Step Inside a Stylish New York Rowhouse Dressed Up in Playful Pattern and Color
The home of J.McLaughlin co-founder Kevin McLaughlin displays the same charm and playful spirit as his clothing.
Stepping into McLaughlin's house is like stepping into one of his dress designs: instantly comfortable, immediately inspired. There's never a dull moment at this place, a Manhattan brownstone dressed with the same flair, color, and style seen in the family's fashion line.
Almost every fabric in the home was inspired by the J.McLaughlin collection, from the wing chair in the study, upholstered in a velvet zebra print borrowed from a dress, to the dining chairs, covered in the saddle leather used in the brand's handbags.
Even the front door wears the bold, playful color that has made J.McLaughlin a fashion mainstay since Kevin and his brother Jay started the business 38 years ago. The brand now has 100 stores around the country, including the flagship in the Upper East Side neighborhood where Kevin and wife Barbara live with their children, Madeline, 19, and Hugh, 11.
Kevin had admired the five-story rowhouse, owned by a colleague who seldom used it, for some time before he bought it on a whim in 2002. Built in the mid-1800s, it had plenty of history but also some signs of age. Changes made when all the brownstones on the block got a facelift in the early 20th century weren't exactly au courant. Barbara, however, was undaunted. Her home's new look started at the front door. "I wanted the house to appear welcoming and fun right from the beginning," she says. Thus the decision to paint the door a lively chartreuse that commands attention—and Instagram posts. "The door shows up on social media all the time," Barbara says with a laugh.
Lively Color Palette
The bright entryway set the tone for the rest of the house, which Kevin and Barbara wanted to feel colorful and lively for their busy family and an ever-changing roster of guests.
But with cramped quarters stretching from the ground level to the fifth floor, it was going to take more than fresh paint and chic fabric to coax the old rowhouse into living for today. Enter architect Doug Larson, who has been designing the McLaughlin brothers' homes and retail stores for 20 years.
Intimate Dining Room
Larson renovated the home in two stages, starting with the ground floor. In the floor's original arrangement, a tight entryway led to a small kitchen and laundry room, while a large formal dining room occupied the back of the house. That meant Barbara found herself using the dining room to fold laundry more often than she used it to entertain. So Larson opened up the foyer and flipped the rooms, creating an intimate dining room off the entry and a spacious kitchen that leads to the garden. A laundry tucks into the connecting passageway.
Paneled wood walls make for an intimate dining room with plenty of hidden storage. The dining table, purchased secondhand, was bleached to give it a caramel color. A coat of olive lacquered paint lends a festive attitude to the bamboo dining chairs. The glass ceiling fixture is by sculptor Joe McDonnell.
The kitchen cabinets were modeled after campaign furniture. Latticework and mirrors on the back walls bring a sense of outdoors into the space. "I wanted to introduce the garden into their daily lives," Larson says.
Pretty Clarence House wallpaper backs the kitchen niche where a console table proudly displays a wine selection.
Creating a Logical Layout
Several years later, they tackled the remaining four floors. Larson reconfigured the rooms to create a more elegant and logical layout, with the living room and library on the second floor, and a master suite for Barbara and Kevin taking over the third floor, separate from the kids' rooms on the fourth level.
Larson installed French doors to welcome a garden view into the living room.
The salon-style gallery wall (reflected in the mirror above the fireplace) features a large abstract painting that Kevin bought for $100 at auction, along with a small still life by Robert Kulicke that was a wedding gift. The living room fireplace dates to early days.
Scalamandré's classic wallpaper covers the walls of this quaint bar area tucked behind two doors. The zebra theme continues underfoot with "Zebra Crossing" carpet squares from Flor.
Here, that statement velvet zebra print appears on the wing chair near the fireplace. Faux real decorative painting jazzes up the floor.
A strié treatment gives texture to the glazed olive walls in the library, painted in Benjamin Moore's "Cabbage Patch." Tea paper from Cowtan & Tout adds a subtle sheen to the ceiling. The built-ins, highlighted by gold paint, have leather hardware on the cabinet doors.
Eclectic and Whimsical
The home reflects the McLaughlins' eclectic tastes and personal history. On the third floor, for example, whimsical prints from J.McLaughlin illustrator Patricia van Essche color a quiet landing. A leopard-print runner graces the stairs.
Private Master Bedroom
Larson reworked the third floor to create a roomy master suite for Kevin and Barbara. Larson also put the entry to the bedroom around a corner to offer a sense of privacy commonly lost in townhomes where guests pass up and down the stairs.
In this room, a linen-wrapped desk, cabriolet chair, and a Chippendale-style lowboy mix seamlessly. A Josef Hoffmann settee and chairs, purchased for $500 at auction, mingle comfortably with the Frances Elkins loop chairs in the neighboring study.
Strewn among these finds are small accessories that Kevin and Barbara love to collect, including Nantucket baskets, pottery, and marine paintings. "Each piece has a story," Kevin says. "We've been gathering these things for years. The eclectic mix works for us. It makes the home genuinely ours."
A back room was turned into a study and a vestibule for their closets, which connect to the bedroom in the front via a spacious bath. His and her closets are both beautifully organized.
Surprising Top Floor
To deal with a plague of unattractive nooks for utilities on the top floor, Larson created a tented space to hide the compartments and at the same time provide a cocoon-like hideaway for guests. "I think in a townhouse, there should be a surprise right at the top," he says. "Something that isn't necessary, but is luxurious and glamorous."
A striped J.McLaughlin-sourced fabric in Barbara's favorite chartreuse hue was the perfect choice for the jovial guest suite. Curtains hide the elevator door and utility closet, plus a TV and kitchenette. Larson added steel French doors to allow access to a roof deck and endless city views. "The result is that we have a lot of houseguests," says Barbara. "We often have to turn people away!"
With the floor plan revitalized, Larson developed a furniture layout, working side-by-side with Kevin and Barbara. Luckily, there was no shortage of amazing pieces to choose from. As avid collectors, Kevin and Jay have amassed warehouses full of antiques, artwork, and thrift shop finds, many of which are used in their retail stores. "My brother and I grew up going to auction houses on Saturday mornings," Kevin says. "It's a bit of a sport for us."
Playful Yet Polished
The house definitely wears the J.McLaughlin look and attitude. Eclectic furnishings, bold colors, and playful fabrics make for a friendly, comfortable space that's also polished and classic. Fashion, obviously, has influenced the design. And you never know when that inspiration might flip. Something from home could become the latest fashion. "We don't take ourselves too seriously," Kevin says. "The curtains in the bedroom might be a dress yet!"
A block-wide facelift in the early 1900s combined all the gardens in the back of the townhomes, creating a private enclave that the McLaughlins share with 11 other homes.
In J.McLaughlin wear, Barbara and Kevin are pictured here on the roof terrace with children Hugh and Madeline.