Too much is never enough.” These immortal words attributed both to Mick Jagger and the 18th-century playwright Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais could just as well have come straight from the lips of the homeowners of this Manhattan townhouse. Here, behind the 1910 building’s deceptively plain facade, patterns play on patterns, cocktail-bar vibes reign, and the dining room feels like a Matisse collage come to life. Interior designers regularly praise their clients for being “fearless” and “risky,” but in this case, says Danielle Colding, the typical designer-client relationship was practically flipped upside down. “They actually pushed me to go bolder than I would have on my own,” she says, admiringly. “That’s rare.”

a marble dining table is surrounded by metal chairs with a leather seat and round back, blue drapes flank a sculpture, wallpaper with blue shapes, console with artwork on wall above it, crystal chandelier
Chairs by Mario Milana surround a black marble-topped table in the dining room. The console is from Artemest, the chandelier is by Ochre, the curtains are of a fabric by Brunschwig & Fils, and the custom wallpaper is by Fromental. The artwork (left) is by Julia Rivera, and the sculpture (between windows) is by Michel Lanos.
Kelly Marshall

It was the spring of 2019 when the ELLE DECOR A-List designer was commissioned by the couple—an attorney and a writer with two dogs, no children, and a knack for entertaining—to transform the five-story building into a personality-filled home base. Structurally, the newly renovated building was in good shape and boasted sun-drenched front rooms, three outdoor areas, and elaborate moldings on the parlor floor. But the finishes felt heavy, dominated by what Colding describes as “outdated espresso-mocha colors,” and the house overall suffered from a dearth of flair. Known for her exuberantly eclectic, global approach to design, Colding agreed there was ample room for improvement. “To me, the ultimate insult is to say something looks like a showroom,” she says. “I always prefer wonky, quirky, and even slightly ugly to boring.”

Go Inside This Townhouse That’s “Magic at Night”
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Colding learned just how bold her clients were willing to go early in the process, when she was working on the foyer. She had already installed graphic black-and-white tiles on the floor, configuring them irregularly in such a way as to convey chaotic energy. She had also chosen a black-and-white graffiti print Pierre Frey fabric for the Roman shade. With so much going on in the small space (including artworks), she planned to keep the walls neutral. But then came the clients’ cri de coeur: “No white walls!”

“So I added this funky wallpaper,” she says, pointing to the black-and-white square-patterned Kelly Wearstler paper. The result? A hyper-layered op-art entryway that announces: “Get ready. This house is going to be fun.”

“The clients pushed me to go bolder than I would have on my own. That’s rare.” —Danielle Colding

As visitors soon realize, the surprises have only just begun. One flight up from the entry level (which also includes a kitchen in a glossy sunflower yellow), the narrow landing has been turned into a full-size bar. “In most townhouses, this area is wasted space, a seating area that nobody ever sits in,” says Colding. Outfitted with custom cabinetry, a vintage Italian mirror, and midnight-blue palm-print wallpaper, the moodily lit bar conjures a cozy private club or glamorously louche hotel.

the kitchen has mustard yellow cabinets above and below a white countertop with sink and range, blue tiled backsplash, island in dark caesarstone, terra cotta patterned rug
In the kitchen, custom cabinets by the Breakfast Room are painted in Farrow & Ball’s India Yellow. The range is by Wolf, tile by Ann Sacks, countertops by Caesarstone, and wallpaper by Holly Hunt.
Kelly Marshall

Just beyond lies the living room, or “salon,” as Colding refers to it. “I envisioned a Truman Capote–type of party with lots of martinis,” she says of the space, which features black grass-cloth walls and a dramatic cascade of graffiti--on-toile print curtains falling from the 12-foot ceilings. A pair of Art Deco chairs and a curvaceous custom sofa in electric blue face a screen set above a marble fireplace. Contemporary artwork, including an abstract canvas by Mirielle Jefferson, breaks up the dark opacity of the walls. “In college, I had a black dorm room wall, but I think this is the first time I’ve designed a living room with black walls,” Colding says. “It’s magical at night.”

a primary bedroom has a blue linenlike wallcovering, a window with a roman shade and light blue with gray patterned drapes, a blue cabinet as nightstand with a lamp, bed with upholstered head and linen bedding
The primary bedroom’s walls are sheathed in a custom vivid blue wallcovering by Twenty 2. The nightstand is by Lawson-Fenning, the lamp is from Visual Comfort, and the pendant is by Remains Lighting.
Kelly Marshall

Still, it is the dining room across the hallway that is arguably the house’s true showstopper. As radiantly light as the salon is groovily dark, the room conjures a sculpture garden, Matisse collage, and postmodern Alice in Wonderland stage set all at once. What appears to be a hand-painted mural on the chalky walls is actually a Fromental wallpaper, whose palette of Swedish blue and deep indigo is echoed in the elegant drapery, which is so formal as to be almost tongue-in-cheek. Arranged around the monumental marble table, a set of 12 vaguely zoomorphic iron-and-leather dining chairs by Mario Milana layers on the whimsy. Meanwhile, an earthy Michel Lanos ceramic sculpture and a pair of Brutalist-style concrete floor lamps “kind of chill the space out,” she observes. “I did not want it to feel glam. Glam is not a word I like.”

After all, while the clients may have clamored for more, Colding never let herself get carried away. “To me, this home is a lot, but it still feels tasteful,” she says. “It shouldn’t feel like a clown show. My goal was to make it funky and interesting—but also not look crazy.”

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This story originally appeared in the Summer 2023 issue of ELLE DECOR. SUBSCRIBE