The very large and vocal response to my critique of a house in a design magazine took me by surprise. To me, it was just a little Saturday afternoon rant – to you, it struck a chord. I didn’t name the magazine or the designer on purpose, because it wasn’t my intent to “out” anyone or to put them down either – just to have some snarky fun. But rather, it was supposed to be a lesson in design 101 – something all of us can use reminders of. Still, concentrating on the negative feeds more negativity. So, instead of all that – let’s look at what I DO like coming from this design magazine in the last few months. One of my personal favorites was the story of the NYC pied a terre of Alessandra Branca. But of course I would love her apartment – I had named Branca to my Top Ten Designers list here. I adore everything she touches. Branca’s design style is the antithesis of edgy. She uses classic fabrics – preferring stripes and linens and damasks and toiles. She favors a symmetrical placement of furniture and lamps and paintings. She likes to use black and red as accents – and it does seem that almost every room she designs has both colors in it. The most “out there” thing I’ve ever seen her do is use an oversized lighting fixture! Branca has a look – a room designed by her is instantly recognizable. But, that’s what I like about her – her signature style. I love stripes and damasks and symmetry. I love black and red accents and I adore antique chinoiserie – so I would love her work. Branca is not trendy – she doesn’t use ikats or suzanis because they are in – in fact I’m not sure I’ve ever seen her use either. Rather, she sticks to what she loves and she has been consistent throughout the years – her designs don’t date because classic doesn’t date. Branca’s work is certainly worth the price of a magazine – it’s money for something. This story appeared in the May 2009 Elle Decor.
Branca was born in Rome and still maintains a house there, but she lives in Chicago where she runs her design business and a decor shop. This apartment is her get away place for work and shopping trips in NYC. The apartment is just over 1,000 ft. and is located on the second floor of a townhouse. With just two rooms, Branca chose to turn the bedroom into a library/dining area/office to greet clients and, in turn, a small dressing room became the bedroom. The main room is rather large and features all the design elements that Branca loves: black & red, lanterns, damask, stripes, paisley, chinoiserie, and antiques. She divided the room into three different sitting areas. The main sitting area features a sleeper sofa – for visiting children – and is covered in a beige linen-velvet. Two adjacent painted Italian armchairs wear red and white Fortuny and red and white stripes. The sofa is placed directly across from the fireplace - which is in the middle of the room. An antique settee flanks one side of the fireplace. On the other side is an upholstered banquette, used for dining. Between the high windows – perfectly balanced is a large chinoiserie armoire in reds and blacks. A little short, Branca lengthens the visual line by topping the armoire with gorgeous apothecary bottles, set off against a red tribal African hat. Notice the lantern – she put whimsical red shades trimmed in black onto the candles. Wall to wall seagrass covers the entire apartment, creating a sedate backdrop to all the color pops of reds and blacks.
The middle section of the large room is anchored by a black and gold chinoiserie screen and the custom made sleeper sofa in linen velvet. Red and white pillows play off the red and white Fortuny covering the painted Italian arm chairs. A red Oriental coffee table finishes the vignette. Notice the lamp shades here – covered in antique pieces of paisley – another favorite fabric of Branca’s.
To the left of the fireplace is the custom made banquette upholstered in beige and white damask – perfectly matching the wall color. The pillows repeat the red and white Fortuny covered chairs next to the sleeper sofa. More black chinoiserie is found in this coffee table. And even more black shows up in the antique English spoon back chair. Above the banquette are a series of botanicals painted by Branca’s mother, a well know Italian artist. Notice how perfectly the size of the botanicals are for the space. The oversized black pedestal holding the Oriental jar is a trademark of Branca’s as are the red silk lampshades. I love this corner of the room – a more perfect visual arrangement would be hard to imagine!
This picture shows Branca perched on the antique settee found on the right side of the fireplace. Upholstered in a typical Branca stripe, the settee sits under a large collection of red seals, framed in black.
The fireplace – with the banquette on the left and the settee on the right is the focal point of the living room. Large oxblood vases balance out an ornate mantel clock, while two benches provide extra setting.
The bedroom became a library/office/dining room – more functional for Branca and her husband. The shelves are lined in red and are filled with red and black accessories. The desk – an 18th century antique doubles as a dining table when needed. I love how Branca utilized the space the way she needed it, not how it was expected to be used.
The long, narrow dressing room became the bedroom. Branca designed all the bedding and curtains, using linen in creams and red and white stripes. The striped fabric walls give the space a tent like effect reminiscent of another era. A canopy helps make the room appear wider and turns the custom designed daybed into a focal point. I love the clock!!! Behind the bed, is a comfortable chair piped in red – of course! and a desk.
The outdoor space was fixed up by Branca to enlarge her living area. The space was enclosed with black trellis and red wood furniture was added along with bright blue Madelyn Weinrib rugs. The table is covered in a Bennison linen.
To see more of Branca’s beautiful designs, be sure to visit her web site here. I sincerely hope this expertly designed apartment has helped to restore your faith in magazines’ ability to sometimes get it right!!!! The truth is, we bloggers depend on magazines to provide us with the beautiful photographs we show you day after day. Yes, we do also show original work here by designers in Houston and others who send in their work to share – but the vast majority of images come from the expensive photoshoots that magazines have to pay for. One comment sent in by a local scout asks that we be more sympathetic to magazines’ plight. The bad economy has hit their industry hard and advertising revenues are drying up. The scout said we should think about subscribing to a year’s worth to help fill their coffers in order to help the situation. Not a bad idea I think. So while magazines have to gain our trust and our loyalty, we also owe them a thanks for many years of pleasure! If we didn’t care, we wouldn’t be lamenting all the losses of this past year.