Alan Wanzenberg’s Luxury Home Decor Ideas

When Manhattan’s luxury developers want a sure thing, they bring in Alan Wanzenberg. The New York architect’s imprimatur is the gold standard for a clientele that appreciates his emphasis on craftsmanship and understated luxe. “I love the intimacy of residential work,” he says. “It’s so close and personal.”

Alan Wanzenberg in his Manhattan office
Alan Wanzenberg in his Manhattan office. Photography by Rebecca Greenfield

• Luxury can be intangible. It can be a day with nothing to do. It does not require a big budget. If anything, money can be destructive to luxury. I’ve worked for people with 15 Kelly bags in their closets. At some point that becomes a burden. Luxury 
is a sensibility, one that requires discernment.
• The most luxurious project I ever worked on was Maureen and Marshall Cogan’s apartment, which we did in 1993. It was a synthesis of architecture, decorating, and art. That was luxury: a Picasso drawing on a beautifully proportioned wall with a Jean-Michel Frank–inspired sofa.
• In some of the fanciest houses I’ve done, I’ve 
used Noguchi paper lanterns. They look fantastic and cost a couple hundred dollars.

Modern Times

Wanzenberg-designed living room
Warmth and texture in a Wanzenberg-designed living room. Photography by William Abranowicz

• The design industry is seeing an enormous shift, mainly because of technology. In the course of an afternoon, you can go online and look up 101 things. But just because the information is available doesn’t mean you shouldn’t kick the tires. There is no substitute for tactile, direct experience.
• A lot of our younger clients have grown up around design. They’ve got the technological tools to participate in design more exhaustively than my generation. The market is very sophisticated.
• There is tension between two tendencies in design: the proverbial glass box and the more textured, crafted home. I’m in the latter camp. Jed and 
I loved working with craftspeople and seeing the hand of the maker.
• The elasticity of a house is critical. I have clients who want to entertain, but they also want a simpler, smaller home where they can be alone with their kids. It’s like Alice in Wonderland: Can you shrink it down and can you blow it up? That’s where you earn your stripes as an architect.

Deluxe Details

Wanzenberg's intricate detailing
An example of Wanzenberg’s intricate detailing. Photography by Don Freeman

• Bathrooms are the status rooms. They have 
become more spa-like, and the latest upgrades — like quick-draining showers — are so seamless. In two New York apartments, I’ve installed Japanese furo baths, where the water goes right up to the edge and flows over into trench drains around the base of the tub.
• I like to have a tour-de-force room that takes 
your breath away. I designed a living room in Water Mill, New York, where massive pocket doors slide into the walls and the screens pull out. The breeze wafts through the room. It blows your mind.
• Small houses are usually the ones with the big ideas. Think of Philip Johnson’s Glass House, the Eames House, or the home Robert Venturi built for his mother. They’re all tiny but have impact. For a dream client, I would build a jewel box of a house.
Five Upgrades

Noguchi paper lanterns
Noguchi paper lanterns in a West Palm Beach, Florida, home. Photography by Michelle Rose

1. Hardware and doors.
2. Window treatments.
3. A really great paint job.
4. Beautiful wood floors with radiant heat.
5. Great lighting. Today’s miniature LED fixtures make the whole room come alive.
Simple Pleasures

The architect's home
The architect’s home in Costa Rica. Photography Courtesy of Alan Wanzenberg

• When you’re young, you have exuberance for lots of things. As you get older, your preferences narrow. We used to do a lot with materials — the marble inlay that met the marble border that had metal banding, which met the wall, which had a special wenge detail. Today I’m more interested in distilling that down, working with one or two materials.
• I bought a simple home in Costa Rica. It has electricity but no air-conditioning, just shutters. Da Vinci said simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.
Author: Ingrid Abramovitch – Elle Decor


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