Michelle Smith of Studio MRS Interiors Welcomes Us Into Her Greenwich Village Home
The Louisiana native left behind a law career to pursue a passion for interior design--and great things happened!
Photography by Joy Sohn
The block of Tenth Street between University Place and Broadway is best known for the landmark restaurant Il Cantinori and a passel of top-tier antiques dealers such as Karl Kemp, Bernd Goeckler, and Maison Gerard. It’s no wonder, then, that many people don’t even notice the understatedly elegant 1930s apartment building just down the way. But when a two-bedroom apartment there came on the market during the economic downturn of 2009, Michelle Smith was ready to pounce. At the time a practicing lawyer on the verge of making a career switch, she transformed the space virtually overnight, but preserved much of the charm and original details, including the limestone fireplace mantel, wood floors, and original lead-glass casement windows.
Smith has been in love with decorating for as long as she can remember. “I should have known I’d wind up an interior designer, because during my childhood I would add ‘Decorating my bedroom and bathroom’ to my Christmas wish list every year,” she reminisces. A native of Morgan City, Louisiana, Smith has been collecting antiques and furniture her entire life, and many of her most beloved pieces can be found throughout her new digs. “I was renovating this apartment while working at a big law firm, and after leaving work each night and checking on the status, I realized that my passion for drawing cabinet elevations and choosing bath fixtures surpassed my interest in reviewing litigation documents.”
Smith left law to work for designer and architect Daniel Romualdez, who taught her about the quirks and nuances of the design business. In July 2012 she launched her firm, Studio MRS, where she practices a stylish, urban approach to design, inflected with a bit of her trademark southern charm. To this day her favorite antiques show is at Marburger Farm in Round Top, Texas, where she travels each year to load up her father’s horse trailer with treasures. She also routinely haunts the Paris flea markets and New Orleans salvage auctions to build up her antiques arsenal.
Upon seeing her apartment for the first time, Smith was immediately smitten, as it had been virtually untouched by the previous owner for years. While her aesthetic has a decidedly collected-looking appeal, it’s not excessively decorative or too traditional. She prefers a quietly sophisticated design scheme that borrows from old-fashioned American, European, and artisanal sensibilities. “I longed to keep the apartment’s simplicity and history intact, so I began with an earthy color palette, embracing the pre-existing ‘old lady’ hues,” Smith says. “I even held on to a humble kitchen chair that had been left behind.”
Smith painted the living room, dining room, and foyer walls and trim in Benjamin Moore’s Gray Mist. She then furnished the living room with an oversize blue oriental rug, a curvy sofa from ABC Carpet & Home, two Baker slipper chairs covered in a Christopher Hyland blue velvet and Samuel & Sons trim, and a vintage glass coffee table she scored on 1stdibs.com. A striking portrait by New Orleans artist David Harouni hangs above the sofa, giving the old-world atmospherics a cutting-edge accent. Pedigreed design pieces include a column lamp by Karl Springer, a Milo Baughman chest of drawers with brass pulls, and a Chiavari chair; these are offset by one-offs like a homemade tortoiseshell sculpture and oversize whisk lights in the kitchen that Smith had repurposed from a salvage shop. The latter is beautifully accented by custom cabinetry, painted in Farrow & Ball’s rich Charleston Gray.
Smith, who is currently working on a client’s house in Palmetto Bluff, South Carolina, is also designing a new line of hot-off-the-press American-made furniture, called Mrs. JG, in partnership with a childhood friend. But despite her country roots, she’s still staying focused on life and work in the city. She even transformed an almost useless closet in the living room into an artful repository for a Carrie Bradshaw–worthy shoe collection, complete with shelves of Manolo Blahniks and Jimmy Choos alongside vintage moccasins. Make no mistake: Michelle Smith means business.
A version of this article appeared in the March 2014 issue of New York Cottages & Gardens with the headline: New Girl in Town.
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