Decorating a small New York apartment
When recent grad Alexandra Morris found her first apartment in New York city, she knew exactly what to do next: call her mother, interior designer Suzanne Kasler, for a little decorating help. Setting the foundation with a few essential Ballard pieces Alexandra owned in her college days, the mother-and-daughter design team set out to create a restful respite away from the frenzied pace of the big city — and shared the results with us.

“It was very serendipitous,” says Alexandra Morris on her discovery of the perfect apartment at the end of a long day of house hunting. The art history major had just landed a job at Schumacher, the prestigious fabric, wall covering and furnishings company, and was in the city for a mere 48 hours to find an apartment. She met her new roommate, Kelly, on the same day and they were on the hunt together.

“Anybody in New York can tell you finding an apartment is challenging,” Alexandra continued. “We wanted to be downtown originally, but after looking at 15 apartments, the realtor told us that we weren’t going to find a true two-bedroom on our budget south of 40th Street. He said he had something we should look at way uptown.”

Decorating a small New York apartment

The new roommates found exactly what they were looking for in the neighborhood of Lenox Hill on the Upper East Side. The small pre-war walkup housed just four units per story, meaning every apartment was a corner unit with a rare commodity in the city: lots of natural light.

“We immediately found it very bright and uplifting. A hidden gem,” she said.

And, as it turns out, it was the perfect canvas for creating the kind of relaxed environment she wanted to come home to at the end of the day. Recently home for Thanksgiving, Alexandra and her mother talked to us about their adventures in decorating together.

Ballard Designs: Your apartment is beautiful. It reflects your mom’s design aesthetic — that clean style with lots of neutrals and natural textures. Is that your style as well?

Alexandra Morris: With living in New York, I really wanted something that felt serene and organic, because the city can be so stimulating. I didn’t want something super funky or avant garde. I just wanted to be able to relax and have this uncomplicated look and feel. The decor definitely resonates with me in terms of my lifestyle in New York. I think that I also do have an eclectic side, and I have some ideas for my next place, but that’s always a part of the creative mindset of what you want to do next.

Decorating a small New York apartment

BD: Did you give your mom free rein or was this effort more of a partnership?

AM: We were working with a lot of things I already owned and we really did it together.

Suzanne Kasler: Alexandra definitely had strong thoughts on the design…that’s all I will say!

BD: Well, how was decorating with your daughter different from working with a client?

SK: What we did was more of an editing process for this small New York apartment more than anything. I wanted to bring more things and Alexandra said she wanted it more edited — and I think that was the right call. It was about keeping the space simple, and I think that’s why all of the neutrals work so well. It’s comfortable and does not overwhelm. She and her roommate can have friends over and enjoy it without worry.

Decorating a small New York apartment

BD: Can you take us through the process? What was your first step?

SK: What we did first is get the floor plan and made a plan. It was absolutely essential we were able to get everything organized and sent up in one truck. It’s New York — it’s hard to maneuver and you can’t just pull up in your car and run up and down the street. So we had everything installed in one day. Even the drapery hanger came and we had all the rods and drapery up in one day. I think that was the biggest thing, having a plan. The lamps are there, the nightstands are there, the bedding is there — and then you have this wonderful sense of completion and then it’s ready for personal touches.

BD: You have a lot of Ballard pieces mixed in. Of course, some are from Suzanne’s collection, like her signature Atelier Antlers over the Antique Egg Art and her maps.

AM: I had many of these pieces in my house in college. I love looking around and seeing things from my mom’s own collection.

SK: We started with this concept of using her Ballard pieces from her cute college house as the foundation of this new space she can make her own. We gave some of the pieces a quick update, with new slipcovers for the sofa and the overstuffed chair, and we switched out the cushions on the Constance Chairs. She got an all-new neutral look that works so well with the Durham Cocktail Table, my Gourd lamps and the sisal rug — and it feels fresh again. We love the versatility of these pieces. Then she mixed in some of her own accessories for a more collected look.

Decorating a small New York apartment

BD: You carried that same notion through to the bedroom as well.

AM: Yes, I had a white slipcover on the Camden Headboard in college, so we switched it to khaki to make it feel new. The nightstands and glass Madison Lamps are from Ballard Designs, too. The dresser is a vintage piece we found that I also had in my bedroom in college. I hung my own art with my mom’s Sunburst mirrors above the bed.

Decorating a small New York apartment

BD: We’re loving what you did with the Burlap Message boards. The necklace organizer is genius!

AM: Not only do they always get tangled, but I also never know what I have. And I had these great pins, so this is kind of a fun way to display your jewelry and it’s right next to my mirror. The other board is over my desk — I have mementos and photos and letters from my grandmother.

SK: I love the way she accessorizes and makes these things her own. She also has the Ballard Designs hooks in the hallway. We got them mounted on the wall going into her bedroom, so she could have a place to hang her bags and coats in the winter.

BD: Do you see any of these items as forever pieces that will go with you to your next home?

AM: Definitely. The best thing has been the coffee table, and the art on the wall has been so wonderful to own. It’s something that’s truly a collection I can have forever. You can incorporate it in such different ways and make it look fresh again. And they’re not huge investments.

Decorating a small New York apartment

BD: You do have quite a collection of your own.

AM: Well, there are stories to all of them. There are stamps from France that we just framed. Another is a little photograph of the Petit Trianon that I found for 10 Euros. I have an illustration we found at the flea markets, and this is a little surrealist watercolor I found when I was 18 in London. And here is a little stamp card from Republique Francaise.

SK: One of her things she found right outside the MOMA. This artist was doing these striped pieces.

AM: It’s easy to find these little pieces of art. The great thing my mom has taught me is that you can find anything and make it art.

SK: It becomes a memory.

AM: Right! I distinctly remember buying this watercolor with my best friend in London. I remember mom and I digging through stacks at the Paris flea markets. You take them back home and mount them on gray slate paper and pair with a really great frame and it makes for great art.

Decorating a small New York apartment

BD: That is great advice. You clearly love your apartment, but were there any disadvantages to the space that you had to overcome?

AM: We really lucked out. I guess the one thing is that you really have to keep it clean since you’re living in a smaller space. Even when I’m trying on another outfit and and end up wearing another one, making sure I put it up right away. Because then your whole room’s a mess if you have two things on the floor.

AM: That’s why keeping things edited and making sure you have a place for everything is so important. It keeps it looking tailored.

BD: Do you have pieces that do double duty?

AM: Again, we are lucky, because we have four closets in our apartment, which is such a unique thing in New York. But my bed is skirted and I use the space under the bed as storage. The double skirted table in the living room is great for housing things underneath as well. I’ve used the antique foldout table that has my mom’s jars on it as a table during a dinner party.

Decorating a small New York apartment

BD: What do you love most about your decor?

AM: The art. I’ve never had all my art in one place. Having things on the wall is very underrated.

BD: Will this partnership continue at the next place, or is she on her own then?

SK: I think the next place she will take on her own. Her style is evolving, and I think that’s what’s great about doing that first apartment together as mother and daughter. She can come home to a finished apartment away from the busy pace of the city and have everything calm — and that’s a huge thing. And now she knows how important that is. But her style is evolving, and she’ll have her own ideas of what to do next.

Find Suzanne Kasler’s full collection here, or browse more of Suzanne’s interior design and inspiration on How to Decorate.