When New York interior designer Laura Santos went looking for her new home a few years ago, she immediately began in the city's SoHo neighborhood. But Santos, like most designers, first notices flow, proportion, and light in a space, so she considered the standard loft layout—long, rectangular, often dark—unappealing. Fortunately, it didn't take long for her to find exactly what she was looking for in an unusual floor plan for the area, a 4,000-square-foot space in a 1929 four-story edifice. The scope of the building, originally built as a parking garage, is grand, with 14-foot ceilings and 55 feet of casement windows stretching across the front façade. “I fell in love with the windows," says Santos, looking back. "The original black metal is incredible; you can see the age and patina—a huge part of the beauty of the space.”
The loft's vast scale and especially high ceilings proved to be both a blessing and a design challenge. “It can be more difficult to add comfort and warmth," comments Santos, who above all else wanted the space to feel cozy. With her typically deft use of material and texture, Santos employed plaster to create a rich, layered white cube in the front open-plan part of the loft, which comprises the living and dining area. Santos also framed the fireplace with bookshelves to add dimension and color. “The perfect stone is everything," she says. "The fireplace stone was daring, but because everything is so subtle—the plaster, the wood—I took a chance on the mantel, which had just the right amount of color." The apartment's layout also afforded the opportunity to include large-scale pieces, such as two Vladimir Kagan Cloud sofas and a monumental statement Sputnik-style chandelier. Of the latter fixture, she says, “I needed something that would fill the volume of the ceiling height with a transparency that does not obscure the diptych I love by Mark Francis.”
The kitchen area added more natural warmth, with its wood cabinetry and material texture. The wall that extends past the breakfast nook creates a clever partition, creating subspaces in the front of the loft while also concealing part of the kitchen. Santos then created a butler’s pantry behind the main wall, so that while entertaining, the cooking, plating, and dirty dishes would remain out of sight.
The wood detail from the public spaces extends into the master bedroom. Santos, a huge fan of 1940s French decorating master Jean-Michel Frank’s use of cerused white oak, contemplated doing her whole bedroom in his signature material. Ultimately talking herself out of the idea, she decided instead to combine it with a subtle, creamy limestone-like plaster treatment, yielding a textural dry finish. By design, each of the other bedrooms uses the most of any natural light. Though Santos says she was happy with the home's original layout, she made some other minor adjustments—with the help of her architect, Method Design, and contractor, Riverside Builders—like moving the master bedroom closer to a wall of windows. For the bathrooms, travertine was installed to heighten the organic feeling throughout. “Each stone was chosen for its subtle movement, so that they all hang harmoniously together," she says.
Ultimately, the space combines the high ceilings and open plan of a loft in the front and the comfort of an apartment with privacy and ample light in the back. And the balance of elements creates a timelessness. Santos is known for spaces that are designed to be soulful and effortless, a difficult balance she exemplifies at home. “Nothing overwhelms and everything is working in concert," she says. "The wood, the plaster, and the stone all combine to create this sense of warmth, harmony, and the feeling that the space has always been like this.”