I first met David Kaihoi almost a decade ago at his apartment in Manhattan. The occasion was a photo shoot for House Beautiful, where I worked as an editor at the time.
The place was lavishly appointed, like the best Park Avenue pads: classic plantation shutters as foils to saturated lavender walls and entry tables; faded chinoiserie paper in the master bedroom; lacquered antique-style breakfronts for books and objets; and ebonized casings and doors.
Kaihoi with his wife, Monique, and their children, Anders (left) and Mirabelle.
Did I mention that it was barely 400 square feet and in the East Village? Think of it as Holly Golightly by way of hippie Bloomsbury: a room and a bedroom kitted out in a kaleidoscope of colors, complete with a custom mattress for Mirabelle, Kaihoi and his wife Monique’s then-three-year-old daughter, that slid back under the master bed in the morning.
In the living room of designer David Kaihoi’s apartment in New York’s East Village, a vintage sectional is topped with pillows in his black-and-white and in ’s Tigre Velours Soie. The sconces are by , and the painting is by Kaihoi.
Kaihoi even pieced together remnants of wallpapers he’d purchased at auction. And while our crew of four could barely fit our cameras inside, we were entranced. The apartment made the cover of HB; Kaihoi was just 31.
“It was a big experiment,” he says. “We were young and there was nothing to hold back on.” I vowed that when the time came to bring in a decorator to do my own apartment, Kaihoi would be the one. And while I won’t bore you with the details of my renovation (you can read all about that in Metropolitan Home’s Spring/Summer 2016 issue), the takeaway wasn’t just that we lacquered my living room walls turquoise to mimic the dripping sides of a Chinese pot, or that one of the bathrooms features the Beverly Hills Hotel’s banana-leaf wallpaper (complete with pink towels). It’s that working with David is like decorating with an artist.
In the dining area, the mahogany table was purchased at and lacquered by Willy Canales; the mahogany cabinet was acquired at . Three chairs by Ingegerd Raman for Ikea have seats in Kaihoi’s , and the child’s chair is by .
So perhaps it’s not surprising that we find ourselves years later in the entryway of his current apartment, a few blocks away from the first, in a kinetic, electric hallway of doors that would bring M.C. Escher to his knees.
As with their first abode, Kaihoi found out about this apartment through friends who lived in the building, a postwar near Tompkins Square Park. This one was previously occupied by a squatter and had been taken over by police marshals. By Kaihoi’s admission, it was “a real dump”: illegally renovated, cracked linoleum floors, detritus everywhere (at this point, everyone in their right minds would’ve run for the hills).
The entrance hall’s tumbling-block wallpaper was designed, hand-painted, and installed by Kaihoi, with a floor design to match. The metal chair was purchased at a auction.
But like so many things for Kaihoi, he saw it as a blank canvas on which to put his stamp. “I sort of did everything. I come from the studio. I grew up building things, and I have a love for it,” he says as I contemplate just how Instagrammable the walls are with him framed in front of them.
In the master bedroom, the canopy is in gray linen with trim, the coverlet is in a , and the carpet is by .
Kaihoi stenciled the floors and put in new windows, working nights after the demolition crews had left (the floor took three weeks, start to finish). He had a shop make the kitchen and put in appliances. On weekends, he hung doors in the hallway, made the closets, and installed the crown molding and trim. “It has my flaws on it. It has my hand on it. It was me and my headphones—truly a labor of love,” he says. In other words, he went from Breakfast at Tiffany’s to The Notebook (minus the heartbreak).
The designer’s artworks hang on the master bedroom walls, which are sheathed in a grass cloth.
Did Monique need any convincing along the way? It was such an over the moon idea, but his better half totally got it (a fashion merchandiser, she is responsible for the apartment’s meticulous editing and organization). The only thing she requested was a more subdued palette—kind of. “She wanted to dial it back into her aesthetic, away from the color,” Kaihoi says. “I agreed, but suggested we do that with texture and pattern.”
Kaihoi’s 2017 sculptures rest atop a Louis XVI–style mahogany cabinet purchased from .
They didn’t agree on everything: Monique wanted big crowns and trims, but Kaihoi resisted because it wouldn’t work with the apartment’s quirky hallway height, off-center windows, and open kitchen; they tried to get a second bathroom, but the building wouldn’t allow it. What they did get is something that is very much their own, at the confluence of art, design, and craft.
The custom daybed in the children’s room is upholstered in antique quilts, the slipper chair is by , the school chair is painted in ’s Van Gogh Yellow, and the sconces are by ; the walls and curtains are in a linen silk, and the antique Tulu rug is from . The handmade celadon vase is by Andrew Featherston.
“I want more out of less,” Kaihoi says. “I don’t want hundreds of designs. I want one design, and I want it huge.”
As we make our way to the children’s room, he tells me that he never considered going neutral.“Our life is chaos, and we have colors everywhere,” he says. (The Kaihois’ son, Anders, is now two.) “The kids’ room changes from month to month. The walls hide all installation sin. It’s a rotating gallery.”
The interior of the coat closet in the entry is painted in ’s Bottle Green.
Our tour ends in the master bedroom, a leopard-carpeted boudoir with a high Regency attitude. It feels more grown up, more tailored, I remark, than their last apartment. A proper master bedroom. No trundle bed. David puts it best: “Mom says nein.”
This story originally appeared in the June 2018 issue of ELLE Decor. See more photos of the home below.
The apartment’s floor plan.
The designer’s Guernica-inspired wall sculpture hangs over a mahogany Empire chest in the kids’ room; the pink bird sculpture is by Mirabelle.
The artworks over the bed include a painting and a yellow collage by Kaihoi, a portrait of Mirabelle by , and a watercolor of a duckling by Mirabelle.
In front of the children’s closet, the stool is covered in Kaihoi’s Lines pattern for .