Home Tour: Inside Designer Lee Broom's Stylish, Monochromatic Penthouse in New York
Award-winning designer Lee Broom has always thought outside the box. Whether it’s presenting a collection from the back of a delivery van in Milan, filling an underground car park with over a hundred of his lights in Sydney, or making a movie featuring an orchestra to launch his Maestro chairs at last year’s London Design Festival, his past shows are known for their theatrical touches.
That creativity certainly came in handy recently, as pandemic restrictions forced the British designer to complete his penthouse in New York from the other side of the Atlantic. “I thought it would be impossible to do,” recalls Broom via Zoom from his converted fire-station home in London. “Then you’re put in this kind of situation where you have no choice, you just have to work in a different way.”
Working with his visualiser, Broom rendered every single item so his team in New York knew exactly where everything had to go. Through a combination of Zoom chats, and photos and videos sent over WhatsApp, he was able to fine tune the exact location of each piece. “In many ways it felt as if I was there,” he recalls. “It was quite bizarre, especially as the time difference meant I was working in the middle of the night. One morning I woke up and felt like I had actually been in the apartment.”
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It certainly wasn’t what Broom envisaged when he decided to find a place to live in the Big Apple. His namesake brand is sold in over fifty countries and has a dozen dealers stateside; it’s available in Singapore at Space Furniture. He counts Beyoncé as one of his American clients, after she featured the Lee Broom Hanging Hoop chair in her 2020 film Black Is King, so the 45-year-designer was looking for somewhere to call home during his ever-increasing work trips.
“I was just tired of staying in hotels, the reality is I really wanted to feel like I could retreat to my own space,” says the former fashion student and protégé of Vivienne Westwood, who has been in love with the city since his first visit back in the mid-nineties.
I want the apartment to conjure up a sense of pleasure and a feeling of escapism. That’s definitely something we’re all desperately craving right now
— Lee Broom, industrial designer
The penthouse in Tribeca, which he found after a chance meeting on the street with friend, environmental activist and property developer Veronica Mainetti, certainly feels like a Lee Broom space. Featuring many of his best-known lighting and furniture pieces, it has an art deco-influenced look that is a trademark of much of his work. It also has a tremendous sense of theatre, another Broom motif that harks back to his days as a child actor at the Royal Shakespeare Company.
“I want the apartment to conjure up a sense of pleasure and a feeling of escapism,” says Broom. “That’s definitely something we’re all desperately craving right now. I am aware that my shows, my interiors and the things I produce evoke a sense of escapism, I want the apartment to do the same.”
Unlike your typical open-plan penthouse in New York, this duplex apartment is laid out like a townhouse with lots of corridors and separate rooms. Broom wanted to play on that arrangement by using various textures and colour palettes to create different environments and moods.
From the modern elegance of the living room and the Scandinavian simplicity of the kitchen to the eighties-style glamour of the dining room, the end result feels like a series of distinct, dramatic stage sets. “There’s an overarching look about the whole space, but everything is individual,” explains Broom. “It’s exciting, I like that the apartment reveals more and more as you move through the space.”
It’s exciting, I like that the apartment reveals more and more as you move through the space
— Lee Broom
The dining room and adjoining roof terrace are testament to Broom’s belief that design should “reflect its environment”. The chrome fixtures include the Broom-designed Aurora chandelier and custom drinks bar sourced from Los Angeles. Together, the pieces exude a nostalgic glamour that mirrors the dramatic views of the World Trade Centre and city skyline. “What else do you want to do when you’re in that space except celebrate that view, there’s something so aspirational about it,” adds the designer.
The exterior also has a big influence on his favourite space in the apartment, the monochromatic living room. The flood of natural light from the sash windows determined the white and ivory tones, while the view of the brutalist Long Lines Building inspired the room’s centrepiece, the imposing White Street sofa.
“I am really happy with that. It’s very curvaceous and architectural, it almost floats like a sculpture, yet the end structures make it very monolithic,” states Broom, who reveals it’s the first sofa he’s designed in ten years.
It’s first time he’s designed a collection for a specific space, and he admits he enjoyed the challenge of working within those constraints. “A designer can’t really create without restrictions; you have to relish them as they make you divert your brain somewhere it wasn’t expecting to go.”
The sofa is one example of this creative process and, along with the end tables and dining table, will be released as a collection this April. Broom is pragmatic, when asked why so many of his products feature in the apartment. “When you design and make your own furniture and lighting pieces, it seems a bit absurd to start purchasing other people’s work,” says the recipient of 2011’s British Designer of the Year Award with a laugh.
The avid collector relished the chance to bring in some of the unique finds he acquired over the years, such as the vintage stainless steel and brass bed he picked up in Los Angeles. Too big for his London home, it has sat in storage at the company’s UK factory for the past five years.
“The cylinder and sphere motifs that it features have actually inspired numerous products of mine, such as my Fulcrum lights,” he shares. “When I got the apartment, I was like: ‘I have to have the bed in here’.” The bed marries perfectly with the fluted sculpture, which was formerly a fixed uplighter taken from a building in New York. Broom sees both as fitting tributes to the Empire State Building, which is visible from the bedroom window.
There are as many other examples of Broom’s ability to seek out eye-catching pieces. The study houses a gorgeous record player, “the cheapest thing in the flat,” picked up for £50 (SG$90) from a flea market in Brighton and a bust of David, which Broom featured in his 2019 exhibition entitled Park Life in Sydney, Australia—a version of which was also exhibited at the Space Furniture showroom in Singapore in 2019.
His growing art collection features throughout the apartment. It includes a painting by his friend, the British-Ghanaian artist Shirley Amartey, which takes pride of place in the study. “I just told her to do whatever she wanted,” says Broom, explaining how the cubist-style painting of an African woman on a beautiful blue background dictated the colour scheme of that room.
A home is not just for me, it’s a place to congregate and to have fun... It needs to feel safe, for me, that means having things that are familiar around you, that you love, and you treasure.
— British designer Lee Broom
While the pandemic is stopping the previously globe-trotting Broom from travelling right now, he looks forward to using this apartment to entertain friends, colleagues and clients.
“A home is not just for me, it’s a place to congregate and to have fun. I definitely put aspects of my life in London into the space in New York. It needs to feel safe, for me that means having things that are familiar around you, that you love, and you treasure. It’s especially important here, which is meant to be a home away from home.”
Although the dynamic designer is currently stuck in London, he has not been idle. As well as making sure the business is able to operate safely and effectively amid the pandemic, he is developing a number of new lighting and furniture products due for release in the next few years.