Kelly Behun’s New Living Gallery Uplifts Makers of All Types

The interior designer hones her curatorial eye at 1228 Madison Avenue, a brand-new Upper East Side building that doubles as a shoppable trove of her favorite creators.

Kelly Behun. All photography by Nicole Franzen

Kelly Behun doesn’t often brag about her own work. Though she’s amassed a sizable Instagram presence of nearly 250,000 followers, the award-winning interior designer has largely dedicated her platform to uplifting the work of her favorite makers, past and present, that have influenced her sensibilities in some way—a mood reinforced by the phrase “inspired by how clever you are” on her profile. That ethos pervades her new living gallery concept at 1228 Madison Avenue, which offers a hand-picked presentation of furnishings, artwork, and objects across a full-floor, four-bedroom apartment in a stately Upper East Side building designed by Robert A.M. Stern Architects. 

Inside, Behun’s intuitive approach to masterminding richly layered interiors is on full display. Each room abounds with recognizable classics and newly commissioned one-offs that conjure an inviting atmosphere replete with discoveries that’ll captivate even the most seasoned design enthusiasts. That alchemy is perhaps best captured in the light-filled living-dining area, dubbed the Great Room, which Behun enlivened with exuberant ceramic lamps by Sunshine Thacker that complement the chartreuse hues of her own area rug for The Rug Company and the gilded shimmer of a Gasparo Asaro coffee table. “I’m thrilled to include a selection of artist-made objects,” says Behun, “and so grateful many of them are introducing new pieces with me in this context.”

Elsewhere in the apartment, the mix is best described as discreetly high-low with a creative punch. You’d never be able to tell that the guest room’s wicker bed frame came from Anthropologie, or how an array of cobalt blue ceramics that preside over the media room were sourced straight from a corner craft store. To complement the objects on display, Behun teamed with Mellyn, Dvorkin, & Monrow Art Consultants to curate a range of pieces from such blue-chip and emerging talents as Ricci Albenda, Rob Wynne, Anish Kapoor, and Mary Obering.  

Physical visits aren’t always possible during the pandemic, so 1228 Madison set up an e-commerce site that allows viewers to shop the array of items remotely. Though a virtual setting hardly replicates the magic of experiencing one of Stern’s buildings or Behun’s interiors, the platform helps demystify her approach while offering a glimpse inside the mind of a designer intent on giving full credit to the creators who make her projects so memorable. “This Living Gallery embodies the spirit of Upper East Side Manhattan and features so many of the creatives that inspire me every day,” Behun says. “I hope to lift the veil a bit on my process with the shoppable online platform, and the public can engage with some of my favorite creatives and make the work their own.” And even more is on the docket: the 14-unit building, which Behun designed from head to toe, is slated for completion later this year. 

Below, we asked Behun to riff on her five favorite objects from the gallery. 

(FROM LEFT) Opera Pendant by Kelly Behun for Hudson Valley Lighting. Wallpapers by Callidus Guild

Wallpapers by Callidus Guild

For the lobby, we’re collaborating with Yolande Batteau of Callidus Guild on a large-scale incised plaster and gilt mural that’s sure to be a showstopper. Yolande’s work is always exquisite, so I was thrilled when she offered to debut two never-before-seen designs for our model residence. These new hand-painted patterns, Katsura and Ame, are from her latest collection and we installed them both in the private elevator corridor as well as the entry foyer so that they’re literally the first thing to greet you as you land on your private floor. Katsura is based on a classic checkerboard grid motif while Ame is more dreamy and abstract. Strong individually, they’re even more gorgeous when paired in adjacent rooms—a one-two punch of beauty!

Opera Pendant by Kelly Behun for Hudson Valley Lighting

The Opera Chandelier is part of my first-ever lighting collection, which debuted this past year with Hudson Valley Lighting. With its oversized, asymmetrical glass globes it’s a contemporary deconstructed take on the classic sputnik chandelier that’s versatile enough to work in a wide range of interiors. We worked diligently to achieve the texture of the glass shades, which from a distance have a soft, almost frosted quality, but on closer inspection reveal that the softness comes from countless small gold bubbles that are suspended in the glass. It’s a beautiful effect.

(FROM LEFT) Timpani Lamp by Sunshine Thacker. Custom Great Room Rug by Kelly Behun for The Rug Company

Timpani Lamps by Sunshine Thacker

I’m an avid collector of ceramics of all kinds and I have an admiration for the artists who create them. Sunshine Thacker is one of my latest obsessions. Her modern, playful take on lighting and furniture belies her warrior-like focus and determination to push the boundaries of what clay can do. A collaborator in the truest sense of the word, Sunshine has an adventurous design spirit and her work is fully customizable so each creation feels bespoke to its lucky owner. I love how the colors and curved lines in the Timpani lamps harmonize with the rug in our great room (all by design) and her domed porcelain shades emit a really lovely soothing light. 

Custom Great Room Rug by Kelly Behun for The Rug Company

 1228 Madison is located in Carnegie Hill, one of New York’s most storied and classically elegant neighborhoods, so my concept for Great Room’s large rug started with the notion of a traditional bordered rug that you might see in an Upper East Side townhouse. Instead of using straight lines, we designed a series of undulating shapes and forms that flow around the rug margins and suggest a sense of choreographed movement and dance, and serve as a lively frame around the seating arrangements that sit within an otherwise calm field of solid color at the rug’s center. Woven with an unexpected color palette including citron and warm rose tones, this rug feels fresh and modern, yet still timeless. As an extension of my collection for The Rug Company, we’re launching a capsule collection of four new rugs designed exclusively for 1228 Madison and which are available for sale. The size and colors of each rug can be completely customized to fit any space.

The Field Lighting Floor Lamp by Christopher Baker

The Field Lighting Floor Lamp by Christopher Baker

One of my go-to places to find design—both vintage and contemporary treasures—is Dobrinka Salzman’s gallery in the heart of Chelsea. It was through Dobrinka that I was introduced to Christopher Baker’s work, which he calls The Field Lighting. Inspired by nature and incorporating materials like brass, Uda-gami Japanese paper and fabric panels of hand loomed pineapple fiber, his Series 1 collection of floor and table lamps is mesmerizing in its layered delicacy. One can see references to Giacometti, Noguchi, and the traditional art of Korean pojagi within Christopher’s work, yet each piece feels distinctly his own. 

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