In his trio of rooms in Greenwich Village, Joshua Greene isn't afraid to go big with furniture and major art. The key to living large: rigorous editing and a richly urbane gray palette.
Kathleen Hackett: As a designer, what is more challenging: living in a 600-square-foot apartment or the fact that some of the best antiques dealers in Manhattan are right across the street?
Joshua Greene: I was willing to give up space to live on one of the nicest blocks in Greenwich Village. Plus, the apartment has nine-and-a-half-foot ceilings. It's funny, when my business partner, Katrina Hernandez, and I started Hernandez Greene a few years ago, my dining room was our office! Now I have all of the space — three rooms total — to myself.
Let's talk about the elephant — or rather the breakfront — in the dining room, because it's hard to ignore.
I found it in Connecticut and fell in love with its weirdness — the neoclassical lines, the faux paint, the red interior. It's a great contrast to the space's minimalist, boxy architecture. Here's the thing: Sometimes you have to go big. Grand but simple gestures are essential in a small space. This piece offers tons of storage, which is helpful since I love things but dislike clutter. It allows me to be a collector without looking like a hoarder.
I see that you go big with art, too.
Yes, but it is organized bigness! The painting over the living room sofa is four feet by six feet. The one in the dining room occupies a whole wall. Smaller pieces would have felt chaotic, whereas larger ones create a strong graphic statement. The same idea applies to the 12-by-36-inch travertine marble tiles in the bathroom. One luxe material makes a big impact.
There's enough furniture in your living room for a space twice its size. And yet it looks perfectly comfortable.
The living room is tricky. I'd love it to be just 18 inches wider! I'd have two sofas facing each other. Alas, scale is everything. The furniture can't be off by even one inch in such a small space. But that doesn't mean you can't have large pieces in the room. I bought that sofa in college, and it has worked in every apartment I've ever lived in, surprisingly enough.
Were you tempted to knock down the wall between the kitchen and the dining room?
If I had stuck to contemporary design rules, I might have opened up that space. But I realized that doing so would not have made the place look bigger. Rather, the eye would have had a lot more to take in — and not in a good way. Plus, I like having another wall because it gives me more room to hang art.
Did color help to expand the space?
Yes. Most of the walls and even the ceilings are painted in Benjamin Moore's Rockport Gray. The upholstery and furnishings are also all in neutral tones. But I used a less obvious trick to bring cohesion to the rooms. The ceilings in the kitchen, bathroom and entry are a foot-and-a-half shorter than those in the living room, dining room and bedroom. So all of these openings and windows and doors were different heights! I had soffits installed at a uniform eight feet and put in a pocket for curtains, which makes everything look symmetrical.
In contrast to the living room, are there just three pieces of furniture in your bedroom?
I kept the bed low to emphasize the height of the ceiling. The headboard height is only 36 inches, as opposed to the usual 48 inches. I hung the art in a grid that stretches almost to the ceiling, which makes the room look taller and helps to create visual interest. Any room feels better as soon as the art is hung. Wall-mounted bedside lighting frees up the side tables, however small. And pocket doors — between the bedroom and living room, and between the bathroom and dressing area — eliminate the space drain you get from hinged doors.
Every element is so considered. Does introducing a new accessory or piece of art throw the whole thing off?
It's all about organization and fit: Nothing makes a room feel more uncomfortable than a bad fit. I would have gotten rid of my red altar tables if I didn't have the terrace as extra space. And you know what? Apart from a few nice things for the kitchen — maybe some olivewood utensils — my apartment is done. It's kind of nice to be living in it rather than working on it.
This story originally appeared in the June 2017 issue of CQ.