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Sometimes the fourth time really is the charm. That was the case for one lifelong New York City couple, who at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic found themselves as empty nesters yet still somewhat cramped in their Manhattan duplex and ready to retire down south. The only problem? None of the local designers really “got” their style once they decamped and downsized. So they enlisted architect Daniel Ian Smith, principal and lead interior designer of Village West Design, who they had worked with on three prior projects, to turn their large, upper floor apartment into their dream destination.

Smith’s task was a tall one, as the apartment had fantastic views of Asheville’s historic landmarks and great bones but felt “cookie cutter” and “colorless” in the way that newer construction sometimes can. That wasn’t his vibrant, arts-and-culture loving clients at all. The space would need a serious dose of personality, as the clients planned on sourcing almost all new furniture and lighting that would let their prized art collection truly shine. Smith got to work right away, honing in on a crisp, clean decorating scheme anchored by soothing shades of blues and grays, handsome woods, and whimsical pops of warm, bright colors like yellow, red, and orange — often provided by the couples’ blue chip artwork.

For Smith, color is more than just paint on the walls, and his subtle but high-impact approach with this element of design is on display at all turns in the apartment. In the open-plan living room and dining area, whisper-light cream walls put the focus on the Asheville cityscape right outside the floor-to-ceiling windows, while a dark blue sectional grounds some of that airiness with its intensity. In a separate sitting area, another blue sofa plays off light grayish walls, both surfaces energized by the multicolored geometric rug underfoot and pops of red in a bookshelf, domed lamp, and pillowscape.

In some rooms, such as the primary bedroom and bathroom as shown above, these color relationships are inverted, with blues on the walls and lighter hues woven throughout as accents. Paired with wood furniture and hits of texture — like the grasscloth wallpapered focal wall behind the bed, for example, or even the navy tiled backsplash in the kitchen (shown below) — the space feels cozy, layered, and welcoming even though it’s on the more minimalist side.

Mellow yellow just might be the sleeper hit hue of the space — present in a few unexpected spots, from the guest bedroom walls to the second bathroom, where it provides the base color for a fun, geometric wall mural that strikes a retro note stylistically. In fact, the whole apartment has a bit of a contemporary meets mid-century modern vibe, thanks to key pieces from brands like BluDot, Room & Board, CB2, and West Elm, among others.

Smith also worked to ensure the couples’ art would be spotlighted. In fact, finding the right pieces for his clients, matching them with complementary frames, and placing them in the home properly is one of the designer’s favorite decorating challenges. For this particular project, he even sourced a special Marc Chagall work that the wife of his client couple wanted to surprise her husband with as a “thank you” for finally agreeing to settle down south. Framed by local purveyor, Blackbird, the piece now hangs above a console table and brightens up a dark bare wall. Smith also surveyed the local art scene and helped his clients make a few key Asheville acquisitions, including pieces by potter-glass blower husband-and-wife duo Courtney Martin and John Geci, whose shared studio Smith visited in person after touring it virtually from his California office. 

Of course, considering the scope and timing of this project, things exactly didn’t go off without a hitch. “Lead times started to creep up as we were sourcing, and we were working with a fixed deadline — the homeowners had already agreed to vacate their NYC apartment by a certain date, and as long-time repeat clients, the pressure was on to have everything ready for them when they arrived,” says Smith. “There were so many false starts with various vendors, an abrupt cancellation from the movers whose crew all seemed to contract COVID at the same time, and so many cancelled flights and postponed trips.”

To help offset some of the chaos, Smith brought on a local concierge to serve as the group’s eyes and ears on the ground in Asheville as the home took shape. She was able to offer local suggestions and pivots when logistical issues arose, mainly due to supply chain issues.

Against all odds, the project took exactly twelve months, from the homeowners’ first email inquiry on working together to the big (tears of joy-inducing!) HGTV-like reveal of the space. “The homeowners have texted, called, and emailed with gratitude so many times and seemingly love everything we created,” says Smith. What could be a better testament of a job well done than that?

Danielle Blundell

Home Editor

Danielle Blundell is AT’s Home Director and covers decorating and design. She loves homes, heels, the history of art, and hockey—but not necessarily always in that order.

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