Designer Cecilia Dupire's Upper East Side apartment is filled with bright ideas
It takes a particular vision to blend minimalism and handicraft, yet designer Cecilia Dupire does just that. "I love a setting that has a sense of peace, but I also like to include vivid, colorful hand-worked pieces.
It takes a particular vision to blend minimalism and handicraft, yet designer Cecilia Dupire is up to the task. “I love a setting that has a sense of peace,” she says, “but I also like to include vivid, colorful hand-worked pieces to add another layer to the design—accents and details that have strong roots in handicraft.” Not surprisingly, the results of her work are never generic or predictable.
Dupire’s boldness as a designer derives in part from her experiences traveling the world. A native of Sweden who studied in London and Vienna, she cultivated her aesthetic by working with commercial and residential design firms throughout Europe, collaborating with notable architects and furniture designers such as Michael Philippe Wolfson (Zaha Hadid’s senior designer for many years) and the Swedish firm Rupert Gardner Design. She also spent time restoring medieval houses in the south of France, which deepened her respect for traditional craftsmanship. “I learned about restoration techniques from the 13th century,” she says, “and now I’m applying some of them in modern spaces. In France, I liked figuring out how to make old houses more functional and suitable for today’s living, but in a way that respected tradition and character. There is no future without the past.”
In 2004, Dupire’s husband was transferred to New York City, where she had always dreamed of living. She kept busy consulting for a Swedish company, doing occasional design projects and commercial lighting installation, and spending her spare time volunteering for an art therapy program for children with cancer at Mt. Sinai Hospital. Dupire’s own brother died of leukemia in February 2011, following years of treatment, so this work was especially meaningful to her. “My brother was my greatest concern and my biggest mentor,” she says. “I had come to New York to pursue my creativity in new ways, and working with these children who had transplants was very inspirational. The art made them happy, and I could provide them with an escape.”
Her company, Cezign, founded two years ago, has grown mostly thanks to word-of-mouth recommendations. Perhaps one of the best calling cards for her design work is her Upper East Side duplex, which she spent five months renovating. It’s a sunny haven in an otherwise characterless 1980s building: “The exterior is very boring, but it is south-facing, and the light is exquisite,” she says. “Being from Sweden, I love the sunlight.” She also loves a sense of openness, which is why she painted her entire apartment white. Since the ceilings aren’t high, she installed LED lights inside them, rather than having drop-down pendant lights or chandeliers. Occasional pops of color come via accent pieces, such as a smattering of bright red area rugs from Ikea.
Dupire further improved the city views from the 12th-floor apartment by demolishing closets and walls, thus opening the flow and allowing more light to fill each room. She created much-needed storage by building low white cabinets that appear to hover weightlessly just above the floor. And she left the windows simple and bare. “I wanted the light to reach as far in and from as many directions as possible,” she says. “No matter what time of day it is, the light is beautiful here.” A large mirror was added in the kitchen to enhance the effect of the sunlight. Doorways were heightened throughout, making the ceilings appear higher than they are.
Not everything connected to the design of her home was sunny and bright, however. Her brother’s death occurred during the renovation process, and his presence (and influence) can be felt throughout the apartment. Hanging over Dupire’s dining table is a painting, The Animals’ Last Supper, by her artist friend Lydia Venieri. The mealtime setting and dark symbolism echo the original Last Supper and serve as a bittersweet reminder of her loss. “It’s very personal to me because of my brother,” says Dupire. “I came home and cooked for him every night and every day. We knew he was going to die.”
Although she leans decidedly toward minimalism, Dupire also indulges a more playful side: Accessories are often whimsically arranged, and a red staircase, leading to the second-floor office and rooftop terrace (“My green universe,” she says proudly), provides an unexpected surprise. “By painting it red,” she says, “I turned the stairs—a functional, uninteresting element—into something unusual. The red actually kind of highlights the stairs.” In a home that generally favors restraint, the vibrant colors and traditional handicraft pieces reveal a more personal side. “My collection of 18th-century needlework and Swedish pillows reminds me of home, and of my brother,” she says. “But I don’t pile them on. Pillows all over a sofa just cause visual clutter.” The loss of her brother must have surely contributed to her perspective that life is always moment-to-moment, and that a home must accommodate such vicissitudes. “You have to let a space grow as you evolve and as your mood shifts,” Dupire says. “The home itself is an ever-changing space, and it can never truly be finished. It’s always different, just like the light.”