When I was a little girl," says Marisa Tomei, "I wanted to live in a Fred Astaire townhouse and dance, dance, dance." She pursued her childhood dance lessons with gusto, imagining that one day this Brooklyn girl would be tapping and twirling through rooms as urbanely chic as the ones in such Astaire classics as Top Hat and Silk Stockings.
Chairs from HousingWorks surround a vintage marble-topped dining table found on eBay; the chandelier is by Lindsey Adelman, and the curtains are of a Pollack fabric.
What's more, she had developed a serious furniture habit—"I like to junk around," she says. It all started when she was young and her mother would take her to tag sales in upstate New York. "She liked to strip and repaint things, and I liked being with her," Tomei recalls. Now, when she isn't scouring flea markets and thrift stores, such as New York's Housing Works, she surfs the Internet for design finds on eBay, Live Auctioneers, and other sites. "After working long hours on a set, I like to see pretty things. It helps me to wind down."
The living room sofa is upholstered in a Kuba textile, the Milo Baughman swivel chair is covered in a fabric by Christopher Hyland, the floor cushions are covered in a Dedar velvet and an Edelman leather, the cocktail table is custom made, and the sconces are by O'Lampia; the floor lamp was found on Etsy, the painting, by an unknown midcentury artist, was found on eBay, the walls are painted in Farrow & Ball's Dove Tale, and the rug is Moroccan.
Tomei had accumulated quite a few possessions when one day, her next-door neighbor slipped a note under her door. "We're moving," it read. "Do you want to buy our place?" "In New York, when an opportunity like that comes along, it's like winning the lottery," she says. "Who could resist?
Attaching the two apartments proved to be a difficult, problem-prone renovation. "I was so scarred by the process, just exhausted, and then I moved to L.A.," she says. But she wasn't ready to give up on New York City—her work in theater, not to mention her family, kept drawing her back. So she regrouped and finished the construction. Her old living room, with its working fireplace and terrace, was transformed into her master bedroom, while her former bedroom became "a girl's dream": a walk-in closet. Meanwhile, by removing a few walls in the annexed apartment, she created a living room with ample space for a fox-trot and a view of downtown Manhattan so expansive and magical, it looks as though it was added in post-production.
In the master bedroom, a pair of 1940s fabric chairs, purchased at auction, is covered in a fabric by Christopher Hyland, the bed is dressed with a throw and pillow by Rosemary Hallgarten, the brass lamp and Murano glass light fixture are vintage; the fireplace mantel is St. Laurent marble, the curtains are of a Kravet fabric, and the walls are painted in Fine Paints of Europe's Black Plum.
Tomei tried to decorate the apartment herself, painting endless color swatches on the walls and shopping for art and furniture wherever she found herself—at a film festival in Morocco, for instance, she escaped to go carpet shopping. "This is how addicted I am: At one point, while I was at the 26th Street flea market in New York, I was also bidding on my phone for a pair of 1940s chairs for my bedroom," she says. "And I got them!"
A 19th-century painting above a side table by Lillian August and an 1800s inlaid chair found at Housing Works in the library; the wall hanging beyond is of a horsehair fabric by John Boyd Textiles. A Cole & Son wallpaper lines the interior of an Empire cabinet in the master bath; the sink and fittings are by Waterworks, the mirror is by Made Goods, the sconces are by Aerin, and the wallpaper is by Sister Parrish Design.
As much as she loves decorating, the deeper she got into the project, the more "ve" she found it. To bring the interior design home, she hired Alexandra Hayden, a decorator based in New York and Los Angeles, to help pull the apartment together. "I could always tell when Marisa was on set," says Hayden, "because I'd wake up in the morning and there were 100 links to things she was looking at."
A Saarinen table is paired with 1940s French garden chairs in the kitchen; the range is by Viking, the dishwasher is by Asko, and the flooring is cork.
The designer replaced the apartment's redbrick fireboxes with new marble mantels that have a modernist edge, while adding such finishing touches as lighting, wallpaper, and a tailored headboard for the bedroom. A neutral color scheme, including the living room's warm gray walls, created a flexible envelope for Tomei's eclectic collections, which feature everything from a pair of 1970s brass Lotus lamps she scored on eBay to a trio of African cowrie-shell aprons. Since texture is especially important to Tomei, furniture was re-covered in soft wools and velvets. The fluffy white rug in the master bedroom resembles a giant sweater. "Everything had to be elegant or tactile," says Hayden, "because those are her two realities. She is either gussied up and going out, or in sweats recovering from a day on Broadway. She loves to feel grounded and cozy."
The other side of the living room holds mid-century Brazilian rosewood chairs, stools purchased at auction, armchairs found on eBay, and a sofa by Classic Sofa upholstered in a Manuel Canovas fabric; the side tables are from Prime Gallery in Palm Springs, California, paintings by José Parlà flank a South African wall hanging made from cowrie-shell-embellished aprons, and the rug is Moroccan.
Curled up on a living room sofa one recent evening, Tomei mused on her love of vintage furniture, art, and objects. "It has to do with being an actress," she says. "What are the details of another person's life? What's the history of an object?" As for her own story, she has finally achieved the apartment of her dreams: an alluring space that is tailor-made for rela and entertaining, and, when the mood strikes, for dancing in the dark.