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Interior Designer Blake Funston on His New 19th

Mar 11, 2023

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Think gilded details, wood-burning fireplaces, and more.

Though most of New York City's Gilded Age mansions are no longer with us, a few illustrious townhouses survive. One such structure, nestled in the Sutton Place neighborhood, is home to interior designer Blake Funston, who recently launched his eponymous firm. "I would describe this project as light renovation," he says of the work he did on the home. "My husband [Rufus Chen, a specialist in Chinese art for Christie's] and I started by adding door saddles, baseboards, and crown moldings where necessary." Such details further enhance the Old World sophistication with which he infused the space.

Funston has always had an affinity for elegant interiors, thanks, in part, to his mother's passion for design. He grew up in a mid-19th-century residence in Philadelphia's Rittenhouse Square, which his mother decorated masterfully, bringing it back to life. "I was fortunate to spend formative years being exposed to traditional architecture, grand-scale paintings, and continental antiques," he admits. "Though it's a much, much smaller space, I knew I would implement that same sense of Old World history in my New York apartment."

In fact, he spent two years perfecting every detail in the two-bedroom home, painting walls in Benjamin Moore Valley View, a warm, buttery color, and filling it with the centuries-old furniture he inherited from his mother. But since this is a house for a couple, Funston points out, "Making [Chen] feel included and at home among my own family heirlooms was paramount." To reflect Chen's heritage and area of expertise, Funston accented the space with late Qing Dynasty pieces from his stepmother's Philadelphia-based Chinese art gallery. "I integrated inherited French walnut pieces with my newly sourced Chinese paintings and furniture to achieve a refreshing spin on the age-old 'East-meets-West' aesthetic," Funston explains.

Geographical influences aside, Funston also let the natural age of the building guide his design process. As is the case with many older buildings, some of the original architectural details had been hidden over time. Rather than leave them that way, Funston exposed them and allowed them to shine. For example, he says, "We removed an iron gate surround from the exposed brick fireplace bump out, which revealed an original 19th-century coal-burning fireplace hearth." Another authentic 19th-century feature Funston decided to embrace was the exposed brick wall. All of the details—both original and newly added—work together to deliver on Funston's goal of creating a palatial feel in a noticeably not-castle-sized footprint by filling with treasures collected over a lifetime of appreciation for beautiful things. "The space is accessible, yet refined; intellectual, yet familiar; lived-in, yet orderly," he says. "It is an antiquarian's enclave within the modern, concrete metropolis that is New York City." And for Chen and Funston, it's also home sweet home.

Pictured above.

Here, "European antiques blend with East-Asian paintings and porcelain against a crimson Turkish rug and a Moroccan turquoise lamp," says Funston. The star of the space is a mid-18th-century French Baroque chest-on-chest that's flanked by a pair of late Qing dynasty ancestral portraits.

"A gilt-bronze French Louis XV-style crystal and cut-glass chandelier centers the room," Funston points out. Another arresting piece is the portrait on the wall, which features one of the designer's ancestors. "The painting has been in my family since the 1760s and I was fortunate to bring it from Paris to New York," he explains.

A pair of Italian giltwood sconces hang on either side of an early 19th-century painting of the Penitent Magdalene. The mahogany Chippendale dining table holds family heirloom glass and silverware alongside gilt-and-orange decorated Chinese export dishes from Hayloft Auctions. The table is surrounded by a set of Queen Anne mahogany side chairs from the mid-18th-century.

The same sconces also flank a still life painting.

The exposed brick wall, which is original to the space, allows the framed Paul Jacoulet woodblock print from 1939 to shine. It also pairs well with the Chinese black lacquered side table.

"My signature colors are rusty oranges, corals, and saturated peaches—as seen here in the carpet, footstool, and custom lamp shade," Funston says. "I've tried to create a cozy 'gentleman traveler' aesthetic by mixing Moroccan, Chinese, and Indian pieces with an English four-poster bed and continental portraits." Of course, the vintage Louis Vuitton luggage at the foot of the bed doesn't hurt.

A set of Chinese hardwood screens add a textural interest to the butter-hued wall. Ralph Lauren throw pillows complement the butterfly-decorated Chinese lamps that sit atop elaborately decorated giltwood stands from Christie's. The lampshades are custom.

House Beautiful: What was the home like before?

Blake Funston: Recently, the apartment had served as an Airbnb short-term rental. As such, inexpensive fixtures and furnishings were placed throughout. These included ceiling fans in most rooms, track lighting, and a plywood wet bar. Most of the windows were covered in construction paper and tape for privacy, and the back-patio walls and floor had fallen into disrepair. The interior apartment walls were painted in a mud-olive color. Above the wood-burning fireplace was a black-painted plywood shelf, and the fireplace hearth was bolted shut with a rusting-iron gate surround.

HB: Did you encounter any memorable hiccups, challenges, or surprises during the project? How did you pivot?

BF: One of the first hiccups involved our wood-burning fireplace. I noticed immediately that it needed to be cleaned. This was my first time having a fireplace in New York City and I had no idea what a niche industry fireplace maintenance is. After sourcing a fireplace cleaner in Brooklyn, I watched as a foot of soot fell into the hearth from the flue. An alarming surprise!

HB: Where did the majority of the budget go?

BF: As a true antiquarian, I knew I would spend time fixing and restoring furniture and paintings that I owned or inherited from my family. A little sprucing up can go a long way. I purchased the 25-pound gilt metal and crystal Louis XV chandelier for what I knew was a steal. Then the crated shipping quote came in at four times higher than what I bought the piece for! A lesson learned.

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House Beautiful: What was the home like before? Blake Funston: Follow House Beautiful on Instagram .