British designer Oliver Thornton approaches his design projects like a set designer approaches a theatrical performance: to create a fantasy of a world that’s not of our own. The London-based designer worked as a theater actor for more than seventeen years, starring in musicals like Les Miserables, Priscilla Queen Of The Desert, Phantom Of The Opera, and The Rocky Horror Show in London‘s West End as well as across the U.K. and U.S. After flipping homes and helping friends with their design projects to supplement acting, he discovered that the two careers complimented one another quite harmoniously.
“All those years that I had spent working on the stage, I built up this way of creating a narrative for projects,” Thornton explains. “Without realizing it, I came to a place where I treat a project almost like I would a performance on stage.”
This charming 700 sq. ft. one-bedroom apartment in Tribeca, N.Y. marks the launch of Thornton’s design studio, Oliver Thornton Home, which will undertake projects in both New York and London. For his studio’s debut, he transformed an architecturally sparse NYC apartment into a lavish abode inspired by stays at London’s renowned Art Deco hotels.
Thornton begins his design process by envisioning his client as an “aristocratic version of themselves,” he says. He derives inspiration from Art Deco, the style that swept across America and Europe during the 1920s and 30s.
“I thought it would be fun to think about my client as a British gentleman during the 1930’s who had a pied a terre in New York, and he had a lot of furniture and references to things he would have seen back home,” Thornton muses.
His client, a frequent traveler, utilized the space as a resting place in between trips, so Thornton crafted a serene environment that would encourage his client to come home. “I wanted to come up with a design that means when he returns to the city, it feels like home and allows him to live in the space in a way that’s much more significant.”
Influenced by Art Deco’s geometric and bold lines, Thornton designed a floating shelf unit from Tri-Lox in the galley-style kitchen using reeded glass―a motif repeated throughout the apartment. He wanted the kitchen to seamlessly flow into the living room rather than treating the rooms like separate areas. An antique runner brings warmth and character into the condensed area.
“I think lots of people are scared of using rugs in kitchens,” Thornton says, “but if you get something that can be easily cleaned or have a heavy pattern it doesn’t show marks that easily.” This rug from Upstate Rug Supply is an ideal choice, he notes, because of the material’s longevity and durability. “It [the rug] has been around 100 years and it will be around for another 100 years. In fact, it will improve from wear and tear.”
Thornton effortlessly blends the Art Deco aspects of the kitchen into the living room with the use of linear shapes, horizontal details and trims, and elegant brass accents. For a masculine touch, he used brass wall sconces with a solid shade from Visual Comfort. The 1830s British oak drum table compliments the myriad of European antiques placed meticulously across the room. “It was this idea that this kind of gentleman had travelled the world and picked up antiques along the way and then brought them to America, so there was a very sort of European feeling within the apartment,” he says.
For the sofa, he used a two-toned customizable sleeper sofa from Roger + Chris. He lucked out with an art piece by one of his favorite British artists, Luke Edward Hall. “He had an exhibition in a gallery in Berlin, so I feverishly called up the gallery and said ‘please if there’s anything that isn’t sold, will you let us know,’ and we managed to secure this one piece!”
Antique sports memorabilia is layered throughout the bedroom, giving it the feel of a mix between a British sporting room and a library. Jewel tones and accents of tartan and leather invite comfort. The artwork and keepsakes all nod to vintage sport: the wall painting by Bruce Sargeant features a gentleman holding a medicine ball, there are antique oars from the 1930s, and on the dresser lies a black and white photograph of a football player in the 1920s.
“I wanted to create that idea of a British sporting room,” he explains. “We used plaids and velvets and lots of leather in this room. The room was really sort of dark and sexy and definitely somewhere where you would want to go cuddle up.”
This elegant space was influenced by Thornton’s admiration for the Deco bathrooms found in the historic Claridge’s and Savoy hotels. Thornton selected Morris & Co.‘s Fruit wallpaper—a timeless design with motifs of fruit and leafs—to contrast the neutral palette of the living room. Like the antique runner, he gravitated toward using material that ages gracefully overtime. “As the wallpaper fades and maybe darkens in its corners―that’s actually part of the thing that I love when you go to those old English houses and they have original papers from the 30s,” he says.
For the light fixtures, he chose a pair of classic wall sconces from Limehouse Lamp Company. On the wall is a lovely herringbone tile, while the floors display a modern Carrara marble. I wanted the apartment, as you went through, to have a bit of a journey. So from the living room to the bedroom, it got darker and deeper. In the bathroom was where we went into a pattern, so as you travel through the apartment, there’s a journey with how brave the walls get.”
Contractor: DV Contracting Inc
Workroom: Fernando’s Upholstery and Design
Framer: ROOQ Tribeca
Cushions: Ancient Tartan by Mulberry
Brass faucet: Barber Wilson
Plaid: Shetland Plaid in Heather byMulberry
Vintage sporting goods: Manfred Schotten Antiques
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