Manhattan has plenty of residential buildings where a well-known minimalist designer like might feel at home. After all, he cut his teeth in the offices of Richard Meier, whose name is synonymous with stark architectural simplicity, and then with Peter Marino, creator of stores for Louis Vuitton and Chanel. So why not mosey over to one of Meier's glass towers on Perry Street and create a pad for himself so coolly Zen it hurts? But Groves's taste, it turns out, is more complex and diverse than can be summed up in a shiny new white-on-white aerie. Instead, he decided to bring his unique take on pared-down design to one of the city's most vaunted addresses, a 1931 Bing & Bing edifice in the West Village by the architect Emery Roth, who also designed the Central Park landmarks the Eldorado and the Beresford.
In the living room of S. Russell Groves's Manhattan apartment, the sofa, covered in a Rogers & Goffigon fabric, armchairs, in a Holland & Sherry fabric, and walnut side table are all his designs; the fireplace surround is travertine, the parchment-covered cocktail table is 1970s Italian, and the vintage wood-and-metal side table is by Milo Baughman. The photograph is by Bill Jacobson.
Overlooking the small, triangular park at Abingdon Square, the 17-story building has amenities that few in its quaint, townhouse-filled neighborhood can boast: protected views of lower Manhattan, an elegant lobby, and meticulous white-glove service. On top of that, it is a condominium, not a cooperative like most prewar New York apartments, so the ownership rules and regulations are less onerous. Little wonder that it is one of the city's most coveted pieces of real estate. "You tell people you live here, and they just sigh," Groves says.
For most of the tasteful, well-heeled sorts who move into a building like his, renovation is a no-brainer: They lovingly restore whatever damage has been done to the gracious plaster walls, columns, and ornamentation. Then they furnish in classical prewar style-perhaps some chintz, a bit of Chippendale, or a dollop of Art Deco. Yet while Groves has indeed embraced his apartment's lovely bones, he has done so with his own thoroughly modern twist.
Groves in front of a 1970s wall sculpture by C. Jeré; the Gino Sarfatti light fixture is from the 1950s, and the walls are painted Benjamin Moore's Simply White.
The small entry hall epitomizes his approach. While Groves kept the coat closet and traditional archway that leads into the living area, he replaced the original closet door (inset panels, a heavy frame, and a substantial knob) with a modern frameless door with a flush pull that has no other visible hardware. The effect sends an immediate signal: This home respects tradition but carefully reinterprets it.
Prewar apartment owners often fetishize moldings. Groves, too, wanted to honor that detail, but in his case, the original moldings were too caked with paint to save. So he installed a less ornate but still bold version. He kept the dark wood floors and the step-down living room, but the fireplace is now travertine edged in silver nickel.
In the dining room, the 1950s mahogany-and-brass étagère is by Paul McCobb, the table is by Angelo Mangiarotti, and the chairs are by Ib Kofod-Larsen; Groves left the dark-stained oak floors untouched.
Like most apartments in the building, which was designed to appeal to wealthy bachelors, Groves's is a one-bedroom. The proportions of the living area and the bedroom are relatively generous, about 800 square feet, but the designer's eye for perfectly sized furnishings makes them seem even more spacious-without sacrificing the warmth that comes with prewar charm. He had many pieces custom made, including the narrow console table and the sofa it sits behind. "They had to be exactly the right dimensions," he says. "The sofa had to be bigger than a love seat but smaller than something full-size, and it's virtually impossible to find a table that slim."
In addition to the furniture made for the project and some pieces from the collection he designs under his name, his home also cele brates the work of midcentury masters, with items such as a huge open-shelf unit by Paul McCobb. In one corner, a Gerrit Rietveld zigzag chair stands out like an abstract slash against the white door of a closet (a small, built-in work desk is hidden within); his gracefully curving circular dining table, beneath the windows with their stunning views, was sculpted from marble.
White-lacquer kitchen cabinets are custom made, and the 1950s stool is by Michel Péclard.
Although Groves has made his reputation with restaurants and hotels shorn of ornament-the seminal Tea Box Cafe at the now-defunct Takashimaya department store in New York City, for instance-his own home has smaller-scale elegance, with a sensual melange of textures and finishes. He is especially adept at mi metals, emphasizing the individual character of the materials, from steel to weathered brass, by placing the pieces in juxtaposition. "I think you need to understand the underlying tones and know how much is enough," he explains, "and when to take the edge off with another finish." As minimalists go, he likes decorative lighting more than most, as evidenced by the T. H. Robsjohn-Gibbings floor lamp that dominates a corner of the living room: "I think lighting can be both an incredible object and have tremendous use in the space." His art, mostly big pieces that don't create visual clutter, includes a C. Jeré wall sculpture and a Christopher Makos photograph.
The bathroom's sink is by Duravit, and the fittings are by Arne Jacobsen for Vola; a painting by Jill Moser conceals a medicine cabinet, and the mirror is custom made.
The building's kitchens are petite-the structure was originally an "apartment hotel" with lavish food services on the ground floor-and Groves's minimalism serves him well in such situations. The flat-front, matte cabinets in off-white lacquer (no hardware, of course) hang above an unusually narrow countertop with a custom-fabricated rectangular stainless sink, both striking in its angularity and practical. "Totally worth it," he says.
Another ingenious touch: In the bathroom, he designed an almost-invisible inset medicine cabinet hidden behind a Jill Moser painting. Although only a small, thick-framed antique mirror hangs above the sink ("to satisfy guests' needs to see a mirror where they expect one"), the cabinet door is fully mirrored on the inside and swings out over the sink when Groves needs it for his morning ablutions.
Groves designed the leather headboard and armchair in the master bedroom; the bedside tables are by Ecart, and the photographs are by Chip Hooper, left, and Christopher Makos.
"What people fail to understand is that minimalism is a more elastic concept than they think," the designer says. "You can have form and function. It can be simple, but also very layered."
The oak cabinet and curtains of Dedar linen in the master bedroom are custom made; the chair is by Norman Cherner, and the floor lamp is vintage.