From the very beginning, Lilse McKenna knew that a typical New York starter apartment wasn’t going to cut it when it came to designing a new home for her client, a twenty-something marketing professional and blogger with decidedly old-soul taste—and career experience working with high-end design companies.

“She’s young but has a great eye and is very sophisticated,” says McKenna of client Nan Philip, who began her career in the design space before moving into fashion. “Shopping for her is always fun because she already knows the industry so well—it’s a challenge to surprise her!”

This Colorful New York Apartment by Lilse McKenna Puts a Fresh Spin on Old-School Pattern

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With a lease secured—Philip’s new apartment, a one-bedroom in the West Village, was brimming with charming pre-war details like casement windows and a separate entry vestibule—McKenna got to work. “We wanted to create the illusion that everything in it was collected over time rather than purchased and installed within six months,” says McKenna.

Limited to strictly cosmetic changes, McKenna looked to make as much of an impact as possible with paint and pattern. While the motifs themselves might veer traditional—dainty chinoiseries, classic ikats, an archival hunting print—a fearless palette keep things fresh: The living room boasts pink walls and an electric-blue velvet sofa, while the bathroom is clad in graphic black-and-white textiles.

Not all of the updates were technically renter-friendly: Philip was willing to indulge in a few wallpaper moments (the kitchen’s espalier print is a true scene-stealer) and McKenna knew that swapping out the apartment’s existing light fixtures for new ones would be worthwhile for a completely transformative effect. But others—like installing an IKEA wardrobe as an extra closet and draping a console with fabric to hide TV equipment—proved that apartment-dweller hacks can look utterly stylish in the right setting.

“When it comes to decorating a rental, I always think of it in terms of what you’re willing to spend on your home versus your ‘outside’ life,” says McKenna. “You could buy a crazy-expensive coat to wear out, or you can make the home that you go back to exactly the place that you want to be!”

Living Room

living room

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“I backpedaled into the wall color starting with the fabric,” says McKenna. “I knew I wanted to use lots of blues and aquas and we had green in the kitchen, so we settled on this this sort of rosy blush color—it’s almost a neutral.” A banquette and table serve dual purposes as a work-from-home station and a place to serve food or cocktails when guests come by.

Banquette: custom in Samarkand Ikat II by Schumacher. Tulip table: LexMod. Sofa: custom in Gainsborough Velvet with pillows in Brighton Pavilion, both Schumacher. Lamps: Bunny Williams Home with Perrotine shades. Curtains: Wesley Ticking Stripe by Schumacher. Wall color: Pink Ground by Farrow & Ball.

livingroom of lilse mckenna

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floral chair

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Chairs: Bunny Williams Home in Kaya Medallion fabric (left) and custom in Quail Meadow (right), both Schumacher. Bookcases: Serena & Lily.


diningroom of lilse mckenna home

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“Part of the view from the kitchen is the Jefferson Market Garden, which I wanted to sort of bring into the space while still playing up the linear nature of the city skyline,” says McKenna, who chose Pierre Frey’s iconic Espalier wallpaper. “It’s like a secret garden in this adorable urban setting.”

Table: Crate & Barrel. Chairs: Serena & Lily.


bedroom of lilse mckenna home

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Inspired by Philip’s own bed linens in various shades of blue, McKenna designed a bedroom where they could be mixed and matched. “Nan is a collector of beautiful things, so we wanted to incorporate as much of that as possible,” says McKenna.

Headboard: custom in Malaya by Quadrille. Lamp: Celerie Kemble for Arteriors. Nightstand: Chelsea Editions. Bedding: Matouk (white), vintage (printed). Wall color: Borrowed Light by Farrow & Ball.


bathroom of lilse mckenna home

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bathroom of lilse mckenna home

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Faced with a bathroom that straddled the line between vintage and dated, McKenna decided to use the old-school charm to her advantage, playing up the tile with a coordinating shower curtain in Quadrille’s Passy II fabric and lining the wall with John Derian decoupage. “When I’m working with a space like this, I try enhance it so it’s the best version of itself,” she explains. “If you try to fight it, you’re going to lose!”

Towels: Weezie (monogrammed) and D. Porthault (printed).

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