The Real Deal New York

Social function

Top designer Jamie Drake’s sleek West Chelsea apartment is perfect for entertaining
By Zachary Kussin | November 06, 2014 07:00AM

Take a cursory glance around A-list designer Jamie Drake’s lavish 3,000-square-foot pad and you’ll find some luxe trappings befitting an open and airy downtown home: Floor-to-ceiling windows that look out to the Hudson River, a spacious loggia with seating and a vast open kitchen area.

And what most attracted Drake to the home was the simple shape of the floorplan, which accentuates that openness: In particular, the oversized, square-shaped living room with 16-foot ceilings.

“I look for spaces that have good layouts for entertaining,” said the designer — whose lengthy client roster includes Madonna and Michael Bloomberg — who moved to West Chelsea just over three years ago. “I envision rooms of people having a good time.”

Looking around, you’ll find Drake’s signature funky flair and pops of color throughout the interior. The space is edgy yet comfy, clearly showing off the skill of a designer who has garnered the industry’s top accolades, including a place in Interior Design Magazine’s Interior Designer Hall of Fame.

Inside his home, those open living areas — yes, areas — are conducive to parties. Drake bought the apartment at 200 11th Avenue in 2007, while the Annabelle Selldorf-designed property was under construction. When his unit was completed, a challenge presented itself: A large column in the middle of the living area. To work around this obstruction, Drake sheathed the fixture with a wrap-around, 72-square-inch shelving unit made of ebonized oak and braided stainless steel and brass, dividing the area into two distinct spaces. Both spots have large sofas and comfy chairs, but they serve different purposes. One side is a dedicated television area, whereas the gadget-free opposite side lends itself to intimate conversation over cocktails. A Crestron system unites everything in sound, which on this day plays present-day pop divas: Lady Gaga, Adele, Beyoncé.

There’s no dining table in sight; Drake’s public areas are designed as flexible, informal entertaining space. But if that’s not enough room, he can set up additional seating and an extra bar in his private garage. “It was lounge part two,” he said of the overflow zone which he once used at a large party.

But make no mistake: Socializing in Drake’s garage isn’t a throwback to sneaking cigarettes and shotgunning beer cans in your parents’ carport. Though the space may be designed as a place to park a car, it’s one of the most buzzed-about amenities in the city: a “Sky Garage.” (For more on private parking garages — one of the city’s most luxurious extras — see page 28.) Drake’s garage is accessed by a drive-in elevator that allows you to park your car right next to your high-floor home. There’s no car parked there today, but there’s a shelving unit displaying decorative antique gears, as well as a full box of Dom Perignon, presumably on reserve for the next gathering. Design consultant James Spodnik, a friend of Drake’s who this afternoon is arranging flowers for our photo shoot, refers to this wallpapered space as “kind of a studio apartment for his car.”

Drake — who opened his own design firm in 1978, upon graduating from Parsons — generally entertains between 30 to 50 guests several times each month. He’s planning on a holiday party for 100 invitees — more intimate than last year’s 350-person soiree, or his 250-guest fête in 2012, which featured cabaret star Lady Rizo performing with a small band.

If there isn’t a performer taking the spotlight, elements of the interior make good conversation starters — some of which were designed by Drake himself, including a long, white Corian island detailed with gold glitter designs, which often functions as a bar and buffet. Just above this hang two Drake-designed pendant lights made of hand-blown amber glass and steel frames. (Known as Limelight, it’s now in production with Boyd Lighting.)

Concrete and tar hues are throughout the home: grey plaster finish extends from the walls to the ceiling; there’s black cabinetry and a mirrored backsplash in the kitchen; the hardwood flooring is dark. Drake’s affinity for neutrals is also reflected in his wardrobe — on this day, he’s wearing denim jeans, a blue-and-white dotted shirt and a navy blue jacket — making one wonder why he was dubbed the “King of Color” by House Beautiful magazine.

“I realized that my power as ‘King’ was how I utilize color,” Drake explains, sipping on an espresso and taking drags of a More brand menthol cigarette. “The color is used as a very spicy additive. It’s like making a chili: You feel the heat, but it’s mostly beans and beef.”

The vivid art on display throughout Drake’s home certainly brings the spice. A large, colorful, framed self-portrait by noted artist Chuck Close hangs near the foyer. One of the living areas prominently displays Thomas Ruff’s “Substrat 24 I” photograph, showing a saturated blend of reds, greens, yellows and blues.

In one seating area, a faux antelope head sports a bondage-style black leather mask with a silver zipper. It’s a far-out piece by Michael Combs, and Drake says it’s supposed to invoke thoughts of whether the animal is in a state of submission or actually empowered by its kinky accessory.

“I like spaces and details that have a sense of humor,” Drake said, defining both his personal and professional design aesthetic. “I’m not looking for a belly laugh, but I like that ‘Oh my! What’s that about?’ kind of look.”

In the master bedroom, Drake selected choice colors that stand out in primarily dark grey settings. The bed, with grey linens, is framed by pink and coral nightstands, as well as a pink headboard. The bed is in the very middle of the room and rests on a carpet that bears the same grey, pink and coral shades. High above the bed is a recessed pink mirror. For some extra fun — and a nod to his sense of humor — the shelved headboard of the bed shows a small statue of two squirrels mid-coitus.

Drake — a native of New Haven, Conn., who has lived in Manhattan for 39 years — previously owned a condo in the Flatiron District. He then lived in a rental for four years while he waited for his current digs to be completed. Viewing his move west as a fresh start, Drake largely bought new furnishings. He had some help outfitting the digs from the folks at the Alpha Workshops — a non-profit organization that provides HIV-positive people with training and employment in the decorative arts. “Their hand is here in so many elements of my apartment,” said Drake, who is the chairman of the board. They lent their efforts to the grey plaster finish on his walls, the tall, gilded lamps in his living area, as well as making the crimson wallpaper in his powder room.

“I don’t change very much,” Drake said of his home’s decor. “I sort of feel that when I’m done I’m pretty much done … I try not to be too additive; you can always accumulate and buy more and more and more, but then the spaces become very cluttered.”

“I think we all look for a space that speaks to us — that we walk in and feel like, ‘Ah, this is home,’” he adds.