The classic Upper East Side New York interiors of the 1980s hold a vivid place in our collective memory: They were spectacularly gilded, arrayed with 18th-century antiques, and layered in lush patterns. But at the same moment in time, an entirely different—and perhaps inadequately appreciated—aesthetic was taking shape 2,500 miles west in the homes of a generation of wealthy and discreet Southern Californians.

Björn Wallander
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The dining room’s custom table has a patinated-bronze base by and a glass top with a gilded edge from . The custom dining chairs are in an fabric, the pendant is by , and the circa-1980 rock crystal–and-bronze table lamp by is from .

The Holmby Hills drawing rooms of Betsy Bloomingdale and the interiors of Sunnylands, Walter and Leonore Annenberg’s estate in Rancho Mirage, were sun-splashed and elegant, playful and low-slung. There were pops of hot color—lime, aqua, lemon—and nods to Hollywood Regency style in homes that were as welcoming as they were soigné.

Björn Wallander

In the sitting room adjacent to the master bedroom, the Venetian plaster walls were hand-painted by in a pattern inspired by Matisse’s cutouts. The custom sofa in a fabric is topped with pillows in a cotton paisley, the ottoman is covered in a wool, and the circa-1750 mirror is from . The Josef Frank–style candlestick lamp is from , the swing-arm lamp is by , and the custom abaca rug is by .

It is precisely such a spirit that infuses this art-filled Manhattan pied-à-terre. And no wonder: The owners are a couple who have spent most of their lives in Los Angeles mingling with pillars of the region’s old guard, including Ronald and Nancy Reagan. “They’re very international, but there is something quite California about them. They’re willing to take chances,” says designer , who has worked with the pair for more than 15 years and also designed their capacious main home in Los Angeles.

Björn Wallander
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In the living room of a Park Avenue apartment that was designed by Brian J. McCarthy and renovated by the architect , the sofa, in an fabric, is topped with a pillow made from a scarf, and a pair of armchairs are in a silk. The vintage chair (right) is by , the cocktail table is by , the curtains are of a Macondo Silks silk taffeta, and the artwork is by .

Although the couple, who have enjoyed high-flying careers in diplomatic and legal circles, spend significant time in New York—they serve on a slew of charity boards—they had never before owned an apartment in the city.

“We looked around, casually, for years, but we could never find anything quite right,” says the wife, who concedes that it was she who pushed the issue, while her husband was content to be taken care of by the staff at the Carlyle Hotel during their frequent visits.

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In the rotunda, the artwork is by .

But McCarthy, too, was keen to help them find an East Coast nest, one that would translate their genteel yet bold version of Los Angeles culture into a Manhattan context. He poked around a bit with a real estate agent, then rang them up the moment he was shown the 3,000-square-foot, three-bedroom apartment on Park Avenue.

It had faux-classical columns and lots of dark wood paneling, and it needed to be reconfigured and gutted, but the light was incomparable: three exposures and unobstructed views. “Seeing the sun is incredibly important when you’ve grown up with it,” the wife says.

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A console in the dining room is topped with obelisks.

With architect John B. Murray, McCarthy reimagined the space by giving it an almost loftlike openness. Now, a cozy entry opens to a rotunda with black-and-white-marble floors. The plaster sconces are by Parisian sculptor Philippe Anthonioz, who collaborated with Diego Giacometti on the Musée Picasso. Leading from the rotunda on either side are the public rooms, with carefully chosen furnishings that convey a sense of wit and a highly refined eye.

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The kitchen’s custom fiberglass table is by , the stove and hood are by , the custom rope pendants are by , and the ceiling is in a custom paint.

Some of the furniture in the apartment was chosen on buying trips abroad that the couple took with McCarthy; in other cases, the homeowners, who travel the world constantly, simply fell in love with something and had it shipped back. “Brian would just laugh and say, ‘We’ll make it work,’” the wife says.

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The master bedroom’s side table is by , and the sconce is by .

In the living room, a small Diego Giacometti table that was once a minor player in the couple’s L.A. house now takes center stage. A 19th-century console the couple spied on a trip to Rome commands a wall; above it hangs a simple convex mirror of polished brass by the artist and gallerist Jacques Hervouet.

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The Gazelle console is by , and the vintage chair is in a fabric.

Meanwhile, the dining room’s tiered Fortuny pendant is endlessly reflected in the mirrored and lacquered walls. Throughout the apartment, the overall effect is of a piece with the building’s origins in the late 1920s. “It was a very glamorous time,” the wife observes, “and we wanted to celebrate that.”

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The dressing room’s pendant is from a Paris flea market, and the shade is in a Macondo Silks fabric.

But shocks of acid color hint at the couple’s unmistakably modern Southern California brio. It took a number of tries to get the pink silk taffeta floor-to-ceiling curtains in the living room and adjoining study just the right shade of fuchsia. “In the end,” says the wife, “I sent Brian a piece of ribbon.”

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An sculpture sits atop an antique Italian console in the living room; the barware is by .

Even the kitchen—generally a neutral zone—is playful and quirky, with an invigorating palette. Both the ceiling and the small, round fiberglass table are in a sunny canary yellow, while the La Cornue stove and matching vent hood are a vibrant baby blue. “It is just magnificent to sit in here in the morning with our coffee and the newspapers,” the wife says.

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The custom cabinetry in the wife’s bathroom is fitted with hardware, the circa-1920 French sconces are from , and the Murano pendant is from .

To McCarthy’s delight, the apartment achieves the delicate balance he set out to create: an alchemic blend of airy West Coast panache with a dash of Hollywood glamour and a generous helping of grand prewar elegance. “You just get happy when you walk in here,” he says. “Essentially, that’s what they wanted most.”

This story originally appeared in the June 2018 issue of ELLE Decor.