When designers speak of “bringing the outdoors in,” they’re usually referring to bucolic themes and countrified details. In cities, by contrast, most people prefer to keep the outdoors out. But for an apartment overlooking New York City’s Gramercy Park, designer envisioned rooms that would pay homage to the environment beyond the windows — not only the trees and sky, but also the architecture, arts, and culture that have lent their spirit to the historic district.

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“We were aiming for a capsule of Gramercy Park life — refined and civilized, but totally unpretentious,” says Leifer. For the clients, it offered the perfect setting to put down roots within the bustle of the big city. Having grown up abroad, they sought a place with a strong sense of home. “They wanted it to feel special but easy,” the designer says, adding that it needed to accommodate extended family, international friends, and business associates as graciously as it would just the two of them.

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Björn Wallander
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In the living room, the custom chair is covered in a velvet and the artwork is by .

To that end, Leifer set out to design rooms at once elegant and warm. “The palette is precious but patinaed,” he says. “None of the gold is bright and shiny; it’s all oxidized or oil-rubbed.” Crushed silk velvets, polished stone, and antique rugs likewise shimmer softly. The silk living room curtains are gathered into a nonchalant slouch. And in a nod to the eclecticism of the neighborhood’s architectural styles, Leifer included furnishings that span two-and-a-half centuries.

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Björn Wallander
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The custom settee is upholstered in a velvet, and a pair of carved wood armchairs by are covered in a ; the Empire console is from , the cocktail table is by , the vintage stool is by , the Louis XVI secretary was found on , the Tabriz rug is antique and the walls are painted in .

In the living room, for example, 18th-century antiques mix it up with Gustavian, mid-20th-century, and contemporary pieces. Leifer had just started his own firm when he landed this project, having previously worked in the offices of Robert A.M. Stern, Juan Pablo Molyneux, and Scott Snyder. “I learned a lot about different design sensibilities and business models,” he says of the experience.

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Björn Wallander

The kitchen’s range is by , the sink and fittings are by , the cabinetry is by and the barstool is by .

He also acquired the confidence necessary to take on a project of this scope. “In a 4,000-square-foot apartment, not everything can feel special, whatever your budget,” he says. “It would get overwhelming.” Fortunately, the clients were interested in acquiring pieces based on personality as much as pedigree. “For them, it’s less about price than about their own aesthetic and emotional response,” he says. This allowed the designer to propose a sophisticated rethinking of the high–low ethos.

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Above a walnut console in the living room, for example, hangs an unrestored mirror, its matte gesso frame edged in a gilt fillet. A neoclassical plaster bust stands cheek to cheek with a 21st-century reproduction.

In the library, custom walnut millwork surrounds contemporary leather chairs. A restrained, neutral palette unites the mix while linking it to the world outside. In the living room, which overlooks park and sky, Leifer relied on earth tones and luminous blues. He worked with deep reds and browns in the library, which has views of an old brick mansion.

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Björn Wallander

The library’s leather armchairs and side chair are by , the custom bench is upholstered in a , the shades are of a , the rug is from and the walls are painted in .

The dining room glows with light reflected off its gold-leaf wallcovering. The verdant park offered a jumping-off point for other flights of fancy. Stylized natural forms appear throughout the rooms: in egg- and pinecone-shaped lamps; in faux-bamboo furniture; in cut-crystal sculptures; in vases the color of a late-afternoon sky. A lampshade is bedecked in pheasant feathers; a Lobmeyr mirror is wreathed in crystal flowers.

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Björn Wallander
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The dining room’s chairs are backed in a , with seats in a ; the chandelier is a custom design, the 1950s mirror is by , the wallcovering is by , the Tabriz rug is early 20th century, the curtains are of a fabric and the artwork is by .

Fabric patterns, too, are inspired by nature, from the feather motif on the living room pillows to the peony-strewn curtains in the guest bedroom.

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Björn Wallander

The guest-room bed, armchair, and are from ; the desk and nightstand are by , the bedding is by and and the curtains are of a fabric.

An avid art collector himself, Leifer served as an adviser to these clients — and here, too, his philosophy of balancing instinct with investment prevails. “It’s not about what will be in the auction when you pass away,” he says of selecting works. “It’s about living with things you love.”

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Björn Wallander

In the master bedroom, the custom bed is dressed in linens, the coronet and curtains are of a , the bench by is upholstered in a fabric, the rug is by and the walls are covered in .

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The walls display works by such modern painters as Ellsworth Kelly and Willem de Kooning, along with contemporary pieces by Assaf Shaham and Simen Johan. Several images — elephants on back-painted glass; a watercolor cityscape — reflect the clients’ South Asian heritage.

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Björn Wallander

The tub in the wife’s master bath has fittings by and the walls and floor are sheathed in marble.

Gramercy Park is private, enclosed by a wrought-iron fence to which residents of the surrounding buildings possess the only keys, adding to the sense that it’s a world set apart. But no neighborhood exists in a bubble, least of all in Manhattan, where edgy energy infuses the very air.

Leifer celebrates this, too, with clever, cutting-edge details, such as powder room wallpaper laser-printed to mimic Victorian plaster moldings and a digitally manipulated peacock photograph that presides over the dining room. By synthesizing such carefully curated details, Leifer has created an environment as stimulating as it is restorative — an apartment whose walls are not so much barriers to the world outside as filters that welcome in the best of what it has to offer.

This story was originally published in the May 2017 issue of ELLE DECOR.