A Roman and Williams–Designed Apartment That Evokes the Glamour of the Orient Express

A surprisingly memorable mythological story is the story of the phoenix. This is the extraordinary bird that emerges from a burning flame with colorful feathers that are more stunning than it was before. A duplex house that overlooks Central Park West in New York City shares a similar background. It was ravaged by a fire and smoking to ashes. It has since been beautifully restored thanks to its efforts by Robin Standefer and Stephen Alesch as founders of The ELLE Decor A-List architectural and design company Roman Williams and Williams.

“Everything you see is new,” says the lady who lives in the home. She, along with her British husband, had been living overseas for more than ten years, soaking their lives in the culture that dominated in the Far East before settling down with their young children in a traditional prewar home that had white walls and dark flooring. However, when a rag from a working man ignited, Standefer and Alesch were left with a blank canvas to create the atmosphere-inducing imagination that has earned them praise on screen (making scenes to Zoolander, Practical Magic, and Duplex) and in the realm of hospitality (revamping the New York’s Royalton hotel and renovating the Standard) as well as with boho-minded stars (Kate Hudson, Ben Stiller, and Gwyneth Paltrow).

The conversations between the designers and the couple began with a serious after which it was clear that the final result was much more complicated than simply a renovation of the rooms that existed before. “The wife likes rich woods, the color green, dramatic moldings, and the work of Richardson,” Standefer said, referring back to the Victorian-era American architectural genius Henry Hobson Richardson, an advocate of sassy brooding Romanesque stone structures. She’s also a fan of India and Hong Kong and cites the China Club, David Tang’s chic Hong Kong restaurant decked out with lacquered glistening decor–as one of her favorite places. “I love modernity and minimalism, but I honestly can’t live that way,” she says with a smile.

This is why the owners have settled in an area where inky tropical hardwoods are surrounded by the shimmer of brass crafted with skill and the luxury of the lacy screens. Add in stunning 1930s furniture and a color scheme that ranges between the murky and pearly, and it’s not surprising that many people who visit the area expect to look out of the windows and see nothing but Central Park stretching out before them, but rather Shanghai’s bustling ports. Shanghai.


“There’s a layering of objects, periods, and architecture that we’re proud of,” says Alesch, the designer of each molding and architectural element. The main living spaces were arranged to flow together, and the building’s demolished post-fire state inspired the open layout. “We saw how roomy it seemed and said, ‘Let’s not build normal partitions again,'” Standefer explains. It doesn’t mean the home appears like a lofty cavern in any way. However, instead of traditional doors, they connected the different spaces through large central openings that let views sweep the floor.

On one side, the living space is intimate with muted hues, with accents of ebony and the shimmer of satin. The adjacent dining room, however, has a flamboyance Standefer delightedly describes as “off the hook”–chocolate-brown Venetian-plaster walls, a coffered ceiling, a chandelier composed of faceted handblown crystal globes, and angular silk-upholstered chairs by Jean-Michel Frank. “Stephen and I like special designers but not always their most obvious pieces,” Standefer writes. “Those dining chairs are less on the nose than you’d expect when you hear Frank’s name, but they help give the place a more interesting quality.”

The variety of unusual colors and attractive materials can help too. When looking for a wood that could create a stylish mood in the dining area, The design team was able to decide between mahogany (too ruddy) along with rosewood (too regular). “Robin is obsessive about tonality,” Alesch notes. They ultimately chose the South American tropical hardwood called Imbuia. It’s also known as Brazilian walnut.

“It’s more brown than red and has beautiful figuring,” Standefer elaborates. They chose an alternative tropical wood called Iroko in the main bathroom, similar to teak. They added brass fittings and a large designed sink comprised of massive blocks of onyx that are pale green and an inspiration from a large bathroom in The Four Seasons hotel in midtown Manhattan.

A second bath is clad in quarter-inch thick sheets of antique brass, giving the tiny space the feel of a glam corner from Captain Nemo’s Nautilus, a maritime theme that’s echoed by portholes that are whimsically placed on the wall in the playroom for children.

These kinds of small details delight the globe-trotting owners and designers. Standefer smiles when someone mentions that the house is reminiscent of the dark and somber cars of the first Orient Express at night. “Modesty is great, and quietness is nice,” she states, “but sometimes it’s much more fun to be decadent.”

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