It turns out that you can go home again after all. Or so Ashley Stark, the young scion of the time-honored home furnishings empire that bears her last name, discovered after a two-year search for a Manhattan apartment that ended on the Upper East Side in a landmark Rosario Candela building—the same building where she grew up.
“I knew I wanted signature prewar features—good bones and a gracious layout—but as much as I loved my childhood home, I didn’t want to replicate it,” Stark says. That’s a tall order for someone who, as a toddler, padded around the company’s offices with her grandmother and, as a junior-high student, was her mother’s companion on trips to estate sales and auctions, as well as buying forays to Europe. Stark went to work in the family business as a teenager and now, at 30, serves as its creative director.
Not that she’s straitlaced. Stark would just as soon be surfing as selecting carpet and fabric designs for next season. Her idea of injecting color in her kitchen was to fill massive glass jars with her favorite candies. Still, how does a girl who has been steeped in refined interiors since infancy avoid the aging effects of the serious furnishings, carpets, and wall coverings that are practically her birthright?
Politely—but with an edge. Stark hails from the kind of design heritage that allows her to utter words such as preserve and modernize in the same breath, with sincerity. When it came to revitalizing the 3,000-square-foot apartment, she knew better than to tinker too much. Formerly home to one of the building’s first tenants, who bought it in 1930 and left it to a son who lived there until the age of 90, the place needed some serious attention. “The kitchen consisted of a stove, a 1950s refrigerator, and a bread box,” she says with a laugh. The enthusiastic cook tapped interior decorator Philip Gorrivan to give her guidance on the gently revised layout. He borrowed a bit of square footage from the dining room to build out the kitchen and, in another subtle space trade, reconfigured closets to make Stark’s master bath roomier. “Other than that, I wasn’t about to mess with Rosario Candela’s brilliance,” she says of the Italian-American architect, whose buildings are among the most coveted in the city.
With the apartment’s original doors, floors, fireplaces, and enviable foyer intact, Stark set out to marry the venerable furnishings she’d inherited over time to pieces that act more her age. And then there was the matter of her growing cache of contemporary art. With every decorator in town at her fingertips, there was no reason to go it alone, despite her extensive design knowledge. So Stark called on James Aman and John Meeks, a design duo whose many art-collector clients rely on the pair to put their paintings in all the right places. “We are really impressed by Ashley’s knowledge and point of view,” says Aman. “She’s decisive, committed, and open, which made our job very easy.”
The French console that spans one wall in the living room perfectly sums up the approach they took throughout. The gilded piece once resided in her parents’ living room; Stark erased years from its life by stripping away the gold and tucking a fur-upholstered acrylic bench underneath. On top, Aman and Meeks deployed dashes of bright color with a playful oversize photo of a ruby-robed Tibetan monk, a turquoise Murano-glass lamp, and a burst of hot-pink flowers. Sculptures by Kiki Smith sit atop modern-art books. “Every room has a family piece to anchor it,” says Meeks, referring to the pair of antique bookcases in the den, the reupholstered sofa in the living room, and Stark’s grandmother’s French bureau plat in the dressing room.
And then the fun begins. A pair of 18th-century Italian chairs flanks a Damien Hirst skull print; a Christopher Makos photo and Alex Katz painting rest on the original mantel; and a playful Ryan McGinness print hangs above a tufted velvet headboard. Hits of gold and pops of saturated color show up everywhere, all the better to energize the apartment’s more mature bearing. “Ashley is wise beyond her years when it comes to appreciating fine antiques, but now is the time for her to have fun and take some risks,” says Meeks. Not that she does anything offhandedly. “I lived for almost a year without a dining room table,” says Stark, “because everything I saw was way too sober. Until I came across one with tree-trunk bases.”
Indeed, the young executive seems to have inherited her grandfather’s appetite for adventure. A stockbroker who traveled the world, he routinely returned from trips abroad with gorgeous carpets, which eventually became a passion. He quit Wall Street, and the rest is history. For her part, Stark is infusing the company with the same youthful zest that permeates her apartment. She loves equally the trendy patchwork ikat rugs and the perennially popular leopard rose carpet her grandmother designed decades ago. “I guarantee that one day I will have that in my home,” she says.