Howard Slatkin, an interior designer with rarefied tastes—every inch of his apartment has been as custom-designed as a couture dress—and rarefied clients (so much so he would rather keep them private), doesn’t seem like the type to head off into the woods in search of creative renewal. No, his “Outward Bound” experience, as he calls it, took place fourteen stories above Central Park. “I was definitely looking for what I think in the real-estate business is called the ‘handyman special,’ ” Slatkin says, describing the 6,000-square-foot residence on Fifth Avenue he created for himself in the mid-nineties by joining two apartments, then demolishing every room so he could start from scratch. The process took three years.
Slatkin had lived in a postwar building on the Upper East Side, in a boxy modern apartment that provided a convenient location for business but scant inspiration. “I wasn’t willing to move and start that odyssey until I could afford to get the apartment of my dreams,” he says. Those dreams included the following nonnegotiable requirements: a Fifth Avenue location, park views, 6,000 square feet, and eleven-foot-high ceilings.
The building is a classic prewar, as were the two apartments he took over, but now, the minute you step off the elevator, you are folded back even further in time, into a world where comfort and elegance reign. The hallway seems lit by the moon, with eighteenth-century sconces throwing off just enough light to vaporize any stress from the city streets below. The boiserie-lined rooms are filled with flowers, an important collection of art, and tablescapes sculpted with porcelain objets and other bibelots. Underlying all this beauty is a strict regime of housekeeping. The table settings for flawless dinner parties are photographed and kept in albums for reference. The guest-room closet comes fully outfitted with clothes and other necessities, just in case the airline temporarily loses your luggage en route to New York.
It’s a rarefied world, all right, but also one that is designed very much to be lived in. “It means nothing if something is beautiful but doesn’t age beautifully and isn’t easy to maintain,” says Slatkin, whose work for clients is seldom in the public eye. “When you look at these buildings, they are all secret societies. You never get a chance to see what the great ones look like. I think it is almost like New York’s great mystery.”