In the sweep of an eye, classics like an electric blue Arne Jacobsen egg chair, a Corbu LC-6 dining table and two yellow eye-poppers (original 1970s chairs by French superstar Pierre Poulin) jump out. Neal cleverly uses his showpieces as punctuation marks for an otherwise neutral setting. To impart an edgier, 21st- century tone, his Donghia seating offers seductive up-to-date lines. But the bones of his living room—a famous AI (Atelier International) brown leather sofa—is laid-back, masculine and built for comfort.
“I’ve always liked 20th-century furniture, and I’m impressed by the quality and selection now available in
Robert Neal came to
Neal formed a partnership with designer Bob Beardsworth that soon expanded their business from
By the late 1980s, Neal had sold his East Hampton house and was living in a home in
Inside and out, the building’s architecture reminds him of a cruise ship, and with eight round-the-world cruises under his belt, he should know. Neal has made 10 trips to
Ten stories up, Neal’s home in the sky appears to be nearly surrounded by water. The terrace is curved like the bow of a ship; the kitchen’s coffered ceiling bears a similarly angled arch, walls jut in several directions cruise-ship style, and a round window mimics a porthole in a marbled bath. But Neal’s mementos are the antithesis of kitschy souvenirs. Works of art, architectural remnants and rare examples of native craftsmanship are strategically placed for maximum impact.
“During years of travel I have been influenced by Asian design,” Neal says, “and frequently I use artifacts from Bali and
In the entry hall, a Cambodian Buddha is juxtaposed with a whimsical contemporary console, the Asian antique an interesting counterpoint to a setting that also includes a 1940s landscape by French artist Mildred Bendall. “I bought the painting in
Completing the foyer vignette are a gallery-lit fragment of a column salvaged from a home in Central Java and an antique rug (in surprisingly fashion-right tones of aqua and chocolate brown) that Neal found in Tibet. “I had a tough time carrying that rug around the world, but it was worth it,” he says.
From the hall, Neal’s starkly simple dining room, with its 100-year-old Cormandel screen, comes into view. Once again, an Asian antique is used to soften straightforward contemporary design, this time a Le Corbusier table deliberately embellished only by a Steuben glass bowl. While Neal says he loves the look of Steuben (“I like the fact that it is clear and plain”), his glass collection is quite diverse.
A flower-encrusted vase (circa 1942) by Murano’s Barovier & Toso sits beside a Steuben bowl on an oversized oak coffee table. And on the living room’s white lacquer Cappellini storage unit, next to a hand-painted gazelle he toted back from
The master suite holds more treasures: a 1940 Matisse monoprint signed by the artist in the plate, a sacred cow from India, a Chinese chest, a quilt made from Ikat fabric brought back from Bali, pillows covered in silk the designer purchased in India. They contrast with a natural ash bed custom made by Dakota Jackson, an Eero Saarinen womb chair from Knoll and a lamp by Jean-Michel Frank, leader of Parisian design from the 1930s until his death in 1941.
In Neal’s combination office-guest room, a metal sculpture from the ’60s hangs over the bed. “It’s funny; I recently saw one just like it in a design magazine.” Neal says. Although the Arne Jacobsen Swan chair and Wormley bedside table come as no surprise, the steel engravings by David Roberts (circa 1846) hanging in the guest bathroom are a serendipitous delight.
Neal says he made no changes to the residence other than to paint the walls and add glass mosaic tiles to the kitchen backsplash and master bath. “A lot of the condos in this building were bought on spec,” he says, “so I’m lucky no one lived in this one before.” And he maintains he was just as lucky that the layout worked so well with his things. With his carefully orchestrated interiors and incisively honed collections, we say, luck indeed.
Making Modern Work
Integrate styles: Neal’s comfortable and up-to-date contemporary furnishings are accented by mid-century design icons.
Offbeat walls: Sidestep predictable white. Neal likes unusual color combinations; celadon and grayed white in the great room, loden green in the master suite.
Asian Influences: Neal spikes his contemporary interiors with Asian antiques and artifacts.
Travel memoirs: Indigenous fabrics, rugs, artifacts and artwork picked up in foreign lands personalize and soften hard-edged design.
Organic element: Neal grows orchids and places them strategically throughout the home. Their simplicity enhances the Asian Zen of his rooms.
Use restraint: Rather than fill a whole house with mid-century modern, use it sparingly for maximum impact. With clever juxtaposition, modernist pieces work with any décor.