One minute, New York designer Wesley Moon is making a joke about how the trappings of his Park Avenue apartment were inspired by the Vatican—arguably the world’s grandest display of religious architecture, with its Michelangelo frescoes and intricate mosaics of rare stones—and the next minute, he’s issuing a retraction.
“It’s really not that much of a joke,” Moon says. “In my work, I’m always trying to figure out what the contemporary version of something classical is so I can get that Old World feeling, but adjusted to modern times. I was at the Vatican looking around at all the different types of stones and thinking, ‘Wow.’”
By ensconcing the two-bedroom prewar apartment that Moon shares with his partner, fashion executive Salvatore Malleo, in a veiny and colorful assortment of geological gems—from the primary bedroom’s Byzantine pink onyx doors to the powder room’s book-matched opera d’arte marble—the impact is sumptuous, almost worshipful. (As is the effect of the nearby dressing room, which Moon describes as being the apartment’s “Carrie Bradshaw moment.”) The luxurious wall treatments are a chasmal departure from the flat’s previous incarnation as a “plain white box,” as Moon describes it, and one that had been stripped of every last inch of architectural detail despite the 1939 building’s rich Art Moderne origins.
Rumor has it that the late starchitect I.M. Pei was the previous owner’s cousin and had renovated the apartment’s kitchen in 1977 to be a stark vision of white Formica—cutting-edge minimalism in a time of brazen technicolor. Sizable by New York standards, the kitchen has since been handsomely reimagined with new Patagonia granite countertops “flecked in all this crazy mica” and coffee-hued cerused oak walls, perhaps to match the designer’s espresso martini expertise—while Malleo cooks, Moon tends the bar.
Provenance, it seems, is not always set in stone (or laminate, as the case may be). But Moon has evoked a deep sense of heritage in the 1,750-square-foot apartment, as if he’s been living there for much longer than just one year—a studs-out renovation of the newly purchased property could only plod along, like most things, during the pandemic. But nevertheless, a high degree of collectedness prevails in the princely tableau thanks to a profusion of art and objects of different styles and varying degrees of antiquity, united by a common thread.
“If I love something, I buy it,” says the designer, who grew up on a farm in Georgia, the son of a competitive clog dancer and Hee Haw extra who created a considered and comfortable home for the family. “The aesthetics may be different, but my mother’s intention is there. If you love things, you can just throw them together. They’ll work somehow.”
The closest to a Vatican fresco in the apartment is a custom de Gournay wallpaper in the dining room. Painted on gold leaf with matte pigments, the scene, featuring the palatial Palermo church Maria Santissima del Carmelo, where Malleo’s parents wed, is undeniably lush. But in the right light—specifically, candle flame from the Eve Kaplan gilded ceramic chandelier above—it’s downright three-dimensional.
“You can almost put your hand through it,” Moon says. Based on this lavish virtual reality, you would never guess that a few steps away in the adjacent living area hangs a large-scale watercolor by Bay Area painter Kelly Falzone Inouye that is much less of-the-Renaissance, but no less personally significant in its diaphanous depiction of the opening footwork from the 1980 film 9 to 5, starring Moon’s idol, Dolly Parton. (See also the black-and-white Lego portrait of the pop-culture icon in the library for more proof of his undying fandom.)
But Moon’s design forte may actually be his ability to tiptoe the fine line between maximalism and almost-maximalism. In particular, his singular customizations exist along this border, perhaps as a way of flaunting an eye for detail (he frequently hosts potential clients at his apartment for—you guessed it—espresso martinis and to see the potential for their own spaces), but also to push the limits of his own creativity and style.
For example, why not showcase the fringy backside of a Holland & Sherry drapery textile rather than the embroidered squares on its face? The marble fireplace mantel would not have been the architectural showpiece that it is today without the custom Art Deco–inspired molding embossed in python scales and boldly hued in turquoise, a collaboration with Cocobolo gallery director Benjamin Wiener.
Reigning the hearth is a replica of a Dutch master’s portrait of Elizabeth I, which may have been too foregone in its original regal state, but since its fantastical fragmentation by artist Michael Mapes of New York’s Hudson Valley—featuring, among hundreds of tiny mosaic-making materials related to the monarch, an image of Moon’s grandmother, who was named Elizabeth—the piece has become emblematic of the designer’s signature classical disruptions.
These are not unlike the bells that ring out from the church across the street several times a day, a joyful interjection that conjures Moon’s sonic theory of design: “When everything is on the same volume and wavelength, there’s peace and calm.”