This Designer’s Curated Manhattan Home Exudes Tranquility

Mallery Roberts Morgan

“I’ve always tried to create a sense of serenity in my interiors. And of course, now more than ever home as sanctuary is so meaningful,” says designer Sandra Nunnerley, whose Manhattan apartment is an example of practicing what you preach. “Everyone needs a place of tranquility to refresh, reflect, meditate, and renew one’s energy.”

Nunnerley’s rooms are filled with a carefully curated array of art, furniture, objects, and textiles, collected over years of extensive travel. Contemporary furniture of her own design lives harmoniously with 18th-century antiques, tribal art, and iconic 20th-century designs. Textiles range from luxurious silks to roughhewn linens—many unique pieces collected over time, others are fabrics she designed. “I’m not a minimalist, but I believe an interior improves when the furnishings are pared down,” says the New York–based designer of her idiosyncratic style. “When you give things breathing room, it allows pieces of disparate provenance to harmonize together.”

“I find it so peaceful to sleep under a canopy,” says Nunnerley of the bed she designed. “It’s like a room in a room.” The headboard is upholstered in vintage Scalamandré fabric.
“I find it so peaceful to sleep under a canopy,” says Nunnerley of the bed she designed. “It’s like a room in a room.” The headboard is upholstered in vintage Scalamandré fabric.

Nunnerley says colors are what makes a room come alive. She explains the soft gradation from blue-grays to ivory-beige of the painted walls progressing throughout the apartment. “With a punch of bitter chocolate in the study,” she adds. “Colors are an essential part of my vocabulary as a designer. There aren’t any colors I hate, however there are some I especially love—porcelain blue, pistachio, off-beiges, pearlized grays—I call them ‘shadow’ colors because they change with the light of the day.”

“Sandra famously says, ‘It’s all in the details,’” recounts AD editor-at-large Michael Reynolds, who has followed Nunnerley’s work for over a decade. “Deceivingly subtle with maximum impact,” he says describing her aesthetic, “something only a master of their craft can achieve. I’m reminded of that infamous quote of Teddy Roosevelt: ‘Speak softly and carry a big stick; you will go far!’”

Indeed, the New Zealand native has come far since her years as a student of architecture in Sydney, Australia, followed by stints in Paris and London working in the art world. Eventually settling in New York, her design pedigree includes working for the legendary, high-society New York decorator Chessy Rayner when Nunnerley was just starting out. “In the end I think my background in architecture and fine arts is what influences my work most,” reflects Nunnerley. “Bringing together the past and present.”

“My extensive travels through Asia have had a lasting influence on me,” says Nunnerley. In a corner of the living room a work by Chinese artist Tai Xiangzhou hangs above a Pierre Jeanneret chaise longue. A small painting to the left is a portrait of Nunnerley by New York artists (and longtime friends) McDermott & McGough. A side table from Nunnerley’s Celestial Collection for Maison Gerard. Decorative cushion of hand-woven fabric found on a trip to Lake Inle in Myanmar. Madison hand-knotted wool and silk rug from Nunnerley’s collection for The Rug Company.
“My extensive travels through Asia have had a lasting influence on me,” says Nunnerley. In a corner of the living room a work by Chinese artist Tai Xiangzhou hangs above a Pierre Jeanneret chaise longue. A small painting to the left is a portrait of Nunnerley by New York artists (and longtime friends) McDermott & McGough. A side table from Nunnerley’s Celestial Collection for Maison Gerard. Decorative cushion of hand-woven fabric found on a trip to Lake Inle in Myanmar. Madison hand-knotted wool and silk rug from Nunnerley’s collection for The Rug Company.

Even with current travel restrictions, Nunnerley’s eponymous design firm remains a busy, global practice with ongoing projects in Houston, Hong Kong, and Berlin. “Technology has revolutionized interior design,” she explains. “With CAD and 3D printers we can see and touch the final plans in our office before we even set foot on-site.”

“I always tell my clients you’ve got to get the bones right first,” says Nunnerley of her design process, which begins with a focus on the architectural configuration and details of a space. “If you don’t, you’re going nowhere, no matter how hard you try,” she adds. For her own home located in a turn-of-the-century Carrère and Hastings town house on the Upper East Side, Nunnerley applied the same principles. Having had the good fortune to find two apartments side by side, she designed a floor plan where spaces flow seamlessly into each other. “A subtle play of contemporary against classical” is how she describes thoughtful details such as loft-like floorboards running lengthwise. “In classically designed spaces floors run crosswise—here I wanted to add a slightly more industrial feel. I love the tension you create with a play of periods,” she says.

This Designer’s Curated Manhattan Home Exudes Tranquility

Designer Sandra Nunnerley collects textiles when she travels. In the study of her Upper East Side apartment, on a sofa of her own design, decorative cushions are made from rare Javanese batik prints. Italian ceramic vases from the ’70s were used to create two side table lamps. A pair of Jules Leleu armchairs sit on the Gramercy hand-knotted wool and silk rug from Nunnerley’s collection for The Rug Company. The paint color is Nunnerley’s own blend she calls Bitter Chocolate. Above the sofa, Richard Serra’s My Curves Are Not Mad, 1987, to the left, an Alberto Magnelli painting.
Designer Sandra Nunnerley collects textiles when she travels. In the study of her Upper East Side apartment, on a sofa of her own design, decorative cushions are made from rare Javanese batik prints. Italian ceramic vases from the ’70s were used to create two side table lamps. A pair of Jules Leleu armchairs sit on the Gramercy hand-knotted wool and silk rug from Nunnerley’s collection for The Rug Company. The paint color is Nunnerley’s own blend she calls Bitter Chocolate. Above the sofa, Richard Serra’s My Curves Are Not Mad, 1987, to the left, an Alberto Magnelli painting.
A Chinese contemporary ink by Tai Xiangzhou hangs in the hallway where wide loft-like floorboards run lengthwise. “In classically designed spaces floors run crosswise—here I wanted to add a slightly more industrial feel,” says Nunnerley, who describes such details as “a subtle play of contemporary against classical.”
A Chinese contemporary ink by Tai Xiangzhou hangs in the hallway where wide loft-like floorboards run lengthwise. “In classically designed spaces floors run crosswise—here I wanted to add a slightly more industrial feel,” says Nunnerley, who describes such details as “a subtle play of contemporary against classical.”
“I find it so peaceful to sleep under a canopy,” says Nunnerley of the bed she designed. “It’s like a room in a room.” The headboard is upholstered in vintage Scalamandré fabric.
“I find it so peaceful to sleep under a canopy,” says Nunnerley of the bed she designed. “It’s like a room in a room.” The headboard is upholstered in vintage Scalamandré fabric.
In the master bedroom a study for two sculptures by British artist Lynn Chadwick sits above a bedside Biedermeier chest. An Amethyst crystal bought at auction from Andy Warhol’s own collection sits among collected objects and family photos. “I always try to create a sense of serenity in my interiors—especially for myself,” says Nunnerley. “A big part of that is surrounding myself with meaningful pieces.”
In the master bedroom a study for two sculptures by British artist Lynn Chadwick sits above a bedside Biedermeier chest. An Amethyst crystal bought at auction from Andy Warhol’s own collection sits among collected objects and family photos. “I always try to create a sense of serenity in my interiors—especially for myself,” says Nunnerley. “A big part of that is surrounding myself with meaningful pieces.”
Stephen Kent Johnson / OTTO
“I always wanted a square room and was finally able to give myself one,” says Nunnerley of the perfect symmetry of her living room rooted in classical Greek and Roman architecture. A pair of cane-backed armchairs are her own design as well as the ottoman. Small side table from Nunnerley’s Celestial Collection for Maison Gerard. Jean Royère chandelier. Madison hand-knotted wool and silk rug from Nunnerley’s collection for The Rug Company. Jean-Michel Frank dining chairs sit near a Table Royale from Maison Jansen, 1960s, with two sculptural Australian boomerangs. “Very old, rare examples,” explains Nunnerley. “I bought them when I was at university in Sydney and they’ve been with me ever since. Everything in this room has meaning—something I’ve been given, collected, or found on my travels.”
“I always wanted a square room and was finally able to give myself one,” says Nunnerley of the perfect symmetry of her living room rooted in classical Greek and Roman architecture. A pair of cane-backed armchairs are her own design as well as the ottoman. Small side table from Nunnerley’s Celestial Collection for Maison Gerard. Jean Royère chandelier. Madison hand-knotted wool and silk rug from Nunnerley’s collection for The Rug Company. Jean-Michel Frank dining chairs sit near a Table Royale from Maison Jansen, 1960s, with two sculptural Australian boomerangs. “Very old, rare examples,” explains Nunnerley. “I bought them when I was at university in Sydney and they’ve been with me ever since. Everything in this room has meaning—something I’ve been given, collected, or found on my travels.”
“Inspired by a piece of Song Dynasty porcelain” is how Nunnerley describes the paint color she and her painter spent many hours trying to perfect. “When I started to collect Chinese contemporary ink I needed a color that would look wonderful with the art.” Study of a Rock by Liu Dan. A Senufo bird figure from the Ivory Coast circa 1940s, paired with a Jean-Michel Frank dining chair. Curtain fabric design by Nunnerley.
“Inspired by a piece of Song Dynasty porcelain” is how Nunnerley describes the paint color she and her painter spent many hours trying to perfect. “When I started to collect Chinese contemporary ink I needed a color that would look wonderful with the art.” Study of a Rock by Liu Dan. A Senufo bird figure from the Ivory Coast circa 1940s, paired with a Jean-Michel Frank dining chair. Curtain fabric design by Nunnerley.
“I love the tension of modern with traditional, the play of periods, the contradictions,” says Nunnerley, referring to a contemporary photo by Gregor Hildebrandt in the entrance hall hanging above a Louis XIV console she bought at auction. “Someone had gilded the console to death but I could see how special the carving was, so I stripped it.”
“I love the tension of modern with traditional, the play of periods, the contradictions,” says Nunnerley, referring to a contemporary photo by Gregor Hildebrandt in the entrance hall hanging above a Louis XIV console she bought at auction. “Someone had gilded the console to death but I could see how special the carving was, so I stripped it.”
A shelf, statue, and painting compose a piece titled Brancusi’s Dealer by the American appropriation artist Richard Pettibone. Nunnerley created a soft gradation of colors ranging from blue-grays to ivory-beige progressing through the apartment. “I call them ‘shadow’ colors because they change with the light of the day,” she explains. “Colors are an essential part of my vocabulary as a designer.
A shelf, statue, and painting compose a piece titled Brancusi’s Dealer by the American appropriation artist Richard Pettibone. Nunnerley created a soft gradation of colors ranging from blue-grays to ivory-beige progressing through the apartment. “I call them ‘shadow’ colors because they change with the light of the day,” she explains. “Colors are an essential part of my vocabulary as a designer.
“To Chinese scholars these rocks represent a focus for meditation,” explains Nunnerley, referring to the Chinese contemporary ink by Liu Dan hanging above the sofa of her own design. “In Chinese they are called Gongshi and have been appreciated by Chinese connoisseurs for more than a thousand years. I find them very spiritual.” On a side table to the left two New Zealand Maori war clubs, one whale bone, one jade, circa 1900. Both the coffee table and cane-backed armchairs are Nunnerley’s own design.
“To Chinese scholars these rocks represent a focus for meditation,” explains Nunnerley, referring to the Chinese contemporary ink by Liu Dan hanging above the sofa of her own design. “In Chinese they are called Gongshi and have been appreciated by Chinese connoisseurs for more than a thousand years. I find them very spiritual.” On a side table to the left two New Zealand Maori war clubs, one whale bone, one jade, circa 1900. Both the coffee table and cane-backed armchairs are Nunnerley’s own design.
Nunnerley stands in the living room of her Upper East Side apartment.
Nunnerley stands in the living room of her Upper East Side apartment.

Nunnerley believes the bedroom should be the ultimate moment of serenity in a home. “We all need a place to truly escape, to shut off from the outside world,” she says. For her own bedroom she designed a custom canopy bed creating ‘a room within a room.’ Vintage Scalamandré fabric covers the headboard echoing the wonders of an ancient city. “I placed a piece of art on the wall that reminds me of the Inca Trail I hiked to Machu Picchu,” she adds. “What a perfect moment to be surrounded by things you love. Living with meaningful possessions brings great comfort as well as perspective.”

Originally Appeared on Architectural Digest