The apartment brims with color thanks to designer Sara Gilbane's clever visual tricks.

By Petra Guglielmetti Annie Schlechter Erin Swift and Monika Eyers
August 06, 2019

When it comes to decorating, you can go big and go homey, as this bold yet playful space proves. The key is to maintain flow and visual balance, says New York City interior designer Sara Gilbane, who helped a young couple harmonize their tastes when updating their Manhattan apartment. "The wife loves bold color in more of a traditional preppy way. The husband likes wild neon colors and a more deconstructed or midcentury look," Gilbane says.

Some fertile common ground: a passion for tropical motifs inspired by time together in coastal locales. To travel in that direction but keep it cosmopolitan, Gilbane intermingled tropical patterns with velvets, jewel tones, and lacquered shine.

Existing and newly acquired pieces of colorful Pop Art flow with the palette and add a modern edge. The result could be described as midcentury metropolitan meets swanky beachfront hotel—and totally livable.

Gilbane's tricks include choosing patterns and colors that are sophisticated but not serious, and, when one room is busy, going more solid in the next. The hallways are painted Benjamin Moore China White to break up the boldness of the rooms and keep things from getting too heavy. Ceilings, however, are not white. "Even a whisper of ceiling color dramatically warms a room," says Gilbane, who used pale blue in the den and barely-there mint green in the kitchen and dining room. To get the effect, she recommends diluting a pastel with 25 to 50 percent white (she uses Benjamin Moore Super White).

A room with white walls acts as a reset amid so many colorful spaces and provides a canvas for using patterned furniture and accessories in a way that's less matchy. Vintage club chairs in a lively citrus fabric coordinate with the window seat and stools; sofa pillows bring in hues from other spaces. "On a sofa, pair random patterns with like colors," Gilbane says. Elsewhere, lush green wallpaper cultivates tropical vibes without being palm-tree literal. Similarly on-theme without going kitschy: a midcentury bamboo sideboard—the material is tropical but the design is mod—and a mahogany dining table with bamboo-inspired tripod legs.

Jute rugs and accessories help make the space feel cozy and livable. "I like to bring in found, imperfect, and sentimental pieces to give the home life," Gilbane says. Focus on items that make you happy and start playing. "I'm a big fan of action," Gilbane says. "Stop overthinking and go buy some throw pillows or a bolt of fabric that uses your favorite colors. Great things come from getting started." One example: An offbeat stormtrooper photo her husband found at an art fair provided the consummate (amusingly random yet totally coordinating) finishing touch for the family room. "Design is rarely a linear process," Gilbane says. "It's a creative process where some of the best decisions are made only after you get going."

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