Where Less Is More: Lauren Moffatt’s Upper East Side Duplex

April 2014 | by | in Living

Lauren Moffatt in her Upper East Side home. (all photographs by Peter Murdock)

(all photographs by Peter Murdock)

For most people, style is an elusive quality, something we spend our lives discovering, crafting, mimicking and revising. Then there’s the fashion designer Lauren Moffatt, a petite brunette with gray-blue eyes who seems to have been born knowing exactly how she wants the world to look.

Moffatt’s aesthetic is clean but playful, with bright pops of color that bring to mind a time before black leather was de rigueur on the New York streets. That sensibility isn’t unique to her clothing line, donned by starlets like Michelle Monaghan and Zooey Deschanel. It pervades everything she touches, especially the Upper East Side home she shares with her husband and two young daughters.

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“I like for things to have a sense of humor,” she says when we visit the two-story apartment. Filled with child-like shapes and bold prints that reveal Moffatt’s fascination with form, it’s the kind of whimsical space that Henri Matisse might have enjoyed painting.

Highlights include a set of Allan Gould compass chairs tucked into a Saarinen table, which is anchored beneath a Pelle bubble chandelier. Mounted fancifully on the dining room wall above the staircase, three ceramic animal heads by DFC stare out over a shelf displaying white earthenware vessels. The pottery’s whimsical contours mirror those within a nearby still life by Robert Kobayashi, purchased at Moe’s Meat Market on Elizabeth Street.

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“I tend to really love the home of somebody older, who has accumulated and collected things over a lifetime,” Moffatt explains, pointing out an unusual copper planter she thrifted almost 15 years ago. “Compare that to some newlyweds’ home who just registered for their wedding and all of a sudden have all this stuff. I just love what people’s belongings say about them.”

Unsurprisingly, her apartment brims with art from the mid-20th century, much of it found in thrift shops and flea markets. If Moffatt doesn’t like something about a picture, she paints over it, brightening the colors or adding in a pattern, as she did to one canvas her parents gave her.

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“I’m a do-it-yourself-er to a fault,” she admits, recalling her mom’s dismay when she saw the painting, a portrait of two young women that now hangs above a faux fireplace. “I probably shouldn’t mess around with all the things I mess around with.”

In fact, you might say Moffatt’s entire apartment is an ode to D.I.Y. She bought the top level in 2002 after spending two years camping out on a sailboat docked in the Hudson River. (It was in the boat’s cabin, hunched over a small sewing machine, that the Philadelphia native created her first collection in 1999.) The flat was almost falling apart, but it held the allure of strong bones: wood parquet floors, high ceilings and plaster walls.

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“I’ve always liked older places, so it didn’t bother me at the time that it wasn’t perfect,” she says. Then four years ago, the apartment directly below opened up for the first time in 70 years after the elderly woman living there moved to a retirement home.

“We just got so super lucky,” Moffatt recalls. She and her husband, recently married, bought the lower level, embarking on a massive remodeling project to join the two floors together and transform what was formerly a single woman’s apartment into a comfortable, three-bedroom family home.

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Those renovations included upgrading the old kitchen area, previously used as a guest room since Moffatt didn’t cook, into a fully modern kitchen complete with subway tiles, frosty marble countertops and steel cabinets and appliances. They knocked out the wall between the dining and living areas, hiring a boat builder Moffatt met during her Hudson River years to construct steel-framed glass partitions that divide the space while maintaining a feeling of expansiveness.

“They’ll last forever, because he’s used to building things that have to endure seas,” she jokes.

And of course, they also had an opening made in the floor for a staircase that, disappearing down to the bedrooms, conjures Alice’s rabbit hole.

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While the top floor feels distinctly modern, the lower level is a haven of relaxed country comfort: weathered quilts, iron bed frames and a 19th-century marble-topped bureau Moffatt’s mother gave her for extra storage after her husband took the big closet. It hosts his extensive sneaker collection, which had lined the walls of their bedroom before the renovation.

“This was the concession when we combined units,” Moffatt smiles, cracking open her own closet to reveal a comparatively tiny space stuffed to the brim. But with a Chelsea studio also chocked full of clothes, she might not actually need anything bigger. Her work and home lives remain distinctly separate, even while the same aesthetic saturates both.

“It’s sort of just whatever happens,” Moffatt says of the inspiration for her style. It’s not something she spends a lot of time thinking about. “I’m sure if I look back at weird college projects, there’s a thread of ‘Lauren Moffat’ running through them, even then.” If only everyone were so lucky.

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