There’s nothing like a classic pre-war New York City townhouse, especially in the charming neighborhood of Sutton Place. These properties aren’t easy to come by, particularly for renters. Another challenge of these spaces is making them your own. No one knows this better than artist Elizabeth Sutton. The native New Yorker recently moved to a 6950 square foot townhouse with five bedrooms, three and a half bathrooms, and a beautiful backyard.
This isn’t just a home for Sutton and her two children, it’s also her studio and headquarters for her thriving business. The mom-turned-artist turned entrepreneur has licensed her designs to Tilebar, the Raynor Group, and Sur La Mur, among others on unique lines of tiles, office chairs, wallpaper, and more.
Sutton saw this townhouse not only as an opportunity to create a wonderland-inspired space to reflect her brand and showcase her various collaborations, but also to be her personal dream house to live, work, and create. I recently spoke with Sutton about the process.
Amanda Lauren: How did you find this incredible townhome?
Elizabeth Sutton: I found the townhouse on Streeteasy. I moved to Miami during Covid and missed home. I was stalking the market every single night. I decided I was going to combine my budgets for my personal apartment and studio and see if anything interesting popped up.
I saw the square footage and that it was an empty white box with a basement for storage. My brain saw a 6000 square foot blank canvas, with an opportunity for my creativity to run wild, to create a perfect showcase for my various home collections.
I sent my broker, Stefani Berkin, to check it out so she could send me videos and assess the space for herself. I signed the lease site unseen. It was definitely a gamble, but I felt it in my gut and knew it was the right choice.
Lauren: What are your favorite features of the home?
Sutton: One of my bucket list career goals is to design a boutique hotel with each room having a different theme. I saw this townhouse as an opportunity to show industry leaders within the development, architecture, and interior design spheres what Elizabeth Sutton, as a creative, can produce.
The large kitchen, sunlit dining room, huge circular window leading to the backyard, and tall ceiling heights on the first two floors felt ideal and optimal for hosting and entertainment purposes, something that I love to do both personally and need to do more of professionally.
My work floor, home studio and home office have some of the boldest designs I’ve ever created including positive mantras on custom roller shades, and a 60 inch magnificent brass lighting fixture that I custom designed and painted. The pipe wallpaper in my master bedroom is truly genius. This house has unique and amazing energy.
Lauren: Why did you decide to combine your home, studio and office spaces?
Sutton: I have been working from home for the past two years and moved to Miami after Covid hit. I am a single mother of two kids and run a very robust, dynamic, and demanding business. The commute from my apartment to my studio, there and back, used to take over an hour and a half out of my day. Living and working in the same space is more efficient for my schedule.
There are some drawbacks, in that I can never separate my work from my life, but my family and I get to benefit from the extra square footage that my business’ budget had for the studio. Living in a box in New York is much harder when you have experienced lots of space.
Lauren: What was the townhouse like when you moved in?
Sutton: Honestly, it wasn’t in the best condition. It was brand new in the sense it had just been completely renovated, but it was still towards the end of its construction phase with no built-out closets, a completely unfinished backyard, and really old carpentry.
Lauren: What changes did you make to the space?
Sutton: I changed everything. I removed all existing light fixtures and hardware, built out a bar in the backyard, and covered the tile and every single wall with wallpaper or fine art.
I added gorgeous track lighting, custom-made light fixtures, and decorative accents, including glittered picture frames. We accessorized with magnificent pillows, custom linens and towels that I designed with Mehlrose NY.
There are amazing artistic pieces of glasswork in collaboration with Galaxy Glass and Stone, including custom mirrors, a stunning custom glass tabletop, and a completely unique shower glass door.
The home has a highly curated ambiance from the moment you enter the front door as from the color story, to the pattern, purpose, and energy. You walk past seven grayscale butterfly artworks, into my jungle-themed living room, through my ‘Secret Garden’ dining room, and finally, you get to the whimsical backyard. Plus, we added amazing sound for ambiance, with Gadget AV solutions.
In collaboration with LeNoble Lumber, my favorite construction supplier, my team and I milled wood in the backyard to build out all the closets and the backyard space. We created the ultimate mood, calling it our enchanted garden with LED rainbow and string lights, an innovative bar featuring my Arc tile collection, an egg chair from Lighting World Decor, and a glass bar top featuring my favorite John Lennon quote. We worked with Edge Landscape to outfit the yard with bluestone and ivy to complete the space.
We designed every room using luxury decor from my wallpaper collection with Sur La Mur, to custom fixtures from NSA lighting, as well as magnificent furniture from Modshop, gorgeous decorative accents from Mehlrose NY, and award-winning tile collections with Tilebar. We also created custom statement window shades for every room with NV Window Treatments.
We added a feature wall next to my studio to showcase all my products including clutches, belts, backpacks, and puzzles, so that clients and buyers visiting the space can see everything properly showcased.
Lauren: It seems everything takes much longer than anticipated these days due to supply chain issues. How long did the renovation take you and your team?
Sutton: The whole thing would have taken most people a year. It took us four months. We pulled off a miracle.
Lauren: Do you have any additional plans for the space?
Sutton: We are still waiting for a few finishing touches. I regularly rotate out the artwork. So that will always change within the space. I am also newly addicted to floral arrangements from Fleur La Table which I change weekly because fresh flowers bring all design elements to life.
Lauren: Most landlords will not allow this level of renovation. How did you manage to negotiate this into your lease?
Sutton: My broker was the liaison between myself and the landlord throughout the negotiations. I signed quickly without seeing the space in person because I was told there was another offer. I made it clear to my broker what my intentions were, but didn’t have a formal conversation with the landlord about the plans until after I signed.
They didn’t have a problem with me putting up wallpaper. Their biggest concern was that I bring everything back to its original state, but I’ve added tons of value. The bones of the building are really special, but it definitely needed work. It is always helpful when you have a great landlord.
Lauren: Do you have any tips for truly transforming a home that isn’t necessarily your style and making it your own?
Sutton: It depends on what about the home specifically doesn’t align with your style. Is it the tile, flooring, bathrooms, moldings, paint colors, lighting, or something else?
My advice is, don’t do what I did and rush the process. I needed to get it together quickly for work purposes. If you own the home, enhance it one room at a time. First, focus on the bones, and starting with the rooms you spend the most time in. A fresh coat of paint can go a long way. Lighting is very important as a base, as it has the ability to truly make a space feel way larger. Flooring and tiles come next. Only then would I focus my dollars on fixtures, furniture and equipment.
If you are renting, I would do the opposite. Focus your dollars and the things you can remove once you leave such as furniture, art, peel-and-stick wallpaper, throw pillows, blankets, and other decorative items.
Lauren: Do you have any tips to share about creating spaces with a lot of color tastefully?
Sutton: I love working with neutral furniture and adding color everywhere else, but balance is essential. The colors need to be complimentary. If you have very colorful art, wallpaper, and decorative accents, keep the furniture neutral. If you have colorful furniture, I’d keep the art and wallpaper neutral. Emerald pairs beautifully with lavenders and sorbets. Brights always balance well with pure black and white. I love pastels mixed with greyscale, and jewel tones mixed with beiges and siennas.
The conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.