Step Inside the New York Apartment of an Art-Dealing Power Couple

Owners of the blue-chip Marlborough Gallery enlist designer Pol Theis to refresh their NoMad abode

In the living room, interior designer Pol Theis created seating upholstered in grey silk custom-designed in Paris by Jim Thompson. The area allows visitors to approach the windows and drink in the view. the large painting is the 1991 Leger at the easel by American artist Larry Rivers.
Photo: Antoine Bootz

In 1980, art dealer Rosi Levai and her husband Pierre, bought a 3,500-square-foot raw space on Fifth Avenue near Madison Square Park, gazes from one of her 27 windows at the towers rising around her. “Do you see that glint” she asked, pointing north. “That’s the Chrysler Building.” Six months ago it was visible, and then, bit by bit, it began to disappear. Levai, a blonde woman who wears her elegance effortlessly, even while dressed in jeans at 9:30 a.m., sounded sad, but also philosophical—and even a bit bewitched by the changes. Even now, more than 35 years after she moved into her co-op, and long before the neighborhood became known as “NoMad,” New York remains a tapestry spread under her feet. “When I grew up, I was constantly moving around,” she said in her calm voice with its British inflections. Her father had been in the British Army and foreign office. She attended 13 schools. In 46 years of marriage, she added, she has lived in just two apartments, “one for ten years, and now this.”

Mexican artist Rufino Tamayo’s Man Playing with His Son holds a central place in the living room. On the left wall is Supposed by Spanish artist Juan Genoves. Photo: Antoine Bootz

Bolstering her sense of stability is her artwork, which may stop you in your tracks even before you reach the windows. Radiant against the neutral backdrop of her decor are a densely painted Manolo Valdés’ clever abstraction of a youth in a red hat, and Fernando Botero’s Still Life in Front of a Window—a not-unexpectedly voluptuous rendering of ceramics and fruit. A jubilant canvas by Rufino Tamayo called Man Playing With His Son reminds her of trips to Mexico to visit the artist, who died in 1991, at the age of 92. Pierre played canasta with him by the hour, which was all the artist wanted to do, apart from painting. The artists are more than passing acquaintances; they are represented by Marlborough Gallery, the blue-chip establishment of which Pierre is president. “They are objects we have chosen to live with,” Rosi said about the collection, “not something fashionable for the moment.” Parting with these treasures even temporarily, when they are on loan for exhibitions, gives her pain. Replacing them is unthinkable. So her home has changed around them. She and Pierre began looking for real estate in the neighborhood when “we realized we didn’t have to go to SoHo for a loft,” she said.

In the dining area, Spanish artist Manolo Valdés’s Retrato de un Joven hangs above a walnut sideboard from BDDW. An extraordinary—and real—still life has been composed on the table, designed by Pol Theis. Photo: Antoine Bootz

In the living room, Theis created seating upholstered in grey silk custom-designed in Paris by Jim Thompson. The large painting is Leger at the Easel by American artist Larry Rivers. Photo: Antoine Bootz

The building they settled on in 1980 had been a carpet warehouse, and the irony of the windowed space was that it had barely any surfaces for hanging art. They covered fenestrations, built interior walls, and installed a large kitchen that has turned out meals for as many as 70 party guests after Marlborough Gallery openings. Over the decades, during which the Levais raised two children, Paula and Max, there have been several renovations—or “rearrangements,” as Rosi preferred to describe them. The last significant one was six years ago, when the loft had colorful furniture and Chinese carpets.

Theis also crafted the lacquered shelves in the living room for the collection of Le Verre Français, ornate French vessels made between 1918 and 1933. Photo: Antoine Bootz

Pol Theis, an interior designer who lived in the building at the time, quieted the palette with broad infusions of grey and taupe to make the artwork stand out more vividly. Another coup was to round up the Levais’ collection of Art Deco glass known as Le Verre Français. Made in Nancy, France, in the 1920s and 30s, the whimsical pieces are reminiscent of Emile Gallé’s Art Nouveau glass, but the colors are more robust. Theis designed illuminated lacquer cabinetry in the small sitting room to make a powerful presentation, and re-arranged the pieces in rows, like buildings on a skyline—miniature studies in grandeur, to match the one visible across the room. At least for now.

Colombian artist Fernando Botero’s opulent Still Life in Front of a Window is the star of the small sitting room. The 1950s chairs are upholstered in a striped fabric from Osborne & Little. Photo: Antoine Bootz