Flashes of Red Electrify This Gray-Toned Harlem Townhouse

Vanessa Lawrence
·3-min read
Photo credit: Nick Glimenakis
Photo credit: Nick Glimenakis

The success of an interior design project often relies as much on diplomacy as it does on creative inspiration. Take this Harlem brownstone, home to a couple and their teenage daughter (their other two daughters have already flown the nest). One spouse prefers things minimal; the other is a fan of color (especially red) and pattern. They also have a strong art collection reflecting their North African and Costa Rican backgrounds. And the final result needed to accommodate extended family who, under nonpandemic circumstances, would come over for meals and longer stays. Easy, right?

The Brooklyn-based designer Delia Kenza, who founded her eponymous firm in 2011, doesn’t have a background in geopolitical negotiating. But she does employ an approach that made her a perfect fit for the job at hand.

“Some designers say they’re more like a dictator. I’m more like a democracy, where I tell people, ‘We can vote on this,’” explains Kenza. “I try to work very much from a collaborative place with the client.”

Photo credit: Nick Glimenakis
Photo credit: Nick Glimenakis

In the case of this project, Kenza’s co-conspirators included not just the couple, but also the architects at studioSumo. The historic brownstone had been reconfigured in the 1990s into a two-family unit, with the top three floors constituting a triplex, and the garden-level floor serving as a single apartment. studioSumo turned the building into an integrated single-family home, opening up shared spaces, particularly on the upper floors, to suit the clients’ family hosting needs.

Photo credit: Nick Glimenakis
Photo credit: Nick Glimenakis

Kenza built on this extra breathing room with her deft decorative touch. A fan of tone-on-tone color schemes with a touch of prints, she employed a continuum of gray throughout the home, broken up with pops of red and pattern to suit the spouse who prefers a dash of maximalism.

The garden level has lower ceilings and a naturally darker feel. Instead of fighting those elements, Kenza created a dining room that feels like a moody cocoon. Textures abound on the neutral walls—one covered in grooved tiles, the other constructed of geometric bamboo panels—and are offset by an expressive artwork by the Costa Rican painter Rafa Fernandez. To accommodate family get-togethers, the dining table expands to seat up to 14 guests, and the remainder of the ground floor handily features a warming kitchen and a guest bedroom and bathroom.

Upstairs, the mood lightens in the airy living room, though Kenza maintained continuity with her tonal palette. The sofa and round-back chair, both custom pieces by Roche Bobois, play off of the gray wood flooring, and there are mischievous flashes of red in the Moroso bar cabinet, the credenza (also Roche Bobois), and a painting of a woman in a scarlet dress by the Nigerian artist Wole Lagunju.

The kitchen gets a similar injection of playfulness with a backsplash of custom tiles from Popham Design, as does the office (one husband is an academic; the other is a tax attorney), which has a wall covered in a Spoonflower wallpaper inspired by central African Kuba cloth. The main bedroom also employs textile interest with a Roche Bobois bed, whose headboard is composed of upholstered cushions, above which hangs a pastoral painting by the Costa Rican artist Manuel de la Cruz Gonzalez.

Photo credit: Nick Glimenakis
Photo credit: Nick Glimenakis

Ultimately, the finished home reflects the clients’ desires even more than it does Kenza’s innate aesthetics, which is her overarching goal.

“It’s not about what’s on trend or what somebody else says looks nice,” she says. “I feel good when I walk away and think, This is my client.”

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