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Interviews

Brian Woulfe completes New York Penthouse in just 15 days, from design to install.

design stories x eporta

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Have you ever asked a client for less time to deliver a design? The chances are you probably haven't. Brian Woulfe, the founder of Designed by Woulfe, did just that. Discussions started in the early summer for Brian to design a show-penthouse in New York's Hells Kitchen District. The property, Oskar, was developed by the Moinian Group, who initially approached Brian because of his award-winning designs for private clients in another of their developments, Sky. The penthouse and lifestyle he was to design would cost at least $25,000 a month to rent. Instead of walking away that very day and getting on with the design, Brian said 'I want just three weeks to source, curate and install a very high-end scheme.' At eporta we love a challenge which is why Oskar has been one of our favourite projects to work on this year.

There was a method to his madness. The New York rental market is booming, even though prices are slowly falling. America has been faced with political uncertainty over the last couple of years, meaning many who can afford to buy are choosing to bide their time and see how things play out. Opting instead to rent. Of course, they're wanting the homes they rent to reflect their aspirational lifestyle, even if they don't own them. Whether they are there for 6 months or two years the apartment should feel like an investment.

One of the important things I wanted to achieve, along with the developer, was the understanding that anyone renting a luxury penthouse in Manhattan has made a decision that they want to rent something really special, something aspirational. - Brian Woulfe

Having done his research Brian understood the client and the market offering. Firstly, the client, was a working professional, working in law, finance or business. Brian's experience along with those of his clients demonstrated that time poor wealthy renters settled for the easiest option to furnish their apartments. A furniture pack. "The clientele renting this kind of penthouse don't have the time to go and create the space themselves. They save time buy just purchasing a furniture package, or they go into one store and ask them to kit out the whole apartment. It doesn’t make financial sense for them to waste time waiting for furniture."

Brian believed that a designer could curate and deliver a top spec scheme – suitable to the individual – in just three weeks. This wasn't a magic trick Brian knew it was possible. To do so, he needed to rally his extensive network of suppliers and designers.

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There was a two-pronged approach. Firstly he needed to shy away from his normal sourcing process. Used to taking a highly tailored approach to product selection, with the use of customised and bespoke items, he needed to focus on items that were in stock. The second aspect was to hire a partner who could help with the supplier reach out, logistics and installation. This is where the eporta procurement team stepped in. With the ability to approach any supplier on the market, as well as having to hand over 1,200 suppliers from the platform, we were in a position to make things happen quickly.

One element of Brian's design approach he wasn't willing to forgo, was personality.

I never like to produce something that feels staged. It should feel like a space someone wants to live in, it needs to feel comfortable. This means injecting a little bit of personality and playfulness into a scheme.

Many designers in Brian's position would air on the side of caution when creating a show penthouse, designing a blank canvas that potential clients could imprint themselves onto. However, Brian really understood that the client was making a choice to rent, they hadn't made a decision out of necessity, and they wanted a space that still reflected their individuality no matter how long for. With thousands of properties available in New York, this injection of personality would also set Oskar apart from other developments.

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The brief to Brian was simply to do what he did best. The developers trusted him, having seen his designs before. This is also why they agreed to take the plunge and give Brian just three weeks to deliver the scheme in time for a launch party on November 5th. With no set brief as such, other than to design a high-end luxury apartment within a ridiculously tight time frame, we asked Brian what his inspiration for the project was.

I went into it with an open mind. I'd normally have a really strong idea of what I wanted. But on this occasion, I had to be led by what was available and kind of let the scheme reveal itself to me.

This was seemingly one of the hardest parts of the process for Brian. The timeframe wasn't an issue, like most designers he's used to clients wanting things done quickly. But the selection of products was out of his hands to a degree. He just hoped that what was available could be curated into a cohesive design.

There were several layers to the design and sourcing process. Working out the fundamental elements of the scheme first with the floor plans to hand, such as the dining table the sofa's for the living room, the bed for the master suite and so on. "I sent that information to a list of suppliers I knew would have stock items such as Fritz Hansen and Flexform. They would pull together a list of appropriate items and from this, I would create a priority order on which items I wanted."

Fritz Hansen Swan Chair
The Vesey side table by Naula
Fritz Hansen Swan Chair
The Vesey side table by Naula

Brian would then revise the plans, mapping out various options to see which worked best reconfiguring the rooms until settling on a core layout. These items were then ordered which is where Brian says eporta really came into their own by "liaising with suppliers and doing the legwork to arrange specifications and deliveries." When making his selections, Brian specified congruent finishes. No matter the supplier he decided on satin chrome detailing and marble. It soon became apparent that another thread was developing in his selection, a geometric architectural aesthetic was evolving. So having decided on the core elements, he continued this theme with side tables and accessories that emphasised these notes.

Bonnet Pouf by Casalis
The Lily Cocktail Table by Tom Faulkner
Bonnet Pouf by Casalis
The Lily Cocktail Table by Tom Faulkner

The scheme was missing something though, it was important that the apartment suited its locale. Hell's Kitchen, New York, is a melting pot of cultured activity. Situated next to the theatre district, it hosts an around the world tour of cuisine. Argentinian restaurants sit next to Japanese ramen, Korean next to Cuban. It's also incredibly well connected to the rest of Manhattan and nearby Soho. The bustling streets of Hell's Kitchen highlighted to Brian the need for the scheme to feel like both a tranquil hideaway and a personality infused penthouse. The client didn't move to this part of town for the mundane.


Once again Brian returned to his little, well actually rather large, black book of design contacts to find some local talent. A suggestion by close friend and acclaimed furniture designer Tom Faulkner, who actually supplied several key pieces for the apartment, put Brian in touch with Facture. Based in Brooklyn, Facture design and make amazing pieces from resin. From artwork to side tables, they play with the graduation of colours, light and translucency. The bold artwork you see below is by them and soon became Brian's favourite find for the penthouse. There were small elements of blue strategically placed throughout the scheme, from the armchairs to the rugs. These all seemed to evolve into a crescendo of colour on the wall. Brian doesn't have much more to say about the piece other than- "it's simply stunning".

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With minimal time to pause for thought, it wasn't until three days before the launch party that Brian and eporta flew out to install. Prepared for the normal furore of installation, and sadly the often inevitable issues that arise on site, Brian was shocked by the state of calm that ensued. “It was just this frantic three weeks and then this surreal two days of calm. It was all installed seamlessly which for me was amazing, it's not often that this happens on a design.”

This was also the first time that he had seen all the items he'd curated altogether in the space.

Of course, I had a personal moment of oh my god I hope this looks ok!

But as the sunset on the first day of installation Brian said, "I looked around the apartment, and I just said ok, this is this is going to be good. It really feels like a penthouse." From talking with him, Brian didn't doubt his selections or ability to pull the scheme together. Instead, it was the principle of what he was doing that gave him a fleeting moment of doubt, paired with the realisation that what he'd set out to do was possible.

"I think that this apartment goes to show you can create an amazing design within a short space of time. And to both developers and renters, that renting doesn't mean compromising for convenience and settling on a second-rate design. I’m really proud of what we've designed.”

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On the back of this project, Brian is already in discussions for future projects with the Moinian Group, and other developers in New York. Brian highlights that he was no lone wolf on this project (pardon the pun). It was his ability to trust and have confidence in his network of peers and suppliers that helped deliver a great scheme. "You sometimes have to have blind faith that you can make it work. Work with suppliers you trust and be open with them from the start about deadlines and expectations. Trust them to help you and then be bold in your decisions. Knowing that you can pull together a show-stopping scheme from what is available is half the battle."

We asked Brian to describe the space in three words, "Calm, inviting, and curated." he went on to explain-

I say curated because it almost feels like an exhibition space. Every wall is white and it means that no matter what item you put next to it looks like a photograph. The space balances a feeling of being edited, yet relaxed and lived in.

Simply put, we couldn't agree more.

The eporta Procurement team are always on hand to help deliver great design, from sourcing to installation they'll make the process hassle-free. Get in touch today with any upcoming projects you'd like to discuss.

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