A Fresh Perspective
With views of the New York City skyline (yup, you read that right) and Long Island Sound, this Greenwich penthouse gives even the chicest Park Avenue apartment a run for its money, and its new resident, Kimberly Blue, a new lease on life.
Photograph by Hulya Kolabas
On a Friday afternoon in mid-January when the weather gods can’t seem to decide on rain, sleet or snow flurries, and when the clouds have amassed in ominous clusters sliced through by rays of sunshine reminiscent of a Turner painting, Kimberly Blue is enthusiastically guiding her visitor on a tour of her new home, a 2,500-square-foot penthouse tucked onto the top two floors of a brick building just off Putnam Avenue’s peak. The chestnut-haired sprite is buoyant, animated by the deliberate serenity of her new aerie, which, with its modern glamour and judiciously chosen contents, is a metaphor for her life at this moment: dramatic change in every direction.
After a warm greeting in a tiny foyer into which one steps directly off the elevator, she leads her guest to a sunken living room that evokes the chic interior of a classic-six on upper Fifth Avenue with an envy-inducing view of Central Park. The vista visible from this living room, however, is arguably an even more magical one.
“No one can build above this building,” she explains as she pulls back the luxuriant draperies that dress a southwest-facing window, eagerly offering her tourist a pair of binoculars she keeps at the ready.
Indeed, after tumbling over some nearby treetops and an occasional roof, the eye travels to a distant cityscape of astonishing clarity, silvery silhouettes of the Manhattan skyline rendered in miniature—the Citicorp building, the Chrysler building, the Empire State—and crowded onto an invisible little island that rises out of the metallic flat of the East River and New York Harbor beyond.
The distance Kimberly has put between herself and that island—and the high-pressure hustle it represents—is symbolic of the miles she has traveled in the last twelve months. After twenty-four years on Wall Street, where she rose to the rank of managing director at two prestigious investment banks, she has left that world—and her black pantsuits and Manolo Blahniks—behind in order to start a new venture, with Greenwich gallery owner Zorianna Altomaro, that she says marries her creativity and her business acumen and combines the worlds of history and art in a new context.
“I knew it was time to embark on a new journey, one which would allow me to explore areas of creative interest,” she says. “I decided that the only way to do so would be to dramatically change my current life, which meant selling my home, leaving a wonderful career and taking the leap into an undefined new world.”
Designing a New Life
Kimberly moved to Greenwich after having spent ten years in an old shingle-style, center-hall colonial in Fairfield’s Greenfield Hill, a house from which, as an aerial photograph that hangs in her current dining room shows, she could not see a single neighbor. There, in January of 2010, she found a note in her mailbox from a couple who asked that she contact them should she ever want to sell. She didn’t need another sign.
“It was synchronicity that I found this place,” she says. “It always takes a catalyst to move out of a comfort zone, a nudge to confront the next door and decide whether to go through it or not.”
Ten months later, she’d sold the house—and most of its contents, a transaction she found “liberating”—found the penthouse and hired interior designer Tiffany Eastman of Stamford to design it. She moved out of the house in Greenfield Hill and into a cottage owned by friends where she waited for Tiffany to bring the vision of her future to life, through furniture, fabrics, wall coverings, and objects.
“Tiffany was able to see the bones through the mess,” says Kimberly, adding that the late ’80s ballooning draperies with their elaborate swags and jabeaus, the mahogany kitchen cabinets, and the floral wallpaper made her feel “claustrophobic.”
“It was Waverly times a thousand,” adds Tiffany. “The attack of the flowers.”
It was not the first time the two had collaborated. For five years, Kimberly worked with Tiffany in decorating her home in Greenfield Hill, a place where her more traditional milieu consisted largely of an unfussy mix of French and English antiques and maritime oil paintings.
The two say their tastes have evolved on parallel tracks from classic and traditional to classic with a modern twist. Together they edited Kimberly’s furniture collection down to a few choice pieces—a Sheridan sideboard, an English grandfather clock with gold finials, a duo of Regency chairs, a pair of bedside chests—and supplemented them with mostly new furniture, carpets, vintage objects and other pieces she’d found at antiques shops from South Carolina to Maine—a gilded head of Buddha, alabaster lamps, driftwood tables, and a gilt mask one would see at Carnevale in Venice.
“We wanted to give this space a little shimmer but not make it too glitzy,” says Tiffany. “So we chose a soft metallic theme that you don’t tire of.”
The palette of icy blues, soft grays, muted silvers, and brushed golds is evident everywhere you look: in linen draperies that glint with a metallic finish; in the mirrored bar that houses stereo equipment as well as liquor bottles; in delicate mesh draperies the color of zinc; in the gold-leafed chandelier that hangs in the “tower room” where Kimberly pages through the Times over a cup of coffee; and in the soothing hues she chose for the walls and ceilings, many of them custom blends.
“My personality is a combination of classic elegance and a bit of glamour—a little ‘jzuhjz,’” says Kimberly, channeling the sound of something Zsa Zsa Gabor would say.
The job was not without its challenges. The building has no proper stairwell for moving furniture and its only elevator offers a mere eighty-four inches of height. The staircase to the apartment’s second floor features a particularly tricky corner, and the several weeks of installations in the winter of 2010/2011 were some of the snowiest in Connecticut’s history.
“That sofa came within a quarter-inch of its life,” says Tiffany. “So we got creative.”
Several of the custom pieces can be dissembled into smaller parts, and a large mirror that leans against a wall in the living room rests on a removable stand that gave the movers a bit of wiggle room. In addition, on the second floor, where the hallway makes a ninety-degree turn, Tiffany avoided putting a seam in the runner by having it cut from the perimeter of the carpet she had chosen for the guest room. The result is a continuity between the two spaces that also protects inhabitants from tripping.
“There’s not a level wall and there’s no symmetry,” says Tiffany. “Everything is left of center and so we had to fudge a lot.”
Overcoming that lack of alignment and oddly shaped spaces seems to be Tiffany’s strength. Though the threshold to the living room, which is flanked by fluted columns left over from the previous owner’s renovation, is not centered on the fireplace, she was able to produce a sense of balance by establishing an alternate axis between the fireplace and the sofa. And to compensate for the fact that the room leans to the left, perhaps because of the seductive views available from its windows, Tiffany anchored the right corner of the room with a bench with rolled arms and an abstract painting by local artist Kerri Rosenthal.
In what was a narrow and spare sunroom covered with an awkward atrium roof, Tiffany hung floor-to-ceiling sheers on a track that travels the length of the room and behind the tufted and ribbed gray-velvet settee. The sheers soften the space while providing cover from harsh sunlight—“it can really bake in here,” Kimberly says—and create a billowing if not intriguing passage between the apartment’s spacious private deck, which affords a view of three soaring church spires at one time, and its interior quarters.
Despite the apartment’s quirks, its decoration required very few structural changes, with the exception of the powder room on the first floor, which Kimberly gutted. Now warmed by a gray paint with a lustrous patina that suggests the texture of silk, it features a Hudson pearl-marble sink basin on a metal stand and a white Thassos marble tile floor arranged in a herringbone pattern.
To brighten up the kitchen, a narrow alley with a breakfast area on one end, Tiffany suggested painting the dark cabinets a doveish white and replacing the emerald-green granite countertop with a milky Carrera marble. For a matching backsplash, she found petite subway tiles that not only impart a feminine touch but also show her eye for scale.
“I can’t tell you how many tiles I went through to match this slab,” says Tiffany. “I am obsessively meticulous.”
The home offers an abundance of sensual vignettes that make the connection between aesthetic beauty and quiet contentment, gracious little spaces that soothe the soul with the tranquility that derives from thoughtful appointments in serene surroundings.
The “tower room,” where Kimberly reads her morning paper, is a jewel box of a space that juts out from the footprint of the rest of the penthouse and feels as though it is floating above the ground below. With its vaulted ceiling and six arched windows—two on each of its three walls—it’s a room where Kimberly says she feels like Rapunzel. Tiffany ebonized a pair of Regency chairs and accessorized the windows with sheers that enhance the floating effect. A glass-topped Guéridon table with a gold-leafed bezel and legs serves as a delicate complement to the chairs and echoes the patina of the chandelier.
Though she has thrown several successful cocktail parties, Kimberly says she has not yet mastered the art of the complete dinner party. But when she eventually figures it out, the dining room is ready. Arranged to facilitate comfortable conversation for a gathering of six, it is an intimate space that feels like a dark cave where you might be persuaded, with the help of a goblet of fine red Burgundy, to impart your most closely held secrets.
Finished in a charcoal-gray Venetian plaster whose painterly strokes are reflected in a soffitted ceiling finished in a hand-painted, one-of-a-kind plaster crosshatch, it centers on a highly polished round table surrounded by high-backed chairs that are upholstered and skirted in a heavy gauge poly-cotton. Little polished-nickel hoops adorn the backs of the chairs and mirror the swoops of a contemporary glass chandelier. A large mirror, whose frame is encrusted in delicate, opalescent seashells, adds to the room’s luster.
“I had a panic attack when I unpacked that mirror,” says Tiffany. “I have to admit I brought my glue gun.”
Fostering the Future
When she’s not working out in her upstairs gym or taking in the view from one of her many windows, Kimberly says she finds sanctuary in her bedroom, a seemingly soundproof place located on the first floor. It is arrayed in pillows and awash in shades of white. The mirror-fronted armoire features delicate fretwork; outfitted with a padded seat, large windows admit natural light; and a luxurious bed with an upholstered headboard embellished with nail-heads promises a restful sleep. One wall is dedicated to built-in shelving that showcases objects that appear to be precious: a still life of voluptuous roses; a large conch shell; a childhood portrait of Kimberly wearing white gloves; a rare cluster of coral.
“You need a retreat from the world outside,” says Tiffany. The quiet contemplation the room seems to encourage is underscored by a subtle flourish that Kimberly is eager to point out.“Wait until you see this,” she says as she coaxes her guest into her bathroom, a twinkling smile on her face.
In the vanity mirror that hangs above the sink appears the reflection of a tapered church spire that is visible through the window on the opposite wall.
“Isn’t that amazing?” she asks.
Having new lodging has enabled Kimberly to indulge another budding interest: a passion for art. To complement a collection that already includes several seascapes under moody skies, as well as a pair of portraits of whimsical imps from a series by Steven Hopwood-Lewis entitled “Heroes,” and that she calls “Judgment” and “Grace,” she has been drawn to a handful of contemporary Ukrainian artists whose work possesses a striking otherworldliness.
In the dining room hangs a canvas by Valeriy Skrypka that depicts a boy releasing butterflies from his hands; in the powder room there is a portrait of a woman whom Kimberly says is “leaving her past behind and embracing her future” by Mykola Zhuravel, an artist-beekeeper who mixes honeycombs into his works; in her bedroom there is a luminous angel also by Skrypka; and in the guest room on the second floor, an etching by Kiev-born Oleksiy Fedorenko entitled “Little Flora,” which features a young girl from whose head is sprouting a flowering stalk.
“She’s dreaming of the future,” says Kimberly.
Little Flora may not be the only female in this house imagining a happy road ahead.
In Kimberly’s bedroom hangs her proudest—and perhaps most provocative— acquisition of all: a white and gold hand grenade emblazoned with the prescription, “Sweet Dreams.”
It seems she’s already stepped through that next door.