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How a Kitchen Renovation Turned Into an Apartment Overhaul, 30 Years Later

When I heard that designer Joseph Lembo had returned to an apartment he first renovated 30 years ago, I had to see how he did things differently the second time around.

Photo: Eric van den Brulle

“I can’t stand the kitchen anymore!” This was the recent design battle cry from a client who first came to Joseph Lembo and his then-partner Laura Bohn 30 years ago for a gut renovation. Back then, the kitchen was the one room that they didn’t touch. Fast-forward three decades, and the client finally wanted it redone. On his own now for more than 20 years, Lembo went in solo, and what started as a kitchen reno soon turned into an entire apartment overhaul that involved enlarging the kitchen to twice the size and relocating the gas and electric. The wall between the entrance foyer and kitchen was taken down, and the end result is a dramatic, architectural entrance arch. Lembo chose Caesarstone for the full-height backsplash, and the counters were all done by Euro Custom Woodworking, Inc. The kitchen stools are from BDDW. Benjamin Moore’s Winter Orchard paint No. 1555 covers the entire apartment, except for the new powder room.

Photo: Eric van den Brulle

The new décor radiates serenity and balance. The original wall-to-wall carpeting in the living room was replaced with a wide-plank cerused-oak wood floor that runs throughout the apartment. “The client now has two large dogs; the wood floor was specified in part to be dog-proof,” Lembo says. Where there were built-ins before, the living room now has a vintage Asian coffee table, a chartreuse sofa by Joseph Paul D’Urso for Knoll, and Loro Piana striped horsehair curtains fabricated by Flam Associates. A subtle but important detail is the added soffit above the curtain, courtesy of the great Cortlandt Contracting Corporation, who worked with Laurence Waltman, the project manager.

Photo: Eric van den Brulle

Lembo created a library niche with a Saarinen table and chair from Knoll along with custom rough-cut cedar bookshelves done by Euro Custom Woodworking, Inc. “Our clients are world travelers,” says Lembo, who shares their passion for traveling; he’s lived and worked in Japan and Italy.

Photo: Eric van den Brulle

The office den doubles as a guest room; the soft wall curtain, made of Calvin Fabrics, offers privacy. Euro Custom Woodworking, Inc. did the bookshelves and storage, and the desk table is from the client’s collection. Lembo paired it with a chair from Knoll. The solar screen Athey shades were installed by Flam Associates and ensure that the den area is well protected from the glare of the sun.

Photo: Eric van den Brulle

The new powder room is painted in Benjamin Moore’s Super White, the sconces are by Thomas O’Brien, and the sink and faucet are from Boffi. The toilet is by Toto, and the custom floating mirror, by Euro Custom Woodworking, Inc., adds to the simplicity of the room, as does the table assemblage with objects from Paula Rubenstein.

Photo: Eric van den Brulle

Lembo custom-designed the cedar cabinet at the end of the living room to hold the TV — as well as this statue from the client’s art collection. The dining area beyond has a table by Joseph Paul D’Urso for Knoll with a custom flamed-granite top and a pair of Biedermeier chairs that the client already owned. The sofa is upholstered in custom quilted leather and felt by Flam Associates, and the throw pillows are covered in Loro Piana fabric. “The interior is a bit more ethereal and reflective of our client’s perspective and evolving art collection 30 years later,” Lembo says. Aside from his design practice, Lembo also teaches design at the Fashion Institute of Technology, where he says one of the most important aspects of his course is teaching his students about the business of design. And being asked to return to a project so many years later has to be the best example he could offer.

How a Kitchen Reno Turned Into a Home Overhaul