INSPIRATION struck Lucinda Loya during an all-nighter.
It was 2008, and the Houston-based interior designer was struggling to choose a unifying design philosophy for a former chapel in Gramercy — soon to be her family’s Manhattan pied-à-terre. She agonized over it, staying up until 8 a.m. measuring wall heights and floor lengths.
“It needed to be simple and elegant, but full of character,” she says in a charming Southern drawl, gazing up at her 23-foot-high living room ceilings. “It literally came to me that night: Nothing could go into this apartment that didn’t complement the ceiling. The ceiling was black, so I could have black accents, but white and gold was all it could be.”
In her NYC chapel-turned-home, interior designer Lucinda Loya painted French canopy chairs white, upholstered them in marigold-colored velvet and accented them with shag pillows. Gold-and-white upholstery covers chairs and ottomans by Marcel Wanders, while golden teardrops by artist Rob Wynne descend down the wall.
The finished product is a trichromatic masterpiece. Almost every inch of the 4,000-square-foot home is outfitted in the chosen colors, from the oversize portrait of Andy Warhol — which, made up of tiny black-and-white images of Chairman Mao, takes pride of place in the great room — down to golden Kikkerland paper clips and pens on Loya’s desk. Loya, 53, her husband and their two daughters spend about one weekend a month here, splitting their time between their home base in Houston, a Victorian country estate in Kentucky and a timeshare in Aspen.
But Loya’s life wasn’t always so glamorous. Born in Jeffersonville, Ind. (pop. 47,124), to a single mother on welfare, Loya flashed glimmers of creativity early, despite scant resources. “I learned to sew in second grade and made this precious little purse out of my grandfather’s pant leg,” she says. As a tween, Loya cleaned and rearranged furniture in houses where she baby-sat.
After high school, she packed up her car and drove to Houston, where she quickly found jobs running credit reports, assisting a real estate firm and doing medical marketing — all while holding down stylist and personal-shopper gigs on the side.
Enter her future husband, Javier Loya, one of the few Mexican-Americans at Columbia in the early ’90s, who now, at 48, heads natural gas brokerage Choice Energy and is an owner of the NFL’s Houston Texans.
The Episcopal church completed St. John the Baptist House in 1883 to house about 40 female volunteers who aided the poor and sick. Arches point to its “asymmetrical Victorian Gothic” style, per the “AIA Guide to New York City.”
The lovebirds nested in that Texas city, outfitting a multimillion-dollar mansion and raising Ana Luca, 14, and Elena, 12. But in 2007, the couple started pining for a place in New York (where they’d enjoyed weekend jaunts before the kids were born).
The search for a three-bedroom proved difficult. Bids on apartments in Soho and Midtown fell through. Then a friend-turned-newly minted realtor asked Lucinda to be her guinea pig, showing her a duplex just off of Gramercy’s idyllic Stuyvesant Square.
“I walked in the door, and my mouth dropped open. It was a Texas-size apartment right in the middle of New York City,” Loya says. “I said, ‘Oh, my gosh. I want it.’ The listing agent saw me do it, so I had no negotiating skills.”
The chandeliers and painted ceiling details are original to the chapel. Loya picked up their metallic tones in a range of furnishings, from the hand-shaped chair by Mexico City-based Pedro Friedeberg to the kitchen’s Poggenpohl cabinets. The counter chairs are made of iron chains (reminiscent of purse straps) and gold-brushed vinyl cushions.
The couple shelled out $4.4 million for the three-bedroom, three-bathroom apartment — the crown jewel of a 2006 project by Vesta Development, which had converted the former Episcopal church property into 13 condos.
The Loyas’ 54-foot-long living room, with its black-painted vaulted ceilings, original chandeliers and extant gilded ceiling crests and medallions, is the former chapel of St. John the Baptist House — built in 1883 on land bought from a descendant of Peter Stuyvesant (who famously built up NYC when it was a Dutch colony).
Various organizations eventually occupied the building, including the Smith College Club, the Salvation Army and the famed Hazelden rehabilitation center. (Eric Clapton, who had been treated at a Hazelden outpost in Minnesota, gifted a large sum, so the chapel was later renamed Clapton Hall.)
“I often think back on what took place in this room,” Loya says. “It was a public space. It was a home. A lot of tears were shed here. So many people were healed here. It’s got such spirit; it just feels alive in here.”
Loya gifted her husband, Javier, Spanish bullfighting regalia, which stands in the great room.
After she had settled on the color scheme, Loya’s structural renovations were minor. She changed out the oak cabinets in the open Poggenpohl kitchen to white, and put in black-and-white checked bathroom floors. Her dedication to the palette was so strict she used to tell people not to bring red into the apartment — in gifts or even clothing.
Loya — a devoted Art Basel attendee — loosened up when it came to choosing art for the walls, especially over her desk, where she opted for a macabre Zhang Peng work depicting a red-clad girl tied up in a pink shag armchair.
The renovation took seven months, so the Loyas threw a big housewarming bash to celebrate its completion — and all four family members’ birthdays — in February 2009.
Today, guests lounge on a three-seat sofa, chairs and ottomans, all by Marcel Wanders and upholstered in white and gold damask. They sit like royalty in replica French canopy chairs that were black before Lucinda whitewashed them and added marigold-colored velvet. Wary of crowding the space, she lines up metallic Chinese-inspired garden stools for those sick of standing and keeps Philippe Starck’s lucite “Ghost” chairs for Kartell in a rich amber stacked in the basement for extra seating.
In the master bedroom, silver-and-gold damask wallpaper sets the stage for an homage to couture, with Hermès, Gucci and Goyard call-outs. The quilted leather bed was custom-made to evoke a Chanel handbag. Meanwhile, the adjacent closet juxtaposes vintage furniture pieces with contemporary art, all set against a black-and-white Flavor Paper wall covering crisscrossed with burlesque dancers.
A beaded, brocaded gold-and-white bullfighting suit from Pamplona, Spain, (worn by a real matador and a gift for Javier) hangs on a stand, while a gold-leaf chair shaped like a cupped hand by Mexico City-based designer Pedro Friedeberg adds whimsy.
“To keep within my colors, I felt like I needed to do a lot of texture and pattern,” Loya says. “I didn’t want the apartment to come across as so serious.”
The Loyas’ master suite takes inspiration from couture fashion houses. The quilted leather bed was designed to look like a Chanel handbag, and a 1970s chainmail pillow and folded wool blanket dotted with the brand’s signature interlocking-C logo adorns its cover. The bed is flanked by two Goyard luggage trunks that Loya custom-ordered with her daughters’ initials. Large-scale still-life artist Donald Sultan is to thank for the depictions of smoke rings above the headboard.
Loya is an inveterate collector. Stored in the walk-in closet, which is lined with burlesque-dancer wallpaper, are cowboy boots and hats; they’re among her (Southern-influenced) vices. Meanwhile, a spiral staircase winds up to a loft area with a guest bedroom that is a riot of black-and-white damask, from the bedspread and the window shade to an eye mask that hangs from a mirror.
“Ironically, I’m not a big fan of damask, but I put it all over the apartment,” she says. “The ceiling just called for it.”
The guest room, accessed via a black spiral staircase, is awash in black-and-white damask, which is also the backdrop of the risqué photo mounted above the bed.
The Loyas lived at Clapton Hall full time for a year after the renovations wrapped up. And while these days their Big Apple visits are less frequent, they’re no less enchanted by the city. Lucinda commissioned a local artist to paint a custom work that says as much on the back of the front door. “I love U,” it reads, in iridescent gold leaf that evokes the gently glowing ceiling details.
“It’s a message to New York, but it’s to my children, too,” she says. “It means we are here. We love you. It’s happy here.”
Photos by Leslie Unruh; Prop Styling by Brice Gaillard