How to Make Bold Colors Work in a New York City Apartment

One of most talked-about design trends for 2018 is “bold colors.” Gorgeous photos of wall-to-wall emerald green, crimson, and even “Gen-Z yellow” serve as a siren song to New Yorkers weary of sleet filled grey canyons.

The size and shape of New York apartments can mean there’s less room for error when you’re working with big, deep colors. Before you paint your entire apartment in Ultraviolet (Pantone’s 2018 Color of the Year), here are some guidelines for using bold color.

  • If you’re in for a color, go all in. Accent walls feel timid, and you get the most impact by committing to the color. Do all of the walls in a room or alcove, consider doing the trims too.
  • If you have something which can read as an object in the space like columns, millwork, an alcove of vestibule or even an exposed radiator, punch it up with rich color.
How to Make Bold Colors Work in a New York City Apartment 3 | Rodman Paul Architects
A pop of color: lined cabinet interiors
  • Think about how the colors will look not just during the day, but at night and in various lighting conditions. Does your space have an abundance of natural light? Does it rely primarily on artificial lighting? What color is the flooring? Will it reflect light back into a dark space?
  • When using deep colors, make certain that you have full, strong artificial lighting to bring out the depth of the color.
  • Colored backgrounds with patterns or textures in paint, wallpaper, and special paint finishes can be good alternatives to solid blocks of color. Patterns are also good at concealing imperfections in a wall you don’t/can’t replace, an issue encountered in pre-war apartments.
How to Make Bold Colors Work in a New York City Apartment | Rodman Paul Architects
Hand-painted Gracie wallpaper in a bold orange red brings warmth to this Park Avenue dining room.
  • Bold colored furniture can be a unique way to incorporate jewel tones or intense colors. In every furnishing style, there are options that can bring bold colors to the space – painted wood or upholstery. Adding a deep or contrasting color to the inside of open cabinets adds extra impact to special objects displayed in millwork.
How to Make Bold Colors Work in a New York City Apartment 2 | Rodman Paul Architects
A violet couch creates a bold statement in a West Side apartment.
  • Before making final decisions, make big samples (2’ x 2’) on masonite or foam core and look at them in several locations in the actual space in both day light and artificial light.
  • Sheen impacts the richness of colors – matte paints look gauzy and lighter, shiny or gloss paints tend to be a bit deeper in color. Be sure to carefully inspect your surfaces before using gloss and high gloss: the glossier the finish the more it will show any imperfections in the wall surface.

New York City Apartment Combinations: 5 Things to Know

An apartment next door or above you just came on the market and you, like everyone in New York City, need… more… space. One of the greatest luxuries in New York is having enough space to live graciously, but can you make a combination work?

The good news is, apartments can usually be combined; sometimes simply, sometimes . . . less simply.

Sideways connections are generally simpler than vertical connections, but both are usually possible with careful planning and a skilled architect. The most successful combinations are thoughtfully designed so the final sequence of spaces appears as if you hadn’t done a thing: the new, combined apartment feels as if it has always been the way it is from the start. As with most things architectural, you’ll want to find a balance between how the spaces should look, flow, and function versus the technical problems of structure, building code, and building management.

Tad and I once designed a duplex in Chelsea combining five studio apartments on two floors. It was an extraordinary-but-exciting challenge, especially inserting the new stairway. It required removing beams, rerouting plumbing and electric, and dealing with a surprise duct for a major building system which was hidden under a different large unimportant duct. An unwelcome surprise, but just another challenge to work through. The finished apartment was enormously greater than the sum of its parts, with views everywhere, multiple terraces, and a private master suite tucked away on the lower floor. This particular combination was in a desirable neighborhood with few large apartments, so the final design increased the total value of the units by a tidy margin.

5 Things to Know About New York Apartment Combinations | Rodman Paul Architects

Before you put in an offer on that very desirable increase in square footage, there are a few things you should check on:

  • Confirm with building management that they will allow a combination. Some boards are lenient, some are very restrictive, all have different policies.
  • You should get a few hours of time from a licensed architect to assess the layouts of the units – if you’re making a vertical connection, this is a must. An architect can help find a plausible location for the stair. It’s simpler (and less expensive) to avoid cutting beams, but even that is possible if building management can be convinced.

Some other things to consider:

  • You will need to remove at least the stove in one kitchen (only one kitchen per apartment is permitted by code).
  • You will probably not need a new Certificate of Occupancy unless you are connecting a different use group to your apartment, for example annexing a doctor’s office to an apartment (which we’ve actually done, so even this is possible).
  • If you are in a condo, you will need to amend the units tax lot. This is essentially just more paperwork.

So if an apartment combination becomes available to you, know that it needs some careful planning, but really, anything is possible, including (oh YES) more closet space.

If you find yourself in the enviable position of considering a combination, we can help you understand your options. Contact me at to set up a consultation.

Gatehouses: Little Structures, Big Design

One of my favorite aspects of designing house projects in Fire Island Pines is distilling the “big idea” of a house into the little gatehouses at the front of the property.

Fire Island Pines is a community located on Fire Island, one of several thin barrier islands off the coast of New York’s Long Island. Development of the island began in earnest in the 1950’s, and one of the earliest gestures in the design of the community has had the most profound impact on its built form.

Gatehouse Design | Rodman Paul Architects
Gatehouses: Little Structures, Big Design on Fire Island Pines | Rodman Paul Architects

There are essentially no paved roads; the built world is almost entirely lifted above the sand dunes on wooden piles. Sidewalks are a collection of interconnected wooden boardwalks sliding through the tall grasses and pine trees, over sand dunes, connecting to houses built in the same fashion.

Fire Island Pines Gatehouses | Rodman Paul Architects
Fire Island Pines Gatehouse Design | Rodman Paul Architects

Residents often put up small sheds or gatehouses at their walk connection. These hold beach chairs, umbrellas, garbage cans, and the ubiquitous handcarts used to lug everything around on the wooden boardwalks. Gatehouses also serve the basic function of letting your neighbors know “someone lives here.”

Fire Island Pines Gatehouses: Little Structures, Big Design | Rodman Paul Architects
Gatehouses: Little Structures, Big Design (Blog) | Rodman Paul Architects

By emulating the visual language of the main house, these gatehouses give a passerby a clue as to the identity of the often-concealed house beyond. They are like little windows peeking through the thicket on the hidden houses that lay beyond.