ve always loved the Empire State Building – I had a view of it from a former apartment and it inspired my company name acronym, Designing A Tiny Empire. 

Any hidden gems that you'd like to lift the lid on?

The Demolition Depot in Harlem. It’s a treasure trove. 

In your home, what would you find most difficult to part with?

My rug collection. I love how a vintage rug tells a story. They are pieces of art on our floors.