Bespoke Living Interiors & Design

A Place to Stay: the Discreet Charm of the Pied-à-Terre

Many of us have reevaluated how, and where, we live—but some of us will always want one foot in the city, which makes a pied-à-terre the perfect solution

It’s fair to say that the events of the past two years have brought about much change in how and where we live. The COVID-19 pandemic and its lockdowns meant that remote working was an option—or indeed a necessity—for many, and as a result a considerable proportion of city dwellers have left their metropolitan homes in favor of a less urban lifestyle. However, some may find that they still want a presence in the city, and a pied-à-terre might be the answer.

An analysis of U.S. Postal Service data shows that 320,000 people departed New York City in 2020—a 237 percent increase from the previous year. The exodus continued in 2021 as more than 100,000 people filed change-of-address forms—more than double the usual amount.

In a pied-à-terre you need warm interiors, a good space to relax, and an amazing sleep area. I like to include a bathtub, too, as it’s really important to rest well during a longer business stay—David Thulstrup

But not all of those who leave abandon city living entirely. “New York City is more than a vacation destination—it’s a necessity,” says Kate Meier of Meier Estates & Ventures Team, Christie’s International Real Estate. “A pied-à-terre is a cultivated extension of a lifestyle. It’s a base from which to see Broadway shows, dine at iconic restaurants, attend a couture fitting, check in at an annual board meeting…”

Whether they are used for business trips, vacations, or family get-togethers, these properties are a home away from home, where owners can stay for planned and extended periods of time, as well as for brief last-minute visits. “It’s a meeting place for larger or extended families to gather at a central location, and can also be a place for your children, or your grandkids who go to Columbia or NYU,” adds Meier.

Shower room with full length glass windows and sea view
With its bright, light-filled interiors, ocean views, and generous living spaces, this Florida pied-à-terre by mwworks has been adapted to cater for a Seattle-based family of six. Courtesy: Kevin Scott

One example is a 6,112-square-foot (568 sq m) single-floor condominium within a residential tower overlooking the Atlantic in Miami Beach, Florida. Based in Seattle, the owners are frequent travelers but have roots in the area, and had been looking to return. To accommodate the family of six, two units were combined to create a five-bedroom retreat.

“Natural light is often the most cherished feature, and our first conversations with these clients focused on the ever-changing views and quality of light,” says Eric Walter, co-founder of mwworks, the practice in charge of the project. “The design amplifies these assets and lets the interior act as both a canvas and a frame.”

To this end, bedrooms are treated with pale, hand-troweled plaster that reflects light deep into the building, while the core is clad in dark tropical hardwood. Sheer curtains, tactile fabrics, and patterned flooring bring a sense of tranquility not typically found in the exuberant South Beach.

Making the Most of the Space

Space maximization is often high up on a client’s wish list, too. In the English capital, at a Chelsea property by interior and architecture design studio 1508 London, a complex floor plate meant unlocking the layout was key to the project’s success.

Marble kitchen with gold light fitting and flower display
Designed by 1508 London, a studio specialising in residential, hospitality and multi-unit developments, the kitchen of this home features marble to create impact within a small space. Courtesy: 1508 London

As a place for withdrawing from an often noisy, active city, a pied-à-terre is a refuge. This means focusing on the quieter aspects of the home, including the patterns and textures of surfaces and furnishing—Jeremy Evard, architect

“With a pied-à-terre clients tend to opt for an open-plan design, but a series of smaller, well-formed rooms with clever storage solutions can create a practical layout,” says design principal Ailsa Connery.

“Here, we wanted to create defined spaces but to maintain a relaxed flow. Framed glazed screens can blend rooms and borrow light to create the impression of a larger footprint, while the living areas are functional yet sociable with a built-in bar in the reception room and interconnecting dining room for entertaining. The kitchen is the core of any comfortable home, and here the compact space includes a light-filled breakfast niche, dramatic marble, and bespoke cabinetry.”

Art deco style living room with curved features and a contemporary fire place
Ghiora Aharoni Design Studio’s pied-à-terre in Manhattan was conceived as a “residence as work of art.” Located within a landmark Art Deco building, there are no hard edges and instead everything is gently curved. Courtesy: Aviad Bar-Ness

In contrast, Ghiora Aharoni Design Studio’s Manhattan pied-à-terre was once a series of compartmentalized rooms. Reconfigured for a Beverly Hills-based client, the interior walls of the Art Deco property were removed to create an open-plan space.

“I wanted to reference the building’s curved vocabulary, and create an expansive living space,” explains Aharoni. “Everything is curved, there are no hard edges. The flowing lines create a sense of movement that expands the perception of the space. I also included a fireplace, which functions in so many ways. It creates a focus and somewhere to gather, and provides warmth in a literal and figurative sense. Plus, it’s a beautiful source of light.”

The challenge for Anna-Carin McNamara, principal designer at Australia’s Anna Carin Design Studio, is often how clients want to feel when they arrive. “Relaxation is very important,” she says, “as is the scale of the furniture, and flexibility in the way it can be used.”

Living room with large windows looking onto water
Anna Carin Design Studio’s flexible home for a retired couple in Sydney, Australia, features seagrass wallpaper, upholstered bedheads, a hand-knotted wool rug, and cashmere blankets to create texture and warmth. Courtesy: Anna Carin Design Studio

This was a consideration in a pied-à-terre in Barangaroo, Sydney, which is owned by a retired couple whose children and grandchildren also use it when visiting. “The dining table can be intimate for two but extends to sit 12, plus there’s space in the second bedroom closet to store stacking chairs,” explains McNamara. “This is the type of project where we can be extravagant with dream pieces such as the Carl Hansen daybed, which isn’t essential in an everyday home but was included because the client always loved it.”

Loft pied-à-terre featuring wooden beans and a spiral staircase
Located in Copenhagen, the Vipp Loft features high-sloped ceilings, a mezzanine level featuring a bedroom and study space, plus three outdoor terraces. Courtesy: Studio David Thulstrup

Created as a space for guests of Danish design brand Vipp to experience its products, the 4,305-square-foot (400 sq m) Vipp Loft—which sits above the company’s offices, on the second floor of a converted printing factory in Islands Brygge, Copenhagen—is the work of Studio David Thulstrup.

Having exposed the original oak timber rafters and high sloped ceilings, the award-winning practice was then able to build a mezzanine level into the generous volume. “It was important to create a homely environment,” says founder and creative director David Thulstrup. “In a pied-à-terre you need warm interiors, a good space to relax, and an amazing sleep area. I like to include a bathtub, too, as it’s really important to rest well during a longer business stay.”

Raising the bar higher, many upscale pieds-à-terre are now located in branded residences with five-star hotels as management. “While New York City has a vast number of hotels to choose from, many are inadequate for large families. Rather than lug 30 suitcases with them, they want a mainstay to keep essentials in convenience and luxury,” says Meier.

Size, Space and Security

“The Ritz-Carlton New York, NoMad is a level of penthouse with not just the required size and space, it provides a different kind of security—you know who is at the front desk, whether the stay is for three days or three weeks,” she adds.

The Ritz-Carlton New York, NoMad will even rent your property out when you’re not there to offset maintenance costs, while locked closets allow staff to store your belongings safely.

“People of generational wealth understand that NYC real estate is one of the most secure investments in the world. While you need a pied-à-terre for a family to function, it’s also an avenue to earn a profit. They understand it’s part of their wealth portfolio,” says Meier. “It will gain value and give a better return than almost any other investment they might have.”

On the Market 

Living area with large windows looking onto the Eiffel Tower
This Parisian apartment is located on the fourth floor of a fine turn-of-the-century freestone building. Secure and air-conditioned, it includes a large reception room, two suites, parking, and a cellar

Location is everything at this magnificent two-suite apartment in the heart of the French capital, with all of the living spaces drinking in superb views of the Eiffel Tower. Recently renovated, and sold furnished, this 1,916-square-foot (178 sq m) residence is the perfect base for exploring Paris.

Lounge with impressive views from double aspect windows
Museum Tower offers housekeeping and includes a spacious, recently renovated gym and sauna with laundry facilities and valet parking available. The living room features gorgeous wood flooring and high ceilings further accentuated with amazing direct-on-park views.

Soaring above The Museum of Modern Art in Midtown Manhattan, this palatial condo located within Museum Tower features a corner living room with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking Central Park. Designed by Csar Pelli, Museum Tower is known for exceptional design, attentive staff and a prime location just off 5th Avenue, close to all the cultural attractions Manhattan has to offer.

Banner image: A condominium designed by mwworks in Miami Beach, Florida. Courtesy: mwworks