I Just … Redid My Rental As If I Owned the Place

Shane Ruth loves a project. Particularly those of the all-consuming, overreaching, endlessly laborious variety. Ruth has spent two decades at Bergdorf Goodman, where he’s now director of visual presentation at the men’s store, and has long worked on its iconic window displays. He draws a distinct line between his job and his home, but his detail-oriented approach carries over to both.

“A lot of my internal workings and mechanisms on how to do things do cross over,” says Ruth. “My work is a lot of assembly and arranging and composition. Those are the key parts of creating a successful window or doing a beautiful interior. Then all of your cleverness and smarts and creativity come into play.”

The major difference when approaching the design of his home was the personal nature of the project. “I really wanted my place to feel like an extension of me,” he says. Though he rents this apartment on a quiet residential stretch of Hell’s Kitchen, Ruth invested in big decorative gestures, celebrating his upgrade to a one-bedroom after ten years spent in a studio. “I did not like walking into my apartment and looking at my bed,” he says. “So I wanted to have another room that had a door I could close to have a separate little sanctuary.”

To counter the prewar apartment’s oversize base and panel molding, Ruth used paint (specifically, Benjamin Moore’s Appalachian Brown in the living room and Steel Wool in the bedroom) as an eraser of sorts. “There’s so much information, I wanted to paint it all one color,” he adds.

It makes for a cleaner backdrop for Ruth’s unique handmade touches. Those include a hand-painted polka-dot ceiling in the main living area, the bespoke woodwork overlay on the kitchen cabinets, and the pentagonal dining table with meticulous geometric inlays; in the bedroom, there’s the customized four-poster side table and a mirrored leather-bound bed of his design.

Then there’s the art—Ruth created a bust and a playful sculpture cast from his own legs for the main room, as well as a painstakingly rendered aerial view of Central Park on a foggy winter day for the bedroom. It looks like a mural but is executed on canvas, so it can go with him when he moves. “There is something in this kind of project that speaks to me and the way I like to approach design,” he says. “Really hands-on, and a little bit too much to take on.”

The painting is by Ruth’s friend Michael Gibson; the hand-carved cane perched above it belonged to Ruth’s great-great-great-grandfather. Ruth hand-painted the ceiling’s polka-dot pattern. “I wanted to make it feel like a starry sky,” he says. “It took me a long time to do.” The graphic rug echoes the motif on the ceiling. The black lacquered chairs are from the design group MOSTE. The bust and plaster-cast legs are both Ruth’s work, made to address a need for something sculptural in the home. “I wanted a contrast to all the rigidity,” he says. Photo: Annie Schlechter

Ruth mounted an old workout shirt that he just couldn’t part with. “I like having the informality of an article of clothing as an art piece,” he says. The light fixture is a pentagon, to echo the shape of the table below; both are Ruth’s design. He had his table fabricated, but upholstered it himself. “I hand-cut every single piece and glued it on,” he says. “I think having something made out of navy leather is really sexy.” The chairs were found at a thrift store in New Jersey and painted in Nutmeat by Fine Paints of Europe. Photo: Annie Schlechter

The kitchen nook is behind floor-to-ceiling curtains. Ruth created the overlay using pieces of birch, then whitewashed everything so the room would appear to recede. Photo: Annie Schlechter

I Just … Redid My Rental As If I Owned the Place