In New York real estate, the likelihood of coming across an untouched Manhattan loft feels roughly the same as winning the lottery. “Only in New York do you hear stories like this one,” says owner Michael Hong of his newly acquired apartment in the Flatiron neighborhood with views of the Chrysler and Empire State Buildings. He found the unit with now wife, Libby Tatum, amidst the property upheaval of the pandemic, when the unprecedented exodus from the city meant that prime real estate was suddenly freeing up left and right. According to Hong, the previous owner was an artist who had raised her children in the 3,800-square-foot loft without ever erecting a single wall. “It was basically an empty box,” he recalls. “But it also meant that it was a blank slate.”
That sort of tabula rasa is, understandably, catnip for a designer. Particularly one like Chiara de Rege, who grew up in the city and remains enamored with its historic buildings. So when Hong and Tatum commissioned her to bring the loft to life, she jumped at the chance. “I’m born and raised in New York and I love these old buildings that have stayed somewhat true to what they were,” explains de Rege, best known as the designer behind La Pecora Bianca restaurants and the erstwhile members club The Wing—and as the founder of Maison C wallpaper. “When you arrive, you get into this really creaky old freight elevator that opens up into this beautiful, big, loft apartment. The first time we went, I was obsessed with all the details, like the flat metal doors and massive windows.”
Going into the design process, de Rege, Hong, and Tatum were all on the same page: They wanted to retain as much of the loft’s original industrial edge as possible while creating a stylish space that could foster their interests, host their sprawling circle of friends, and provide a cozy refuge for the couple and Hong’s two teenage sons.
The first problem was solved by adding the home’s most showstopping feature, a kitted-out working stage. By day, both Hong and Tatum work as high-powered Manhattan lawyers, but both began their careers as performers. (Hong was a child actor in his native Toronto, while Tatum is a former Broadway actor and singer.) “From day one, we knew we wanted a music corner that could double as a home recording, rehearsal, and, if possible, performance space,” Hong says. “I love to write and record music, and Libby performs as a singer regularly. Our community of friends make up many of the musicians you might see playing on any given night in the Lower East Side.” With that in mind, de Rege installed a raised platform complete with underfoot storage space for musical accouterments and wall-hanging hooks for Hong’s swelling collection of guitars.