Ryan Korban Takes Us Inside 40 Bleecker, His First Residential Building
Melding old-world flair with a youthful edge, the celebrity-favorite interior designer lends his idiosyncratic eye to NoHo’s 40 Bleecker, a sleek multiunit building that feels like his most ambitious undertaking yet.
One look inside the newly completed 40 Bleecker and one may be shocked to learn that its ultra-refined interiors are the product of a designer in his mid-30s. Details such as dove grey terrazzo flooring, sofas encased in statuary marble, and suede-paneled walls in muted color palettes radiate more Uptown chic than Downtown edge, but they feel perfectly at home within the elegantly curved, brick-clad building designed by Rawlings Architects and developed by Broad Street Development.
Ryan Korban, who spearheaded 40 Bleecker’s interiors, carved a niche by dreaming up palatial retail flagships for big-name fashion labels such as Brandon Maxwell, Aquazzura, and Balenciaga—not to mention private residences for the likes of James Franco and Kanye West. Though his firm indeed falls on the younger side, the celebrity-favorite interior designer seems to have struck a chord among high-profile clientele and discerning aesthetes, amassing a spate of ambitious, larger-scale commissions that continue to elevate his idiosyncratic “Romantic Brutalism” approach to new heights.
Of course, 40 Bleecker is his most ambitious, large-scale, and successful commission yet. Situated at the crossroads of Bleecker and Lafayette in Manhattan’s bustling NoHo neighborhood, the 61-unit building recently reported 80 percent of its units sold—no small feat given the alleged exodus of New Yorkers to more slow-paced and spacious locales like Palm Beach or Westchester during the pandemic. Perhaps the building’s runaway success stems from its world-class amenities, which include a 58-foot-long indoor pool, exercise room with a stretching studio, 24-hour white-glove concierge service, underground parking spaces, and a 5,600-square-foot courtyard garden by renowned landscape architects Hollander Design.
Korban also credits his highly detail-oriented approach and branding expertise that he fine-tuned while collaborating with fashion brands. “When designing for retail, your goal is to make every product category feel special—for example, having the ready-to-wear feel just as important as the fragrance,” he tells Surface. “That really translated to 40 Bleecker, especially with spatial elements that homeowners interface with on a daily basis, like the medicine cabinets.” He gives us more insight into 40 Bleecker below.
Now that 40 Bleecker is behind you, how are you feeling?
Really great. It’s amazing to do a three-year project, especially coming off of Covid. Much of my work before this was fashion-related, which is more fast-paced. There were so many steps to this, but it’s such a nice process to reflect on and see how much can be accomplished over such a long timeline.
How did working on this project help you grow as a designer?
When you finish a house or store, sometimes you feel so over it and want to move on to something new. With a project like this, you design on paper and in materiality, and you can’t really go back. You can’t start changing units once they start coming together. Developments are unique in that you’re building people’s homes but not furnishing them—you’re actually building something they will respond to and want to buy. You also have to design something that you’ll like five years from now. You have to force yourself to still like it.
Working on such a long-lead project must require major foresight.
Foresight, yes, but also research and discussion. We had a very large team, which was exciting because we needed to figure out what this market might want down the line and what makes sense in this neighborhood.
Much of your work feels very “uptown,” so how did NoHo shape the building’s look and feel?
I’ve done high-scale work downtown but with an uptown sensibility. When I first sat down with Douglas Elliman, they explained how the building was “downtown meets uptown.” In essence, you have downtown clientele looking for something different. You also have uptown transplants who want to move downtown because they find uptown too slow. They still have high-end sensibilities and can drive up Park Avenue to go to Bergdorfs. That felt in the spirit of what my brand and aesthetic is, so it was a smart partnership.
Given your history with fashion brands, what retail design strategies did you use for 40 Bleecker?
When designing for retail, your goal is to make every product category feel special—for example, having the ready-to-wear feel just as important as the fragrance. That really translated to 40 Bleecker, especially with spatial elements that homeowners interface with on a daily basis, like the medicine cabinets.
What’s your favorite detail throughout the project?
The swimming pool. It was the biggest challenge, and I like solving problems with design. It’s in the lower level and is supposed to offer the ultimate in luxury, so I wanted to achieve the feeling of not being in a basement. There’s a lot of pressure because amenities in New York help make a building, and not many buildings nearby have amenities like 40 Bleecker.
How did you achieve that sense of luxury with the pool?
I faced a similar problem when renovating the women’s Balenciaga store on Mercer because it used to be Woo Lae Oak, which had a massive underground cave. I’ve always loved the British Museum’s glass ceiling and wanted to create something similar—essentially a faux lightbox that mimics glowing sunlight coming through. My lighting designer Bill Schwinghammer and I tried it out first there and it worked well, so we translated it to the pool by creating a ceiling that makes you feel like you’re on a roof, not in the basement.
Was that the biggest challenge?
One of them! The biggest challenge was really nailing down the concept and materials for the units. The key to success in a big development is creating something different enough to stand out while still appealing to a broad range of people. You often see developments that are too conceptual or cutting-edge still sitting on the market. I aimed to create one that looks just as great with contemporary furniture as it does with vintage or mid-century. It strikes a balance.
How did that approach inform your selection of materials? You’ve mentioned in the past that you select materials first and then expand the project from there.
Totally. We selected our key materials that go with an array of styles, and then asked ourselves “What can we do with these materials that can make it a little different?” For example, we started with the marble sofas in the lobby and translated those into the statuary marble hoods in the units. It’s not a huge “wow” moment, but it’s enough to give a broker or potential buyer enough to remember one detail that stands out.
What do you think makes 40 Bleecker stand out?
It’s sleeker than other buildings, which is funny because in the beginning, we were all questioning whether or not my design was too sleek. In the end, I pared it back while achieving a cool, young fanciness that hit a mark for the neighborhood. It’s light and clean without feeling too heavy or overwhelming.
Being too sleek doesn’t sound like the worst feedback!
When you’re presenting designs to people who’ve sold billions of dollars in real estate and the project doesn’t sell well, you’ll blame it on the sleekness. That’s the only reason I took it as a criticism! In the end, that yearlong process of designing on paper comes full circle. The sales have been crazy even through the pandemic. They’re still getting the exact projected dollar per square foot and sold one of the penthouses in a night showing on FaceTime.
I heard 80 percent of the building has sold already.
People are used to seeing 100 percent pre-construction being sold out, but that was a much different time. Being 80 percent sold during lockdown is crazy. It’s one of those projects where everything came together really well, and everyone working on it is the best at what they do.
What are you most proud of?
The sales, to be honest. I’ve always believed that you can build a beautiful space for people, but creating monetary value for a business through good design makes me the most proud. That’s why I love designing stores. The idea that good design is helping build the success of a company is its true power.