The youthful charm of New York City
Can an Australian accustomed to sun-drenched beaches, shaded verandas, and vast expanses of green find happiness living in the asphalt canyons of Manhattan?
Absolutely, according to Kiane von Mueffling, a Sydney transplant ensconced with her husband, Charlie, and their 15-month-old son, Oliver, in a towering prewar building whose top 12 floors have been converted from commercial space into residential apartments.
The enormous windows in the Von Muefflings’ living room command impressive views of the Flatiron Building and Madison Square Park, a verdant six-acre oasis. “It’s like living in the treetops,” says Kiane, a former business-strategy consultant whose Aussie accent has softened after eight years in New York. “In Australia, we basically have summer year-round, so I love seeing the change of seasons, especially winter, when the park is covered in snow.”
The energetic brunette, who grew up two hours north of Sydney in Bar Beach, married Charlie von Mueffling, a New York technology consultant, in Southampton in 2007. Their venturesome spirit drew them to search for a home in the Flatiron District, an evolving neighborhood now home to boutiques and gourmet restaurants. When the couple saw the 3,300-square-foot apartment, they were smitten with the high ceilings, streamlined kitchen, white marble master bathroom, and expansive layout that separates the main living area and master bedroom from three smaller bedrooms. “It’s perfect for entertaining because you can close the door to the bedrooms, turn on the baby monitor, and have a great dinner party,” she says.
Kiane wanted the apartment to reflect her passion for jaw-dropping Hollywood glamour in the style of decorators Dorothy Draper and Tony Duquette. Her husband wanted practicality and comfort. To combine these sensibilities into a look she describes as “modern, livable, and luxurious without being overdone,” she hired designer Iain Halliday of the Australian firm BKH. Halliday tempered his client’s haute-glam tendencies while Kiane brought a touch of dazzle to the designer’s minimalist aesthetic. “We kept the bones as simple as possible to create an underpinning for rich diversity,” says Halliday.
Back-to-back silk velvet sofas divide the living room into a formal entertaining area and a family spot where the couple can watch Glee and play with Oliver. With its mix of modern and antique pieces—a wire-frame Knoll chair, a pair of Louis XVI bergères, a 1960s Baker cocktail table—the clean, elegant space flows seamlessly, thanks to a geometric patterned rug and a gray tufted leather window seat that runs the length of the room.
Halliday persuaded his client to enliven her preference for dramatic chiaroscuro with shots of vivid color, like coral velvet slipper chairs and lettuce-green ikat pillows. “We were going to paint the entire master bedroom purple,” Kiane recalls, “but I chickened out at the last minute.” Instead, Halliday gave the room a bold flourish by covering the wall behind the bed in deep amethyst silk. Kiane’s sumptuous touch is evident in the foyer, sheathed in a dramatic hand-painted silk de Gournay wall covering that serves as a backdrop for a 19th-century French mirror and wrought-iron chandelier that Halliday had gilded. “I adore the wall covering so much that on the day it was hung I joked to my husband that I wanted to sleep in the entryway,” she says. Kiane found many of her treasures on websites, especially 1stdibs, where she snagged her prized possession: a pair of 1940s black-lacquer Dorothy Draper chests with brass handles that she placed in the master bedroom. “Everything was purchased sight unseen, but we didn’t have a single bad experience,” she says. Even the ikat fabric arrived from Uzbekistan in perfect condition.
Kiane became pregnant with her son when the apartment was nearly complete, but swapping velvet upholstery and silk-covered walls for washable slipcovers and stain-resistant wallpaper was out of the question. “Growing up, we lived in beautiful houses filled with antiques,” she says. “We had rules about what not to touch. But you have to accept that something might stain or break and that it’s okay.”
Still, some kid-friendly changes are in the works as the family prepares for the arrival of the couple’s second child this winter. Kiane plans to convert the guest bedroom into another nursery and her husband’s office into a playroom/guestroom outfitted with a chalkboard wall and a sofa capable of withstanding tiny jam-stained fingerprints. “My husband warned me about putting a cream-colored carpet in Oliver’s room. He was right,” she concedes. “Now I’m looking forward to having one part of the house that is totally indestructible.”