Fantastic Living Spaces – #2 Small-Space Personality


Written By: Maresa Giovannini

Based on Gail Shields-Miller’s glamorous renovation of her 850-square-foot New York City apartment, she knows how to dress a room for any occasion. Since moving into what she calls her “jewel box,” a hotel apartment on the East Side, the veteran designer and her husband have relished the simplicity and elegance of city life.

After discovering the petite co-op building, which Shields-Miller describes as “very European,” the couple jumped on the hotel living trend and purchased the apartment as a second residence in 2006. With cleaning, laundry, and food services available daily, the functions of traditional spaces change. For example, the kitchen, especially in the city, becomes less of a necessity. In fact, Shields-Miller agrees with nearly half her clients who renovate their Manhattan kitchens and ultimately realize the space would be better utilized as a walk-in closet.

Still, Shields-Miller chose to renovate her own kitchen and the rest of the dated interior with a complete gutting. The transformation of the quiet back-facing space took six months to complete and ultimately reconfigured the layout into two large rooms, a kitchen, and an extended hallway.

The designer made major structural changes, including expanding the master bedroom, yet she kept the attached living room its original size. At 14 by 20 feet, this multipurpose space acts as a dining area, a mini office, and a living room for lounging and entertaining – limited to simple cocktails for a few people. Because this is a second residence, entertaining and office work can be done elsewhere and therefore were less of a factor in the design; however, comfort and privacy were deciding factors.

Another success of a small utility space is maximizing the appearance. Shields-Miller accomplished this ultimate goal in the remodel by laying wall-to-wall carpeting and adding depth to the ceilings. For additional elegance, she fearlessly added oversized moldings. And this room was not about the tiny details. By featuring minimal oversized decor, Shields-Miller gave importance to an otherwise diminutive living room.

People tend to be shocked by the intimate space, but Shields-Miller is content with the size for a city dwelling.

Shields-Miller often spends time with her son in Los Angeles, where she was inspired by the glamour of old Hollywood for her new space. By using bold patterns, heavy materials, and classic lines, she set the glamorous tone and made it modern with the addition of primitive furnishings – porcupine quills, Murano urchin-like lighting fixtures, and a steer-horn table base.

The designer combined mohair, chenille, cut velvet, white marble, metal, walnut, and rosewood to create an enticingly exotic appeal.

Most of the furnishings were reinvented for this design but already existed in Shields-Miller’s life. It was important for her to incorporate her treasured art and possessions, such as the two original Warhols hung stately above the couch. So important, in fact, that to include an over size art deco sideboard that she purchased in Dublin, Ireland, Shields-Miller opened the ceiling at the entrance to get it in the apartment. Because the ceiling was the first step in the renovation, the sideboard stayed hidden under plastic in the middle of the living room for the entire six months of construction. For the designer, there seem to be no physical limits to making a statement with classic bold furniture, and her grandiose approach facilitated the stylish final product.