Apartment tour: 2BR in Hell's Kitchen

Businesswoman Laura Benner's loftlike space is a showcase for her art collection---and creative talents.

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  • Photograph: Jolie Ruben

    Laura Benner, who works in hotel real estate, bought a one-bedroom apartment in a converted Hell's Kitchen armory building in 2004; three years later, when she and her fianc, Hugh Cunningham, an equity research analyst, got wind that their next-door neighbor wanted to sell, they jumped at the opportunity to double their 1,100-square-foot space. The couple hired architect Cindy Sutherland of Sutherland Interiors (212-288-4527) to convert the two units into one massive 2,200-square-foot pad. Benner---who was drawn to Hell's Kitchen for its diversity, Ninth Avenue restaurants and "growth potential"---is excited about the new developments in the neighborhood. "Now all we need is a Whole Foods!" she exclaims.

  • Photograph: Jolie Ruben

    The wall between the original apartments cut through what is now an open-plan living and dining area. Benner had established the overall style and color scheme in the first apartment. "It was merely a matter of mimicking what I had already done," she explains. She had bought two of the gray sofa sections from Murray Hill's Foremost Furniture in 2005, but when the couple took over the next-door space, the store had gone out of business. Benner tracked down the same sectional at Jensen-Lewis (89 Seventh Ave at 15th St; 212-929-4880, jensen-lewis.com). "We were fortunate that they still made this sofa and could get a matching leather---you can't tell that it was purchased three years later." The glass coffee table is from Roche Bobois (200 Madison Ave at 35th St; 212-889-0700, roche-bobois.com).

  • Photograph: Jolie Ruben

    Benner, who occasionally travels for work, has amassed her art collection over the past 15 years from fairs and galleries across the country. One of the first things you see when entering the apartment is this four-panel sculptural work by West Coast artist Roark Gourley (archive.roarkgourley.com), which she picked up in 2008 from NYC's annual Artexpo show (artexponewyork.com). "I love the color---I'm a huge purple fan---and the shape," she says. "Someone told me I like orderly chaos, and I think that's right because things can be chaotic but they have to be orderly from a balance perspective."

  • Photograph: Jolie Ruben

    The hall ceiling light is from art-supply-cum-furniture emporium Lee's Studio, one of Benner's favorite lighting resources. All of the "petals" are removable for easy cleaning.

  • Photograph: Jolie Ruben

    The colors of these blown-glass balloons, one of Benner's earliest art buys, pick up on the apartment's overall palette. "I think it was in my subconscious," she laughs. She spotted them at Fort Lauderdale's Seldom Seen Gallery (seldomseengallery.com) while she was on business in Florida.

  • Photograph: Jolie Ruben

    The curved glass wall near the hallway---built by David Ditkowich of Joyce Contracting (718-257-7070, joycecontracting.com) using glass bricks from Home Depot (locations throughout the city; visit homedepot.com)---conceals the couple's home gym. "I like having the exercise equipment hidden," explains Benner, "but it allows the light to come through."

  • Photograph: Jolie Ruben

    In addition to collecting art, Benner creates her own colorful pieces, drawing inspiration from TV design shows, works she's seen or even raw materials that spark an idea. The striking mural next to the kitchen was inspired by one featured on HGTV Design Star. Benner paused the TV to sketch the design, marked the outlines on the wall with tape and painted it with artists' acrylic. "My mother hates it," she bemoans. "Every time she comes in, she asks me to paint over it." Benner scored the white vinyl bubble chair and plastic table (which she painted for a matte effect) from online retailer Madison Seating (madisonseating.com).

  • Photograph: Jolie Ruben

    A small alcove between the bedroom and Benner's home office was "kind of dead space," so she turned it into a loungey area where you can "read or have cocktails"---though she admits that only a few people have actually sat on the pristine white sectional from Ligne Roset (155 Wooster St at W Houston St, 212-253-5629 * 250 Park Ave South between 18th and 19th Sts, 212-375-1036 * lignerosetny.com). "I love the look of it," she says. "Is it functional? Not necessarily." The large abstract painting by Kimberly Dawn (thedawngallery.com), also purchased at Artexpo, inspired the color scheme of Benner's homemade cushions and decorative artworks.

  • Photograph: Jolie Ruben

    "In stores, I always look at things and think of different uses for them," says Benner, referring to this wall installation she created from CD-storage boxes from the Container Store by painting the interiors with artists' acrylic. "I wanted something spatial and I needed some punches of color, so I pulled the colors from [the painting]."

  • Photograph: Jolie Ruben

    Benner also thought outside the box to make this sculptural display: She ordered stackable white plastic iCube storage boxes from Blick (1--5 Bond St between Broadway and Lafayette St; 212-533-2444, dickblick.com) and lined them with colorful mat board from Pearl Paint (308 Canal St between Broadway and Church St; 212-431-7932, pearlpaint.com).

  • Photograph: Jolie Ruben

    "I had to find an apartment that could fit this table," quips Benner. She bought the glass dining slab---which extends to seat 12---and the mint-green leather chairs at a now-defunct modern furniture store in Westchester before she moved to the city from Connecticut. The glass bowl is by artist Ed Branson (edbranson.com) from an American Craftsman Galleries (Sheraton Manhattan Hotel, 790 Seventh Ave at 52nd St; 212-399-2555 * 60 W 50th St at Rockefeller Plaza, 212-307-7161 * anamericancraftsman.com).

  • Photograph: Jolie Ruben

    This chandelier, which illuminates the dining area and is also from Lee's Studio, combines two of Benner's loves: unusual lighting and decorative glass.

  • Photograph: Jolie Ruben

    Benner proves you don't have to spend a lot on materials to create your own art---the tubular installation behind the sofa is composed of PVC plumbing tubes from Home Depot. Benner covered them with plastic sheets from Canal Plastics (345 Canal St between Green and Wooster Sts; 212-925-1777, canalplasticscenter.com), then painted the tops to match. The position of each tube is marked on the floor with tape in case they get knocked or moved.

  • Photograph: Jolie Ruben

    Keeping her color scheme in mind, Benner picks up glassware on her travels at secondhand shops, art shows and galleries. A decorative glass bowl Benner scored at a Maui gallery is displayed front and center on a sideboard from DDC (136 Madison Ave at 31st St * 181 Madison Ave at 34th St * 212-685-0800, ddcnyc.com). Mirrored-glass vases from Crate & Barrel (650 Madison Ave at 59th St, 212-308-0011 * 611 Broadway at W Houston St, 212-780-0004 * crateandbarrel.com), which double as candle holders when flipped upside down, pick up the metallic frame of a mirror from online store Spacify (spacify.com). The colored vases are actually inexpensive clear glass ones from Pottery Barn (locations throughout the city; visit potterybarn.com) with rolled-up paper inserts made from large paint-sample sheets.

  • Photograph: Jolie Ruben

    To display some of her finds, Benner painted a cherrywood glass cabinet that used to be in her bedroom to match the low storage unit from now-closed Park Avenue showroom Design and Comfort. Investment pieces are mixed with striking accessories sleuthed out in contemporary design stores. The lacquer candle holders from BoConcept (locations throughout the city; visit boconcept.us) highlight the black background of the painting, which was created by Benner's niece at the age of seven. Metal trays from Crate & Barrel are filled with flower-store pebbles. "I think it feels Zen and calming," explains Benner.

  • Photograph: Jolie Ruben

    "I love Dale Chihuly (chihuly.com), and I believe the artist who did this used to work for him," says Benner of the large, shell-like bowl she bought in a Maui gallery. "The colors are perfect."

  • Photograph: Jolie Ruben

    Benner bought the large photograph of roses by Robert Bery (beryarts.com) direct from the artist, who was selling his work on West Broadway in Soho. "This was one of my first big pieces from a financial perspective," she recalls. "I saw the purple and loved it." The color also attracted her to the unusual work by the window, which she discovered at Miami's annual Coconut Grove Arts Festival (coconutgroveartsfest.com). The stripes are actually cattail reeds, which Chicago artists Cheryl and Steve Ward (wardartstudio.com) collect, paint and frame.

  • Photograph: Jolie Ruben

    "I was inspired by a painting at an architect's office," Benner says of this series of drip paintings, which she made by diluting acrylic paint and applying it with a squeeze bottle to ready-made canvases. Before hanging them, Benner sketched out the precise measurements and placements on graph paper.

  • Photograph: Jolie Ruben

    Another Robert Bery photograph hangs above the couple's bed. Unable to find a headboard that matched, Benner---a self-taught sewer---created this wall-mounted one herself by covering plywood with padding and velvet.

  • Photograph: Jolie Ruben

    The undulating glass side table came from Upstairs Downstairs in Bridgeport, Connecticut. "It adds softness to the room," observes Benner. To echo its curves, Benner filled a plain vase bought at one of Gracious Home's (locations throughout the city; visit gracioushome.com) off-site warehouse sales with branches from Bill's Flower Market (816 Sixth Ave at 28th St; 212-889-8154, billsflowermarket.com)---they're stuck in Styrofoam to keep them upright.

  • Photograph: Jolie Ruben

    On the opposite wall of the bedroom, Benner's own handiwork echoes the roses in the Robert Bery photograph. She bought silk flowers from craft store Michaels (locations throughout the city; visit michaels.com) and clustered them in a frame. "There's a mat board in the back with a square opening and I just glued them all onto it," she explains.

  • Photograph: Jolie Ruben

    The three-dimensional work above the bed in the guest room is another of Benner's creations. Inspiration struck when she saw someone using Mio 3-D cardboard wallpaper tiles on a TV design show, so she tracked them down online at 2Modern (2modern.com). "I put them together in this layout, then painted them and had the frame made by Empire Gallery & Framing (161 W 26th St between Sixth and Seventh Aves; 212-685-7211, empiregallery.com)," she explains. "Then I actually framed it myself because I knew if I took it somewhere I wouldn't trust how they would do it."

  • Photograph: Jolie Ruben

    "The best thing for a relationship is to have separate bathrooms," jokes Benner. Her private sanctuary is decorated with blue mosaic tiles from Hastings Tile & Bath (150 E 58th St between Lexington and Third Aves, tenth floor; 212-674-9700, hastingstilebath.com). She decided to hang the Robert Bery water photograph in here because it "tied in with the spa feel."

  • Photograph: Jolie Ruben

    Benner linked the "his and hers" bathrooms with mosaic tiles in different palettes---she tracked down the combination in Cunningham's domain at Soho's Bisazza (43 Greene St between Broome and Grand Sts; 212-334-7130, bisazza.com). "I went with the darker colors for Hugh's bathroom," she says. "It's more masculine." She brought the hotel poster back from a trip to South Beach. "I love the Art Deco look."

  • Photograph: Jolie Ruben

    The splatter painting adorning Cunningham's bathroom wall was Benner's first artistic endeavor, inspired by a poster that she had seen but couldn't track down. "So I decided to make it---I got a canvas, painted it gray, put it on the floor, got a paintbrush and went like this," she says with a rapid shake of her arm.

Photograph: Jolie Ruben

Laura Benner, who works in hotel real estate, bought a one-bedroom apartment in a converted Hell's Kitchen armory building in 2004; three years later, when she and her fianc, Hugh Cunningham, an equity research analyst, got wind that their next-door neighbor wanted to sell, they jumped at the opportunity to double their 1,100-square-foot space. The couple hired architect Cindy Sutherland of Sutherland Interiors (212-288-4527) to convert the two units into one massive 2,200-square-foot pad. Benner---who was drawn to Hell's Kitchen for its diversity, Ninth Avenue restaurants and "growth potential"---is excited about the new developments in the neighborhood. "Now all we need is a Whole Foods!" she exclaims.

Love the look? Get it here!

The Container Store (629 Sixth Ave between 18th and 19th Sts; 212-366-4200 * 725 Lexington Ave at 58th St; 212-366-4200 * containerstore.com)
"I love organizing!" enthuses Benner, who has found creative inspiration at this chain, in addition to practical items like shelves for her enviable storage closet.

A.I. Friedman (44 W 18th St between Fifth and Sixth Aves; 212-243-9000, aifriedman.com)
Utrecht (111 Fourth Ave between 11th and 12th Sts, 212-777-5353 * 237 W 23rd St between Seventh and Eighth Aves, 212-675-8699 * utrechtart.com)
Benner frequents both art-supply stores for canvases and paints. "I usually check which one has the sizes and colors that I need at the best prices," she explains.

Lee's Studio (220 W 57th St between Broadway and Seventh Ave; 212-247-0110, leesstudio.com)
Benner loves the unusual light fixtures in this four-floor midtown furniture, lighting and art-supply emporium.

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