An Ideal New York Artists’ Townhouse – With a Bit of Morocco Thrown In

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Jeffrey Bilhuber covered the walls of this room with Moroccan tiles from Mosaic House. They were individually chosen and set to get the precise mix of slightly varied whites. The oversize embroidered pillows came from Coral & Tusk. At a glance the pendants from Lightexture look like steel-can fixtures, but they’re ceramic, rolled in rice to make an irregular surface. The sconces made from African bowls are by Apparatus, and the bookcase is from B&B Italia. The custom sectional sofa was made by Michael Dawkins Home and upholstered in Mulberry Home fabric for Lee Jofa. The coffee table is by Sergio Rodrigues. Photo: Bjorn Wallander

There were two things that Michael and Alexandra Shuman didn’t think would happen when they started looking to move from their townhouse on East 73rd Street three years ago. They never expected to find a house with outdoor space, lots of natural light, and an art studio on the Upper East Side. And they absolutely did not plan to work with a decorator. Michael is an architect, and Alexandra was a vice-president at Michael Kors. Surely they could do their own place?

And yet. The houses on the market downtown were dark and beat-up, and the couple soon gravitated back to Lenox Hill. There they found a house that was nearly pristine: It had been renovated already by the architect Bastien Halard and the landscape designer Miranda Brooks. After a few “surgical interventions” of their own — not a full rehab, just tweaks, plus a fresh kitchen — the Shumans moved in with their two kids (Nate, 11, and Ana, 6), two Great Danes, one dachshund, two parrots, two parakeets, and three cats, plus the family’s accumulated treasures from years of traveling and collecting. “We love what an oasis it is behind the brick façade — it feels a bit like our own Moroccan riad,” Michael says.

As for working with a decorator, that started as a simple friendship several years back, when they got to know Jeffrey Bilhuber. (His son was in the same preschool as theirs.) How it turned from friendship to business was — well, when you ask Bilhuber, the best he can do is say “I don’t know? I think it was just during a chat, maybe two years ago? It was a gradual process.”

Needless to say, all three parties have strong ideas and tastes. Over time, the conversation with Bilhuber started to include his suggestions. “My goal was to try and clarify and edit the many layers that were there,” Bilhuber says. His biggest intervention was in the upstairs sitting room, which had plain white walls and one of exposed brick. “We started with recladding that room with all-white Moroccan tiles,” Bilhuber says. “It was an assertive move in all its subtlety.” A massive wraparound sofa, upholstered in a complex patterned fabric from Mulberry Home, turns a room that might have seemed severe into an enveloping lounge-y enclave. Bilhuber also raided Alex’s textile collection for more patterned seat covers and pillows, and introduced new art pieces. “We felt most comfortable with things that were already a part of us, a part of our history, a part of our travels. It was so great that Jeffrey respected that and built on that. He helped us find things that we wouldn’t have necessarily found on our own.” The sitting room that resulted is now mostly for reading and family time, Alex says, “but we use it for late-night dinner parties. It is also the cats’ preferred hangout.” No doubt the parakeets are relieved.

Most of the throw pillows are covered in fabric from the Shumans’ accumu­lated collection. Branch candelabrum by Michele Oka Doner; in December, it doubles as a menorah. The slipper chairs were custom-made and upholstered in vintage African indigo fabric. The tie-dye-style rug is from HB Home. Print by James Turrell. Photo: Bjorn Wallander
On the second floor, pocket doors can be closed to partition the space. The nest sculpture by the South African artist Porky Hefer came from R & Co. It hangs from two steel beams concealed in the ceiling and can support several crawl-in occupants without strain. Photo: Bjorn Wallander
Miranda Brooks built the deck off the second floor for the previous owners. Bilhuber added all the upholstery, including red pillows by Voutsa. The chair is from Restoration Hardware. Photo: Bjorn Wallander
A previous owner’s photo studio got new bookshelves, new lighting and HVAC, and a walk-in closet. It’s now a multipurpose family room. The Great Danes Ozzie and Magnus and the dachshund Shug (here with Ana) also like it. Photo: Bjorn Wallander
Ana in the kitchen with Shug in front of two enormous birdcages for an African Gray named 99 and a Double Headed Amazon named Beau. Photo: Bjorn Wallander
The kitchen was designed by Bastien Halard for the previous owners. The Shumans added the cabinetry on the wall to the left. Photo: Bjorn Wallander
The tent over the bed in Ana’s room is from Bon Point. The mini orange club chair is from Giggle. Photo: Bjorn Wallander
The hanging sculpture, Nest, by artist Porky Hefer, is from R& Co. It is perfect for playing hide and seek and can hold the entire family as Bilbuber installed it to hold the weight of an elephant. Photo: Bjorn Wallander

*This article appears in the Fall/Winter 2018 issue of New York Design Hunting.

An Ideal Artists’ Townhouse, With a Bit of Morocco Thrown In