A double dose of modern
Jen Renzi -- Interior Design, 9/1/2003 12:00:00 AM
Most designers develop their aesthetic in school or via an apprenticeship. Few hone their eye in the manner of identical twin sisters Jayne and Joan Michaels. Growing up near retro-chic, cocktail-era Palm Springs, California, they spied on such celebrity neighbors as Frank Sinatra. "We'd always sneak through his golf course on our way home from school," confesses Joan Michaels. "Although we never actually saw him in person." What the Peeping Toms did see through the area's glass-walled Richard Neutra houses nonetheless left a colorful impression, one that sharpened over time, like a Polaroid. Jayne Michaels adds, "When we were young, Palm Springs felt old-farty, but we've come to appreciate its unique glamour. The design is so organic, so pure, so now."
As partners of 2 Michaels, the twins are constantly drawn to the history and patina of one-of-a-kind pieces, and the firm's pur-view has expanded to encompass Biedermeier, art deco, and French 1940's—injected with a dose of California-modern airiness. Both twins also fell in love with architect Franco Albini's work while living in Milan, in the penthouse of an Albini building furnished with his mid-century pieces for Knoll and Cassina. "At the time, we had no idea what we'd lucked into," says Joan Michaels. Fast-forward several years to a vintage-furniture shop in Chelsea, where she spied his rare 423 chair. "No one in New York carried his designs," she says. "I had to buy it—it was just meant to be."
It wasn't until Jayne Michaels relocated to a sunny Upper West Side prewar that she acquired joint custody of the coveted 423—a lounge with crisscrossed, almost double-jointed arms—and decided to make Italian modernism the keynote of the 2,500-square-foot apartment. Traveling back and forth semiannually between the twins' separate residences, the chair is currently in good company alongside her other Albini treasures, such as the den's angular Luisa chair, glass-topped desk, and curved chrome reading lamp. Other highlights include an Ico Parisi rosewood tea cart, a Gio Ponti wing chair and side tables, and a rare Venetian glass Carlo Scarpa lamp, used as a vase until it gets rewired.
Jayne Michaels's passionate search for pedigreed pieces has always led her to flea markets and antiques stores, but lately she's developed something of an eBay fixation. "Jayne is obsessed," her sister says with a don't-get-me-started moan. The accused enthusiast responds only by continuing to sing the praises of the Web site: "It's a fabulous resource as long as you're willing to be adventurous and a little bit flexible."
Furnishings in her apartment may come from locales as far-flung as Rio de Janeiro and Australia, but each features an attendant only-in-New-York story. Take the 1950's sofa by Edward Wormley for Dunbar Furniture. The delivery truck arrived during a blinding snowstorm, and Jayne Michaels was allowed only a five-minute sidewalk inspection before deciding whether to keep the merchandise. Although skeptical of the original mustard- colored Jack Lenor Larsen linen-cotton upholstery, she nonetheless had the 8-foot-long giant hauled up 12 flights of stairs. It's since become the basis of what she describes as the apartment's Giorgio de Chirico palette.
As for the 1950's tufted daybed reclining in the living room, Jayne Michaels laughingly admits: "It came from Detroit on a Greyhound bus." How's that for provenance?