Known for creating “luxurious, livable spaces” for celebrities and the social elite—naturally, Darren Henault has designed all of his past living spaces. For the last three years, though, he’s practically been living in a museum: the former James Berwind mansion, a home that has since been turned into five separate apartments.
The doorman knocks—no calling up—on the big mahogany door of the first floor apartment, and Henault, in the same breath that he says hello, announces he’s going to pour himself a glass of white wine. There are two pots on the stove of the tiny kitchen to the right of the doorway, and two little twin girls, Bunny and Lulu, 5, are eating dinner with their nanny, Nelly, across the hall.
“Whenever we have wine, we drink it immediately,” says Henault, explaining why their 4,000-bottle wine cellar in the basement is completely empty. “It’s been bare since we moved in three years ago.”
He’s right—there isn’t a single bottle to be found. He does want to find some sort of use for the space—they may put a dining room table there and host dinner parties.
“We love hosting parties. I mean, when you live in a space like this, you have to share it and party in it. Not party like a rock star, or anything,” he explains. “Although one time, we did have a keg party. I mean, all these Park Avenue hostesses were in college and dating football players at one time. We like to bring it down real for them.”
Fortunately, guests needn’t worry about spilling red wine on the plush carpets or period furniture.
“I could care less about that. We had a mishap in the house in Millbrook, which is also a rental,” he says of their weekend home, of which he designed every millimeter. “Someone went right through the glass coffee table holding a glass of red wine, and it went everywhere, but who cares? The kids tear up all the furniture in this house, too. I mean, a house is meant for you to live in.”
Likening the house to a historic museum that he gets to live in, everything came “as is” when he got here, which made it almost like a vacation. “You don’t mess with that. All I did was spit and polish and add some trimmings, throw some furniture around. It’s grounding and calming to live here.”
His living room is the “Charles X” room, which was used as the mansion’s library in its heyday. On a nearby side table is a giant pewter dish Henault stole from Monkey Bar.
“They use it to bring chocolate mints or something like that to the table at the end of the meal, and I just put it in my bag because I really liked it,” he says. Next to that is another item pilfered from a restaurant, a small white statue of a man who appears to be flying, arms spread, feet up behind him. “You know the Rosa Mexicano on the West Side? You know how they have this huge wall of figurines…”
There’s also the giant bronze bust of his husband, Michael Bassett, a corporate attorney. “Michael prepaid for me to have a personalized bust of myself done as a birthday present. It struck me as odd, since I’m not the owner of a bank or the CEO of a big corporation, so I didn’t really want it. It was already paid in full, though, so I told him he should get it done of himself.”
Seemingly out of place is a modestly sized flat screen TV propped up on a painter’s easel in the corner of the room.
“Anyone who tries to ignore TV or doesn’t have one is ridiculous. We don’t watch that much TV, but if the girls are watching a movie, I don’t want them to do it downstairs, I want them to watch it with me,” he says. Nearby are some interesting objects that Lulu and Bunny used as hammers in earlier years: 19th century sock darners made of silver and copper, which came from a collection of 30.
A winding, red-carpeted mahogany staircase leads to a corridor adorned with 20 framed prints of women in colonial period dress. “Oh my gosh, Michael basically just tore them all out of a book and framed them. Don’t they look fancy?”
Next comes the girls’ room, which is simple and very clean, two beds, pink and white sheets and walls, a big, pink stuffed dog sprawled out on the floor.
“I always said, ‘I hate pink, pink is never going to happen. I’m a gay man, I don’t do pink,’” he explains. “Then, when I found out we were having girls, I was like, ‘Oh, we are so doing pink!’”
A picture of a tie-dye teddy bear hanging from a rope is mounted between the girls’ beds.
“Oh, that’s suicide bear,” he explains. “One day Michael came home and said, ‘I got this art for the girls’ room.’”
Could it perhaps be a window-washing bear?
“Nope, it’s a suicide bear. He’s definitely hanging from a noose.”
The girls’ playroom is situated in the solarium and is adorned with toys, books, a very tiny pink piano and a little plastic oven. Standing by the doorframe is a small 2-foot-tall statue of a little boy that Henault brought back with him from India. He’s wearing an ornate blue hat, jacket and pants, which are pulled down around his ankles.
“Oh, our old dog Wilber ripped them off. Like I said, I don’t fix things. Once something is destroyed, it can fall apart all around me, I’m not fixing it or repairing it, I don’t care,” he explains. “We have three armchairs in Millbrook that are falling apart. I don’t know if it’s because I’m lazy or because I’m a slob. But I’m not repairing them.”
Initially, Henault was so opposed to living on the Upper East Side that he refused to even visit Michael’s apartment when they first started dating. “I said I would never, ever, ever, ever live uptown. But then we realized that all of the schools we wanted to send the girls to were up here.”
Expecting a slow turnaround when they put the Soho condo on the market, Henault was annoyed that it sold in just two weeks (perhaps because it was furnished entirely by him?) “I wanted more time!” he said. “I wasn’t ready!”
That old apartment was clean and modern, without molding and equipped with big windows.
“Oh, I miss it,” says Henault. “People walk in here, and it’s so specific, you don’t get an idea about me or who I am from this apartment. It’s hard to express your personality in a place like this.”
He has warmed to the location a bit. “It’s insane, I mean, I practically live in Central Park. It also doesn’t suck living down the street from Bergdorf’s. I went there like every single day for the first six months after we moved.”
The decision to rent seemed like an easy one—for starters, he was tired of putting a bunch of elbow grease into rentals, but most importantly, he’s not sure where the girls will end up next for school.
“Also, have you seen real estate prices in New York?” he scoffs.
Bottom line: how does he really feel about living in an apartment he hasn’t designed himself?
“I’m ready to move.”