In a Upper East Side Apartment, Tibetan Artifacts created an amazing contemplative mood in a fabulous apartment. Juan Montoya was the designer in charge of this relaxing but exciting project.
A designer who maintains a relationship with a client over 25 years is likely to see his client’s life, and home, undergo a number of changes. When Juan Montoya and Alice Kandell first met in the early 1980s, Montoya was a beginning designer whose bold use of unexpected materials instantly captured Kandell’s imagination.
With her sons grown and long on their own, Kandell recently invited Montoya back to her apartment and asked him to reconceive it for her present needs. With a passionate interest in Tibetan art.
Montoya, for his part, was delighted to return to the apartment. It consists of parts of two floors in a Rosario Candela building that show only traces of Candela’s trademark elegant prewar detailing. In addition, they are not configured like most duplexes: Upstairs there is the penthouse, with a large living room, an adjoining library and kitchen and a spacious, contiguous roof garden; the space downstairs is not directly under the penthouse but in a different line altogether.
The eccentricities of the apartment provided Montoya just the kind of prodding that can bring out calibrations of special flair in an experienced designer. In the living room, for instance, where the greenhouse window enclosed a raised platform anchored by a single supporting column, Montoya simply added a second, nonsupporting column, clad both in honey-stained anegre and centered the piano between them.
Another element involved taking a pedestrian hallway and transforming it into a dramatic portal that now invites a visitor into the library. On one side of the hall, Montoya fitted out a swank new granite-and-mirror bath; on the other, he designed a niche to house one of Kandell’s many gilt Buddhas. Then, in the library beyond, where the granite floor continues and the fabrics, as in the living room, are carefully neutral, a 19th-century Tibetan thangka sends out a flame of color and pattern, a jolt of visual energy that animates the environment.
This juxtaposition of the streamlined and the neutral with the colorful and the complex characterizes Montoya’s work throughout the apartment, though it is most dramatically demonstrated downstairs. Here Montoya had a specific consideration. For decades now Kandell has been building a very specialized, very beautiful collection of Tibetan artifacts in wood, fabric and gilt bronze.
Montoya rose comfortably to the challenge of helping Kandell find a way to protect and show her collection. He created an intimate, crisp white vestibule. One direction leads to Kandell’s similarly crisp bedroom retreat; the other leads to the sons’ former bedrooms, now reconfigured into a two-part cocoon. The first room houses the study; the second the collection itself. The walls in both are painted a deep red. Stepping into them is like stepping into Aladdin’s cave or a cabinet of curiosities enlarged to walk-in scale. The rugs, the cushions, the painted furniture, the thangkas, the Buddhas, the prayer books, all exquisitely lit and meticulously arranged.
For Montoya, working with Kandell on this project was a splendid opportunity. “Many people collect treasures,” he says, “and they don’t know what to do with them. Not Alice. In this collection you feel her excitement for a vast and fascinating world. She is a little bit obsessed and a lot in love.”