Step Inside a Historic Manhattan Apartment Transformed by Design Star Ryan Lawson

Home to James LaForce and Stephen Henderson, the loft blends references and wit from near and far
Step Inside a Historic Manhattan Apartment Transformed by Design Star Ryan Lawson
LaForce (left) and Henderson recline on the twin sofas, each upholstered in a Pierre Frey stripe; the mounted fabric panels are Roman shades bought from an auction of the John Richardson estate.

The sitting area’s snaking vintage sofa mingles with two antique Danish armchairs; the black-and-white artworks on the far wall are by Robert Indiana.

Color became its own spatial framework, with Lawson channeling Scarpa in a series of vibrant interventions. “James and Stephen seemed up for a different formula,” the designer reflects of the idiosyncratic palette, which eschews white walls in favor of a shade he calls “cream of mushroom soup.” Against that neutral backdrop, bold splashes offer visual anchors—whether the kitchen’s striped paneling of individually painted boards, the library’s floating red bookcase, or the living room’s oversized wall-mounted fabric panels. Counterintuitively, Lawson explains, these bold gestures offer moments of rest. “It frees your eye from having to look at small things.”

And there are certainly many treasures to discover. LaForce and Henderson are avid yet unfussy collectors, deriving as much joy from flea-market finds as pedigreed pieces. Their vintage claw-foot consoles came from the collection of Picasso biographer John Richardson, their Gothic Revival center table from the Mario Buatta estate. Unattributed vintage sofas have nevertheless become scene-stealers thanks to the couple’s daring upholstery choices. Art, meanwhile, tends toward the small-scale and thrifty. In the den, dozens of works—many anonymous, others by friends—now form an immersive salon-style arrangement. (“Big rooms would have eaten them up, so we thought of them as wallpaper, grouped together floor to ceiling,” recalls Lawson.) Elsewhere pride of place has been given to provenanced pieces by the likes of Robert Indiana and Paul Cadmus, talents whom the couple affectionately call their gay forebears.

Meticulously mapped by Henderson, the den’s salon-style art hangings feature an array of flea-market finds, paintings by friends, and a group of unattributed figure studies from the early 1900s.

Art: Elvin Rodriquez. Mark Beard. Bradley Narduzzi. Guno Park. Peter Harvey. Andrew Kennedy.

“We created an apartment that was beautiful and robust enough in its own right but still encouraged them to evolve their collections over time,” reflects Lawson, noting that the Josef Hoffmann picture nails on the sitting area’s kilim-lined partition make it easy to swap out works. He credits that success to LaForce and Henderson’s willingness to say yes. “When you have sophisticated clients, you can come with bigger ideas and more esoteric references,” says Lawson, for whom those conceptual constraints offered a rewarding intellectual exercise. “I don’t design out of thin air. I weave together things that I know and love.”

The steel-and-glass partition that leads to the couple’s suite was made by Alli Fabrication.

The guest suite is painted in a deep yellow by Ressource Paints; the headboard is upholstered in an antique Suzani; the curtain is a Holland & Sherry linen.

For their parts, LaForce and Henderson both thrilled to the decorative crash course. “Ryan is a lot like us, not haughty or precious,” says Henderson. “He is a little DIY and yet immediately talking about Lina Bo Bardi.” They’re references the couple can now share with their regular guests, be they crashing in the guest suite or on the library’s bespoke daybed, cleverly overscaled to accommodate overnight additions. Some nights the loft buzzes with a crowd of 100 or more, as LaForce and Henderson host events for any of their many progressive and creative causes. But on other evenings that hum quiets to a whisper, LaForce lounging in the den as Henderson cooks. Once dinner is ready, they’ll retreat to the living room for some well-deserved screen time—each reclining on his assigned sofa, plates on their chests, happily side by side.

This Manhattan apartment appears in AD’s October issue. Never miss an issue when you subscribe to AD.