This New York City Home Celebrates Family Living

We love how the bookshelves are inscribed with important birth years.

katie lydon and gretchen rubin
James Merrell

Sophie Donelson: Gretchen, I’m a big fan of yours — and now yours too, Katie. Was it daunting to decorate the home of an author whose best-selling books — , — are all about happiness?

Lydon: When we met about 18 years ago, Gretchen had not yet become the megastar she is today. But she has always been inspiring to work with, both then and now. You get more interesting results when your client offers interesting input.

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This is your second full renovation of this home. What was on tap for the sequel? Let’s call it Even Happier at Home.

Rubin: It was time for a refresh. Living here with my husband, Jamie, and our two daughters, we had gotten to know the space better and started to notice things, like how the living room wasn’t being used.

katie lydon living room
James Merrell

The refresh must have worked, Katie, because Gretchen picked the living room as the setting for our interview.

KL: The reason it wasn’t used much before is probably because it’s not en route to the kitchen or bedrooms. It is a destination room — a room of choice! So comfort was the priority, as was lighting. Adding an extra layer of lighting made the room come alive.

I’m counting a dozen light sources, from the fireplace to the sconces. It’s masterful. If you asked me to choose and arrange a dozen lights, I’d panic!

GR: That’s when you realize you need a professional. A layperson has no concept of how to layer lighting, or what is considered expensive, or what’s hard to do versus what’s easy. A designer can say, “That’s not a big deal.” Or, “That is actually half your mortgage!” For instance: Hinges and doorknobs are expensive, but adding sconces is not.

katie lydon library
James Merrell
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Purple is obviously a happy color for you, Gretchen. Did Katie balk at it?

KL: Not at all. I’ve known her long enough to not be surprised!

GR: I vividly remember as a five-year-old vowing to one day have a purple room. Now I have two: the living room and the oxblood library.

How do you feel about getting very specific direction from a client?

KL: I do think Pinterest boards can be dangerous. When a client says, “These are the five things I really like,” I feel pressured to pick one. I’d rather look at a room as a whole and decide what it needs. If clients have their hearts set on a certain wallpaper, then we can’t reimagine the room.

katie lydon dining room
James Merrell

And yet you went with Gretchen’s de Gournay choice in the dining room.

GR: I had noticed it in a magazine and thought, This is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.

KL: We visited the showroom to look at other papers but ended up looping back to this one. It has the right intensity and emotion for Gretchen, and that’s not always easy to find.

Happier at Home talks about using your personal space as a tool for achieving happiness. For example, Gretchen, your “threshold ritual” suggests taking a moment to be thankful every time you arrive home.

GR: After Happier, I wrote a book about habits [The Four Tendencies], and looking back, I would have focused even more on using design to develop habits at home. For example, you can organize your kitchen for healthier eating.

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Has Katie’s input helped you to live better?

GR: Absolutely. She once noticed my husband sitting cross-legged with his laptop on a window seat in the kitchen, where the whole family congregates. In a gentle way, she said,“I think we can do better for you!” Our habits needed to be addressed, but we had become completely acclimated to working around them. There’s now a little desk in the kitchen for him.

katie lydon daughter's bedroom
James Merrell

Katie, what is your happiest habit?

KL: Growing up in England, my siblings and I had a chocolate drawer in the TV room. My mum would make mint tea, and then we would dive into the drawer! It’s a wonderful memory.

And this apartment has family in-jokes hidden all around. Why the Roman numerals on the bookshelves?

KL: They’re the birth years of every family member. Luckily, two of the grandparents share a year so we could fit them all. Now everyone feels included.

There are secret spaces, too. Too bad our photographer couldn’t fit into the wallpapered cubby under the stairs.

GR: We call it the Nook! It was once a crawl space for luggage, and it became a play space for one of my daughters. For Katie, it was a little caboose of a project after she’d finished our redesign. Eleanor loves it. She brings her friends there, so I know it’s special.

See more photos of this gorgeous home:

This story originally appeared in the April 2018 issue of CQ.

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