For Augusta Hoffman’s latest design project, it all started with a dress. While discussing color theory in their first meeting together, her client ran to the closet and grabbed her favorite Oscar de la Renta garb. “It’s a cute, flirty, short strapless dress that’s set in a mellow, ocher-mustard-yellow shade with this jewel-toned ikat pattern,” Hoffman says. “And it was the starting point for everything else.”
The owner had purchased the 1,300-square-foot apartment in a prewar Lenox Hill building in 2021, falling in love with its atypically modish charm. It had been renovated by its former owners, an interior designer and later, an architect couple who parlayed their design training into this space in everything from its classic herringbone oak flooring to tasteful details in the fixtures and finishes. And yet, its inherent grandeur felt too urbane for a single 30-something businesswoman. “Investing in my first apartment felt very grown up and I wanted the apartment to be a reflection of the moment I was straddling—creating a space for the life I was living and the one I would grow into once nested,” the owner says. “[I was looking for someone who could] create refinement, serenity, and comfort…[through] layers of new pieces, vintage pieces with patina and imperfections, rich quiet textures, and carefully curated accessories.”
That kind of brief is, fortunately, Hoffman’s forte. A New Yorker of almost a decade who— after cutting her teeth at AREA Interior Design—launched her own business in fall 2019, Hoffman has a penchant for small space design. “I enjoy projects where there are practical parameters,” she says. “As glamorous as it is to do a huge house in the middle of, say, Texas, working on these small New York apartments with a lot of character lends itself to fun, creative solutions.” Case in point: Hoffman’s tailored East Village condo, which after being seen by the apartment owner on ElleDecor.com, brought her search for designers to an abrupt halt.
The apartment is the distilled essence of an early New York aesthetic (cue the classic white subway bathroom tiles) but is not without some surprises. Namely, a brazen cherry red, wood-paneled foyer that continues in the doorway of every room. “We decided to embrace its materiality and use it as a contrast to the surrounding spaces,” Hoffman says. “With that, we had to make cognizant choices to make the rest of the space feel bright and open so that the dark wood tone didn’t overpower everything.” Hoffman offset smaller furniture pieces with a streamlined floor plan, focusing on tonal colors and texture using a base of warm beiges and earth tones. “Our goal was a home that feels calming, yet young and vibrant,” Hoffman adds.
The space is a mélange of juxtapositions: layered yet uncluttered, refined yet playful, and antiquated yet fresh. In the dining area, a chic bottle-lined tray creates a hip bar moment alongside a set of vintage Gio Ponti dining chairs. Farther in, a collection of contemporary ceramics sits atop a Brutalist Spanish case piece facing a custom Lawson-Fenning great sofa—all overseen by the owner’s own heirloom Venetian mirror that adds dimension amid the hard materials in the room. “We found a beautiful balance together,” Hoffman says. “My client’s taste is much more tailored than what I gravitate toward, so I pushed her in some directions and she then reined me in. That back-and-forth really created this look that is layered without being unduly maximalist.”
The kitchen is pocketed at the end of a hallway that was originally cast in a muddy green tone with a tobacco leather banquette. “At the beginning of the project, my client was very dismissive of this space, saying she never spends time there,” says Hoffman, a designer who knows potential when she sees it. The pair took to the streets of New York for banquette inspiration, including a jaunt to La Mercerie at the Roman and Williams Guild, whose beige-paneled seating was Hoffman’s ultimate inspiration. She softened the walls with a warm ivory color (Baby Fawn by Benjamin Moore) and redesigned the banquette to incorporate curves within the angled space, topping it off with a performance velvet. “Now it’s a little jewel box of a space that my client says is her favorite area of the home. My work here is complete,” Hoffman laughs.
Just as every woman needs one fabulous statement dress, every home needs one exceptional wallpaper moment. Fortunately, this homeowner has both, in nearly the same pattern. That Oscar de la Renta dress, which Hoffman took to textile wonderland the D&D Building, became the prototype for the back vestibule wall. “It leads you into the bedroom where you feel this transitional moment, leaving your entertaining space for a more private area,” Hoffman says. “This small vignette felt like the perfect opportunity to take a big risk and create a jubilant bolt moment.” The wallpaper pattern is carried into the bedroom via a sultry green trim and a coordinating Pierre Frey lumbar pillow. “I love how this brings a really happy element to the client’s bedroom while still keeping the overall tone very serene and minimal,” she adds.
The jewel tones—which are echoed throughout the otherwise achromatic apartment in jazzy pieces of art, ceramics, and decorative items—are more than a fun added flourish. They are proof that ingenuity can come from the most unexpected of places. “When we were looking for direction on colors or added accessories, we kept going back to that red dress,” Hoffman adds. “It all came back to that lovely little dress.”
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