Vivid Color, Pop Art, and Fun Patterns Work in a New York Home

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

When it comes to decorating, you can go big and go homey, as this bold yet playful space proves. The key is maintaining 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.

women sitting on blue couch artistic home decor
Annie Schlechter

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

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.

artistic home decor in teal blue painted room
Annie Schlechter

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. For example, 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 less matchy way. 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 sensations 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.

blue red decorated living room furniture and art
Annie Schlechter

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 family room's consummate (amusingly random yet totally coordinating) finishing touch. "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."

Updated by
Erin Swift
Erin Swift has worked as a creative director, stylist, and designer in the magazine industry since 2005. She has experience in photo styling sets and interiors. You can find her work in numerous major publications, including Better Homes & Gardens, Vogue, Real Simple, Martha Stewart Living, Glamour, Marie Claire, and more. In addition to her work as a contributor, she served as a style and market editor for Architectural Digest, Elle Decor, O Magazine, and Elegant Bride. In 2016, she served as the style director for One Kings Lane. Erin's book "French Accents: At Home With Parisian Objects and Details" was published in 2013.
Monika Biegler Eyers
Headshot of editor Monika Biegler Eyers

Monika Biegler Eyers is the East Coast Editor of Better Homes & Gardens magazine, where she covers interior design. She has 20 years' experience as an editor in the home space, beginning on staff at Traditional Home magazine, then becoming part of the founding editorial team of Domino, where she was the Senior Market Editor of Design. From there she went on to freelance for publications including, among others, The Wall Street Journal, Vogue, Conde Nast Living, Martha Stewart Living, Bon Appetit, and Living Etc., before joining Better Homes & Gardens. Her focus has always been on bridging the gap between elevated design and everyday living. She has appeared as a design expert on ABC's Good Morning America, CBS' The Early Show, CNN's Open House and HGTV. Her work has also appeared in the books Design*Sponge at Home (Artisan) and Domino: The Book of Decorating (Simon & Schuster).

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