Eight years ago, when David Maupin and Stefano Tonchi were expecting twin girls, they set out in search of a bigger apartment. Friends and colleagues figured they would land in one of Manhattan’s glamorous buildings famous for their design pedigree, given the couple’s standing in the worlds of art and fashion: Maupin as cofounder of the Lehmann Maupin gallery, Tonchi as the editor of W magazine. And, indeed, they considered moving to the U.N. Plaza, a beacon of Miesian modernism on the East River.
In the end, however, they opted for the Osborne, a mid-rise, brownstone-clad Gilded Age mishmash of styles and materials. All the more surprising: They invited their friend AD100 architect Annabelle Selldorf to work with them (and Selldorf brought in architect Matthew Schnepf, a former associate at her firm, to assist). The rigor and elegant restraint that have come to characterize Selldorf’s work are a far cry from the first impression made by the Osborne’s lobby—a brass, stucco, marble, Tiffany-style glass, mosaic, gold-leaf, and glazed terra-cotta phantasmagoria in the style of Aladdin. “Utterly ridiculous but totally beautiful,” Selldorf calls it—an opinion Maupin and Tonchi share. They join the ranks of high-profile New Yorkers who have called the building home, among them Leonard Bernstein, Van Cliburn, Peter Beard, Sylvia Miles, Lynn Redgrave, Phil Jackson, Bobby Short, Fran Lebowitz, and Jessica Chastain.
Since 1885, when the Osborne was built, Maupin and Tonchi’s apartment had changed hands only three times, and many of the original features were still intact. With Selldorf, they agreed to leave the Arts and Crafts details: leaded-glass windows, geometric transoms above the doors, carved moldings, ceramic-tile fireplace surrounds. They restored the parquet and retained the 14-foot ceilings in the living room. For the architect, the apartment obliged them to weigh “the merit of invention as opposed to absorbing what may already exist, for good reason.”
While other residents have taken their decorative cues from the building’s period references, outfitting their apartments with William Morris–style wallpaper and favrile-glass lamps, the three friends chose a different route. “The space is traditional,” Tonchi says, “but that doesn’t mean it has to be conservative.”
Walls were painted white, as a backdrop for the art, in silent conversation with the furniture and fixtures. Most works are by artists from Maupin’s gallery, with its diverse stable of talent from around the world. In the living room above the mantel hangs a David Salle painting from his Pastoral series, utilizing a theatrical backdrop from an 18th-century opera, with the shadows and contours delineated in areas of flat, vivid color. In the study, Gilbert & George’s Lover, a mixed-media grid printed with tabloid headlines, faces a grid of a different kind—a wall of custom bookshelves with brass uprights and black shelves. In the dining room are two large square tables Selldorf covered with mirrored glass to create luminosity and reflect Teresita Fernández’s site-specific installation, a constellation of 5,000 small rocks of raw, mined graphite, each with a hand-drawn mark extending beneath it.
The furniture is mostly midcentury modern in its lines, but, Tonchi notes, “the colors are a little off”—green, orange, and turquoise taken from the tile around the fireplaces. Some pieces are custom; others come from Vica, the company Selldorf started in 2004 to sell her own furniture. (She named it after the design firm founded by her grandmother in Cologne in the 1930s.)
As clients, Selldorf says, Tonchi and Maupin “feel like family. There were no differences of opinion. We had this serendipitous relationship, playing off each other’s ideas.” They shared not only a frame of reference that spans contemporary art and midcentury Italian design but also certain obsessions—the work of Gio Ponti, Venetian glass by Seguso, Venini, and Carlo Moretti. Says Maupin: “We kind of read each other’s minds and agreed.”
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Tonchi and Maupin would send Selldorf photos of design ideas they encountered in the course of their extensive travels. An antique Tiffany hanging lamp Tonchi saw in a Madrid artist’s residence became the inspiration for chandeliers Selldorf designed in collaboration with the artisans at Seguso.
Upstairs are the private quarters: a slick black dressing room lined with enough closets to accommodate a fashion veteran’s copious wardrobe; and the adjoining bedroom, with its leather-tiled wall and a bedcover made from ivory-and-black-silk matelassé Tonchi discovered when Giambattista Valli used it in his couture show for a ball gown.
Isabella and Maura, Tonchi and Maupin’s daughters, now in second grade, share a room that bears none of the hallmarks that often designate a space for children—no primary colors, no goofy animals or cartoon superheroes. “I think kids are people,” Selldorf says. She refuses to design down to them. Instead, she used Fornasetti wallpaper to create a whimsical landscape for the imagination, with hot-air balloon curtains floating among grisaille clouds; framed butterfly specimens act as punctuation. A leather-upholstered club chair matches the ones in the living room.
Everyone has settled in now. Selldorf calls the finished product “a portrait of Stefano and David.” Maupin marvels at the serendipity that brought together the three of them—from California, Italy, and Germany—to create a home in a building that has contained so much of the city’s history. “It’s a New York family apartment,” Tonchi says, “and we’re a new type of family.”