Like most other couples, Pat Dwyer and Chris Pearson have worked out a division of labor over the years. But these two happen to be among the city's best decorative painters: Pearson does the larger-scale stuff, like a ceiling of Maxfield Parrish-esque clouds, and Dwyer does the more delicate work, like the trompe l'oeil monkeys peering down from behind the cornice of the same ceiling.
Decorative painting, painted-furniture conservation, and water gilding may be dying arts, but they're gloriously alive and well in Dwyer's and Pearson's hands. Depending on the requirements of a job, Dwyer and Pearson work alone or together, on-site or out of their home-cum-studio in Chinatown. One of the first challenges of their twelve-year career was faux-bois-ing Rudolf Nureyev's Dakota apartment; other portfolio highlights include gilding a dome for Madonna's Upper West Side digs, wax-troweling the white walls in Manolo Blahnik's midtown boutique, and painting the murals in the Upper West Side bars Prohibition (a Cubist jazz montage) and Vermouth (dancing girls). The couple also specialize in hand-painted wooden floors in original and historical patterns. The Russian geometric patterns at decorator Bunny Williams's country house, for example, are so sumptuous they'd impress czars of any era, imperial to postmodern.
(Pat Dwyer and Chris Pearson, 212-334-3930. Rates depend on the job: approximately $65 an hour for furniture touch-ups, $500 a day for art jobs.)
Designing a spectacular room is in many ways like styling a starlet for an awards ceremony: The perfect form-fitting dress will draw the paparazzi, but it's the jewels that will produce the double take. Philip Crangi is a metalworker who is the genius of the knockout decorative accessory. His creations for hot interior designers like Russell Bush and Richard Lee -- be they custom lamps, chandeliers, andirons, decorative hardware, or tabletop sculptures -- are the domestic-design equivalent of conversation-piece earrings.
Crangi's sensibilities are extravagant both in value and aesthetic, which he describes as "Fabergé meets Jules Verne." His potted-flower sculptures have spiky petals of pearls and semiprecious stones, and their sinuous seaweedlike leaves look like they could eat a lapdog alive. His quirkiness is mirrored in his work environment, which he shares with his sister and business partner, Courtney. Their windowless studio is crammed with branches of coral, racks of antlers, and various beast skulls, bouquets of sea fans, meteorites, and vases -- imagine the cell of a flamboyant monk dwelling below sea level.
Not surprisingly, Crangi has a B.F.A. in jewelry design from the Rhode Island School of Design and trained Ted Muehling in silversmithing. In addition to his jewelry line (available at Borealis and other Steven Alan stores), he has designed tiaras for the artist Mariko Mori and for the recipients of the fashion industry's Venus Awards. For antiques dealer Alan Moss, he creates one-of-a-kind lamps -- one that's an enormous obelisklike quartz crystal, another that's a varnished ostrich egg inspired by thirties French designs. He and his sister also do restoration, specializing in Dinanderie, an unusual technique for lacquering over metal -- an art that's difficult to master, though not always appreciated. It's endangered, Crangi says with a laugh, "by zealous housekeepers trying to polish away what they think is tarnish."
(Philip Crangi, 212-614-9226. Restoration starts at $75 an hour; metalwork starts at $1,000, lamps at $1,000.)
Taffy Dahl modestly describes what she and her husband, Donald Kaufman, do for a living as "making sure the frosting is as good as the cake." In this case, the cake is the room and the frosting the custom paints created for it. Kaufman and Dahl, the hues-who of Donald Kaufman Color, developed their expertise as artists -- he as a color-field painter (his paintings are in the collections of several major museums, including moma), she as a ceramist. And for 25 years the laid-back couple have used their hybrid fine-art sensibility to formulate the ultimate couture paints for their clients. A rainbow of colors infuse every Kaufman paint -- even the whites -- with suggestive nuance. "For Ian Schrager's Delano hotel, Philippe Starck requested milk, which required a touch of violet to suggest that translucence," says Kaufman. "For the J. Paul Getty Fine Arts Center, Richard Meier needed a white that was as bright as possible without losing a balance between warm and cool.
"The same three considerations determine every residential or commercial job we do," Kaufman explains. "Local light, the nature of the space, and the design goals of those who are going to use it." Because the quality of light can change from the lobby to the penthouse in the same building, Dahl and Kaufman always consult on-site, bringing a big black bag filled with thousands of paint chips. Back at their office on a grotty block in the meatpacking district, among a mad-scientist's den of pigment dispensers, assistants mix up samples. Then Kaufman and Dahl return to the site to confirm their hunches or, if need be, tinker with pigments on the spot. For a long, zigzagging hallway, they once did twelve panels of color to reduce the monotonous tunnel feeling, though in general they advocate simplicity. "Every color has to have a good reason to be there," says Kaufman. Recently, Dahl and Kaufman partnered with Suzanne Butterfield, author of one of the three lavish coffee-table books on the Kaufman palette philosophy, to create a pret-a-porter line of chic shades that designers and in-the-know regular folk alike can eat up.
(Donald Kaufman Color, 212-243-2766; distributors, call 800-977-9198 for paint line. Consultation jobs start at $5,000; paint is $40-$70 a gallon.)
When clients long for dare-to-be-different wall finishes and floors, they contact Ivan James of Walls, Inc. James, a Londoner of Guyanan descent, arrived in the U.S. in 1982 and worked by day as an accountant on Wall Street. Then a friend tipped him off to moonlighting gigs taping Sheetrock. Finding that he was a natural for the work and could make more money than at his day job, he founded his own company. James can do fancy wall treatments like Venetian plaster with metallic leaf finishes, as he's done for many of the Zen Palate restaurants, or saturated white-and-blue concrete walls like the ones he created for Tommy Hilfiger's showroom. His most innovative specialty, though, is his customized epoxy floor made with Hydroseal, an industrial sealant used on the underside of the George Washington Bridge and in the Holland Tunnel. The product is such a flexible medium, it can be left clear or mixed with cement or sand. It only needs to be a quarter-inch thick (a standard concrete floor requires four inches); it can be poured on any surface, including Formica; and the finish is so hard that it's scratch- and crackproof. James can color the epoxy or create delightfully surreal effects by layering it with shards of glass, newspaper clippings, even dried fish from Chinatown.
Last month, James got to try out his latest invention for the trendy new restaurant Tao: 6,000 square feet of cerestone, a finish of miniature plastic pebbles that can be custom-colored and is so hard that it sparks when you drag a key across it. "I only sleep three hours a day," James says from his cell phone, rushing to a site. "No is not my kind of word."
(Walls, Inc., 718-277-4765. Walls are $13-$25 a square foot, floors $8-$35 a square foot.)
Upholstery is time-consuming and messy -- even the catalogue houses demand weeks to produce a sofa -- so there aren't many artisans who want to do it anymore, and fewer still who can afford the amount of New York real estate that it requires. But for some, it is a family tradition. Fourteen years ago, Mike Feldman, a Ukrainian immigrant, founded Mike's Pillows -- and now his son Leon Feldman runs the place and in turn is grooming David, his college-age boy, in the business. They make everything custom, in any idiom, from kilim bench cushions to Austin Powers-bright vinyl throw pillows (watertight and perfect for a patio) to old-fashioned down pillows and comforters. Where else can you specify percentages of duck, goose, or eiderdown? Given their adaptability, it's no wonder that the Feldmans have caught the eye of the celebrity set. Mike's Pillows has done specialty work for films (Mickey Blue Eyes), models (Alek Wek), and style icons (Martha Stewart, Randolf Duke). All resting peacefully, no doubt.
(Mike's Pillows, 114 East 1st Street; 212-260-7270. Small patio vinyl pillows are $25; down sleeping pillows start at $70.)
While many New York apartments suffer from lack of light and breathing room, Gisela Stromeyer's sculptural fabric installations can be a miracle cure, making the most uninviting space almost ethereal. Stromeyer comes from a family with four generations of German tent-makers and is the daughter of Peter Stromeyer, the partner of Frei Otto, who pioneered innovations in tensile structures. A onetime professional dancer, Stromeyer came to Manhattan from Konstanz, Germany, in 1987 to study architecture at Pratt and never left. That varied background is evident in her work. "Influenced by my experience with dance, I use forms that flow, that are flexible, that play with light, that acknowledge our craving for softness and sensuality," she explains.
That softness and sensuality manifest themselves in both her aesthetic and her construction. Her line of column lamps -- with evocative names like "Hula Hoop" and "Caterpillar" -- are reminiscent of Noguchi mulberry-paper lamps, yet are made from white spandex fabric with fiberglass hoops and can go into the washing machine. She also does custom installations in homes and offices. Made in three weights of spandex, from sheer to opaque, Stromeyer's "sails" can be used as canopies, as corner focal points, or as room partitions. She has also created several permanent installations over pools, such as the large one at a Manhattan Equinox, that reflect the water, suggesting cloud formations. And all of Stromeyer's sails can be dramatically lit to create different moods -- proving that sometimes it's the nonfunctional aspect of the room that makes it the most inviting.
(Gisela Stromeyer Designs, 212-406-9452; www.stromeyerdesign.com. Column lamps are $1,200 each; rooms start at $1,300.)