Kay Unger bought a 4,300-square-foot loft two years ago in New York City's SoHo neighborhood. It has huge windows, generously proportioned bookcases, and a polished fresco fireplace that stretches up to meet the 15-foot-high ceiling. Another person might be dwarfed by the surroundings, but Kay, a successful clothing designer for nearly four decades, has made them completely and delightfully her own.
The benefits of the place were not immediately apparent. "Being here alone took some getting used to," she says.
The loft she chose had just been renovated and had a great kitchen and luxurious bathrooms, but its modernist aesthetic felt chilly. Even worse for an accumulator like Kay, it had almost no storage space. Her remodeling largely consisted of building places for her things, including wall-filling shelves she designed for order and display space.
The 200 cubbies lining her master bedroom walls are, she says, "art in motion." To energize and feminize the display, Kay had squares of Masonite painted in reds and pinks that matched her favorite shades of nail polish and attached them with Velcro to the back walls of the cubbyholes. They hold almost half of Kay's beloved 150-pair footwear collection—from vintage Manolos to well-worn espadrilles—along with bags and family photographs. Waking up to those pieces of personal history brings the 22-foot-square room down to a human scale.
Kay also reupholstered the tan Le Corbusier chairs from one of her previous apartments in red leather and tufted an ottoman in pink silk. The Tibetan runner is from the Rug Company.
The closets, which had no interior lighting, made little sense, since poles were hung for suits and shirts but not dresses. She suspected they'd been designed by a man.
In addition to the cubbies she had built, Kay got creative with how she organized and displayed other items. Here, she displays her collection of costume jewelry in on a closet wall.
When selecting fabric for her home, Kay says she pushed "for comfort and warmth." She dressed her bed in French linens and designed the headboard. The sconce is a classic design by Serge Mouille.
Because the loft is welcoming (and the neighborhood is hip), Kay's sons spend more time here than they did in her last apartment. "They watch football and baseball in the media room," she says. "The only difference from when they were younger is that now they clean up after themselves and cook for me."
In fact, her sons inadvertently helped Kay decorate. She hangs their childhood artwork in the guest bedroom. The bed is from Design Within Reach.
The living room features more cubbyholes built of oak for books, snapshots, and pottery. They surround a dramatic fireplace.
For the furniture, she rejected scratchy, stiff fabrics and said no to seating with high sides that could impede conversation. A gold pony-skin daybed and Edward Wormley club chairs covered in chocolate brown alpaca help make the room more inviting. Some couches and tables are on wheels for easy rearranging. The green silk rug matches the B&B Italia sofa by Antonio Citterio.
Artwork floods the rest of Kay's home. The painting W 74th Street almost mirrors the view outside Kay's dining room window. "Of all the places I've lived, the painting looks best here," she says.
Mies van der Rohe chairs surround a hemlock table.
Her interest in art runs deeper than collecting; she studied painting before switching to design. Despite her success in fashion, the love of fine art never dissipated. "For years, it haunted me that the career I had planned left me not one moment for other kinds of art." Since her move, she's taken a sculpture course and has a weekly art-making get-together with two former college roommates.
Fashion sketches from Kay's college days hang in Crate & Barrel frames in the powder room. The sink and the washstand are from Waterworks.
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