It could be said the ingredients to any great musical are an evocative backdrop, a stellar ensemble and plenty of drama. Few know that better than Betsy Wolfe, whose theatre career has spanned more than 15 years and has seen her take up the lead role in the Tony-Award-winning Broadway production of Waitress. So when it came to the design of her new home – a creative splice of two apartments in Manhattan’s Upper West Side – naturally, Betsy followed a familiar recipe.
First up, the backdrop: unlike most of Manhattan, which can feel dense and dizzying, Morningside Heights is a quaint, family-friendly neighbourhood with a village-like sensibility. Peppered with little cafes, welcoming locals and a palpable sense of community, it is here Betsy alighted on a rare find back in 2016. ‘I saw a listing in our price range, but it was for 30 rooms,’ she explains of one 65-square-metre apartment that borders Morningside Heights and the Upper West Side, noting that this unfortunate misprint proved auspicious to her house hunt. She and her fiancé – now husband – musician Adam Krauthamer snapped it up before the typo could be corrected. Housed in a 1907 building, the apartment is quintessentially New York prewar, a coveted architectural style with lofty high-beamed ceilings, solid bones and intricate decorative mouldings. So when the opportunity came up to procure an adjacent flat some three years later, the pair jumped at the opportunity to expand.
Seeking out the dream ensemble to bring her interior vision to life, Betsy scoured magazines, Pinterest and Instagram, ultimately falling in love with one Brooklyn abode that kept coming up in her searches. ‘I could not get it out of my head,’ she says. ‘Whoever did that space had to do mine, so I tracked her down and did not give up till she said yes.’ The New York-based designer in question, Crystal Sinclair, was equally inspired by the actress. ‘When she sent me her mood boards, and she had plenty, my eyes and creative soul lit up.’ But first, this now 125-square-metre home had to undergo something of a gutting. ‘The kitchen became a bathroom, the living room became a bedroom, the bedroom became the dining room…’ explains Crystal. ‘Joining the apartments opened it up. It feels more like a home than an apartment now.’
With the floor plan resolved, it was time to turn attention to the decor, and the reconfiguration resulted in a newfound flow that Crystal leveraged with her interior scheme. ‘Because it is open plan, we had to make sure that not just one room worked together harmoniously but four.’ Thanks to whitewashed walls and a suffusion of natural light, the home permeates restraint, and calm, a quality the designer leant into. ‘It is a space with a mood,’ says Crystal. ‘In the brighter areas, we went bright, and in the darker ones, such as the entry that does not see much natural light, we went fairly dark. The contrast between the two makes each stand out that much more and keeps your eye moving.’
No production is complete without a touch of drama, and this is manifest throughout the home without ever being in danger of becoming overplayed, thanks to carefully selected accents. ‘We used “serious” tones where it counted the most. We punctuated the living room with deep-green pillows, a classic, elegant colour. We also played with textures – rich velvets and plush wool rugs – to add to the sophistication.’ Still, show-stopping touches in colours, artwork, lighting and decor keep things bold, bright and beguiling. Betsy’s brief to the designer was to have a home that reflected the clothes in her closet – colourful and unexpected or ‘grandma-meets-rock’n’roll’ if you ask Crystal. ‘We wanted to create a space full of contrast, one that would welcome the fun pops and patterns we would be layering in later.’ This is evident in the soft blush nursery, which makes a statement by setting Osborne & Little floral wallpaper against an animal print rug. And the kitchen, where black joinery and brass surfaces are juxtaposed with a tactile kaleidoscopic runner.
Adding to the decorative rebelliousness is the melange of antiques, trinkets and mementoes hung on the walls or tucked into shelves and artfully displayed on surfaces that indicate this is no impersonal design – a family truly lives here. Much like a well-loved Broadway show, it is familiar, warm and downright fun, and Crystal agrees. ‘Betsy is charming, so naturally, this made its way into the space and just like her, the apartment is bold, playful and sweet.’
Words by Jessica Ross