Step Inside a Sophisticated and Family-Friendly Manhattan Home by Rafael de Cárdenas

Step Inside a Sophisticated and Family-Friendly Manhattan Home by Rafael de Cárdenas

  • Jordan Hoch
  • 08/8/23

Still only in his 40s, designer Rafael de Cardenas has already amassed an impressive and slick portfolio that includes a Madison Avenue flagship for Baccarat, an English estate’s soaring pool pavilion with a pair of corkscrew waterslides, and an ultrahip showroom for boho-chic fashion designer Ulla Johnson. But could de Cárdenas devise a stylish yet livable apartment for a growing family?

“Many of the projects we’re associated with aren’t super family-friendly,” de Cárdenas admits. But his work on the SoHo apartment of Jonathan Perrelli, who works in NYC real estate, and Yasmina Jacobs, an entrepreneur and marketing professional, plus their three young daughters—not to mention two dogs—shows his firm was up to the task. “Here, first and foremost,” he says, “the family-friendliness dictated everything to a strong degree.”

The resulting three-bedroom, 3,500-square-foot home accomplishes the ultimate Manhattan balancing act: It’s a residence that utilizes every square inch of functionality while also achieving a polished, sophisticated glow. “They didn’t want anything formal,” says de Cárdenas, “but we buttoned up everything else as much as possible.”

Even so, it took a lot more than some washable fabric and a beanbag to make this pad fit for purpose. A partition wall that had held a gas fireplace and previously divided the living and dining areas was removed. “It felt out of place and diminished the light,” says Perrelli. This allowed the layout to become more loftlike and created valuable sight lines that allowed the parents to keep their eyes on the kids. “We really love the flow,” adds Jacobs. “It’s a giant loop. We liked leaning into that, and it felt special.”

Having a distinct dining area was important to the couple, but the room’s previous dimensions were out of proportion. They needed extra storage, too, specifically to house about 60 bottles from Perrelli’s considerable whiskey collection. He has an additional 350 or so in storage. “It’s more than he can drink in a lifetime,” Jacobs deadpans. The design solution was to create a series of floor-to-ceiling cabinets along one wall of the dining room, then cover it in a dazzling custom wallpaper from Callidus Guild. “It makes the dining room a bit more dressed up,” says de Cárdenas. “It’s the only thing like that in the space, since the architecture itself wasn’t going to bring that kind of charm.”

To strike a balance between creating an elegant apartment for the adults and areas where the kids could let off pent-up energy, de Cárdenas employed some tricks in the living room. To keep the number of furniture pieces to a minimum, he created a large custom sectional with built-in side tables. Artwork and other objets are displayed on minimalist shelving. And after testing various rugs, de Cárdenas and his clients settled on a Tuareg mat found at ABC Carpet & Home, which allowed a custom nesting cocktail table to slide out when needed.

Early in the design process, the couple pushed de Cárdenas to use more color. “We met in the middle,” says Perrelli, “and acquiesced to some fancier touches.” One compromise the clients now appreciate was the use of plaster on some of the walls, including in the living room. “In the end, Rafael and his team were right,” says Perrelli. “It adds depth and warmth, and completed the apartment in a way that white walls couldn’t.”

A pair of vintage Joseph Andre-Motte armchairs—one of de Cárdenas’s favorite designs—were upholstered in a bright yellow-green fabric from Designtex. While in the past he has used a cream-colored leather to elevate the midcentury shape, the choice of fabric here “felt poppy and added a strong accent,” he says. “The chair’s identity changes so much depending on the upholstery.”

The new kitchen has a streamlined design with subtle colors, and a new glass wall with French doors so the parents can watch their kids play in the adjacent family room. “I wouldn’t know how to put what we needed into words until Rafael came in,” says Jacobs.

But perhaps the most enviable element of this downtown home is its 1,500 square feet of outdoor space running the length of the apartment, connecting to the kitchen and primary bedroom. While the terrace had an existing pergola, de Cárdenas added a fence for privacy, as well as a long dining table from Royal Botania surrounded by chairs from RH. “We’re not great grillers, but we love to eat outside,” says Jacobs. “Our kids make a lot mud pies for New York City kids. It’s a privilege.”

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