We would look up into the sky,” remembers Isabel Toledo, “and see this beautiful temple.” She’s talking about the midtown Manhattan loft space in which she and her husband, Ruben, now live, but could only gaze at from the pavement as they walked home from work in 1995. After spying the apartment again while house-hunting across the street, they secured their dream the same year.
When the Toledos finally entered the space, it looked more like a flophouse than the light-filled sanctuary of theirdreams. “It was like archaeology working on this place,” Isabel says. The 300-square-foot upstairs room was originally divided into three, with a dropped ceiling that covered half the giant windows. Moldy carpeting smothered the magnificent terrazzo floors. And the skylit great room below looked “dark, dungeony, basement-like,” says Isabel with a shudder. It took the couple nine months to reveal the apartment’s beautiful bones. Then they filled it with an organic collection of inherited furniture and their own artwork.
The Toledos’ fates have been intertwined since their families fled Cuba separately in the late sixties, and the couple ended up attending the same high school in New Jersey. Isabel became a fashion designer whose eponymous clothing line is followed by everyone from Karl Lagerfeld to Paper magazine editor Kim Hastreiter. Ruben started out doing windows for Fiorucci, was discovered by Andy Warhol and Keith Haring, and now paints and does commissions—a mural for Tiffany & Co., a perfume bottle for Estée Lauder, a Website for Nordstrom. Together, they have established the ideal live-work situation: Isabel takes the elevator down to her workrooms on the lower floors, while Ruben spreads out his paintings beneath the skylight upstairs.
A penthouse disguised as a dingy basement has been restored to its former glory by the vision of two artists who simply went with their gut. “I need to feel space above my head.” Isabel gestures with her hands over her head. “I need to feel the sky is the limit. Literally!”
(1.) Originally, there was a small loft area above the kitchen. Ruben and Isabel extended it to accommodate a balcony for Ruben’s bookshelves and a sleeping area. Both the mezzanine bookshelves and the remodeled kitchen below were designed by Philip Cozzi.
(2.) The Hula Hoops
Used by Isabel for exercise.
Where Ruben works on an upcoming book of his artwork, to be published this fall by Karl Lagerfeld and Steidl, as well as illustrated advertising for clients.
(1.) The Lamp Shade
Painted by Ruben and used in a Barneys New York window displaying Isabel’s clothes.
By Chris Lehrecke, whose furniture is available through Ralph Pucci International.
(3.) The Cactus
A part of the family, and something of a guard dog. When Woody Allen used the loft as a location for his film Melinda and Melinda, the one thing the crew was asked not to do was move it. They ignored the warning. The cactus retaliated by falling on one of the stars, sending her to the emergency room.
(4.) The Skylight
Comes with amazing views of the Empire State Building.
(5.) The Paintings
Are all by Ruben. This watercolor is a study of a grasshopper Isabel found last summer on their garden terrace.
(6.) The Easels
A hand-me-down collection given to Ruben by friends.
(7.) The Mannequins
Display Isabel’s designs-in-progress.
(1.) The Window
Added by the Toledos and designed by Philip Cozzi.
(2.) The Collage
Made by Ruben from Isabel’s hair cuttings.
(3.) The Streetlights
A gift from a friend, they came from the Watergate Hotel in Washington.
(4.) The Screens
Originally designed by Ruben for the Toledos’ friend Anneliese Estrada, and retrieved when she moved.
(1.) The Watercolors
Ceramic teapots, painted by Ruben for a series of fantasy home-design products.
(2.) The Door Frame
Was concealed by an ugly metal door when the Toledos moved in.
(3.) The Iron Railing
Original to the loft.
(4.) The Mannequin
Designed by Ruben for Ralph Pucci International. He painted the graffiti later.
(1.) The Table and Chairs
A gift from the late illustrator Antonio Lopez, as is the console by the wall.
(2.) The Chair Jackets
Designed by Isabel to hide the scratches of the previous owner’s cats, they’re like little vests that slip over the chairs.