Living in a Jewel Box

Designer Phillip Thomas used jewel tones, dramatic accents, and funky light fixtures to transform a prewar apartment on the Upper East Side into a space that envelops its inhabitants in warmth, color, and comfort
In the living/dining room, interior design by Phillip Thomas

Photo by Michael Mundy

In the living/dining room, interior designer Phillip Thomas treats pink as a neutral and dares to treat tiger print the same, anchoring patterns and colors to bring them all together. Sconces by Vaughan; mirror by Global Views.

As the child of attorneys who divided their time between Latin America and New York and traveled the world visiting museums and exotic sights rather than beaches and amusement parks, designer Phillip Thomas has the benefit of a visual vocabulary that runs deep and informs every choice he makes. “My childhood library was upholstered from floor to ceiling in tiger velvet from Scalamandré. When you grow up in an aggressive environment like that, it shapes you,” he says.

He casually cites childhood experiences—decorating his parents’ new apartment in Chile while there on his junior year abroad, a month in the Argentine embassy in Russia as a teenager when the ambassador was away—as influences. His mental design catalog is rich, full of international styles and a diverse deck of colors.

Entry table under gold mirror on wall of Gracie scenic paper

Photo by Michael Mundy

Gracie wallpaper and a custom console give a hint of what to expect in the rest of the house.

Intricate marquetry floor, Upper East Side pre-war details

Photo by Michael Mundy

In the gallery, a marquetry wood floor serves as a dramatic foil to the early 20th-century French stingray chest. Door color is “Old Navy” by Benjamin Moore.

Nevertheless, his design predilections work for smaller spaces as well. When he started on his first project for a young family with two toddler boys, the wife wanted to go neutral. Phillip’s response: “We can do that, of course. But you’re not gray people. You’re much more fun.”

His embrace of bold color, vibrant pattern, rich textures, and luxurious finishes inspired his clients to create rooms that are as much reflections of them as they are stylish. A few years later, they came back to him, saying, “The boys are growing, but the apartment isn’t. We need to find a larger space.’ ” What they discovered was an “estate condition” apartment on the city’s Upper East Side—a prewar space with Georgian details and an existing floor plan that suited their needs without a complete overhaul.

“There are certain spaces that you just want to envelop you. The library is one of those spaces where you feel like you’re getting hugged, like a cocoon.”

—Phillip Thomas

red library, interior design by Phillip Thomas

Photo by Michael Mundy

The library cocoons during the day with allover paint in “ Ladybug Red” by Benjamin Moore and glows softly at night thanks to the iridescent gilt ceiling. Sofa fabric by Schumacher.

The plan was to use the same pieces from the first apartment. But Phillip was dead set against an exact replica of that home. “Frankly, I didn’t want their guests to walk in and say instantly, ‘Oh, you used exactly the same furniture,’ ” says the designer. Rooms were reconfigured and rearranged, creating an entirely new feeling with their original pieces. The theme was “glam meets gracious with a wink,” and the goal was to create rooms “that excite the eye rather than exhaust it,” he says.

The Gracie paper in the entry sets the tone. “It’s intense,” says Phillip. “But I think you want people to stop and appreciate your home from the moment they walk in.” The front door was another instance of push-pull that led the team to brilliance. The designer envisioned a black lacquered front door, but the wife resisted, suggesting navy blue lacquer instead. “It’s a wonderful twist on the formula,” says Phillip. “I appreciate it when a client pushes back. It makes our journey more interesting.”

Blue kitchen, sink filled with flowers, interior design by Phillip Thomas

Photo by Michael Mundy

The kitchen feels colorful despite its white cabinetry thanks to blue accents, including a lac-quered ceiling that reflects light. Side chairs from Serena and Lily; globe pendants by Circa Lighting.

dining area, open floor plan

Photo by Michael Mundy

In the dining area, flowers reflect Phillip Thomas’s approach to decorating: masses of not perfectly matching tones that come together naturally.

The designer admits to going a little crazy with the living room, combining sympathetic prints, patterns, and colors whose affinities were not readily apparent on the design board. “I thought the clients’ heads were going to explode when they saw the palette,” he says. But the room’s large scale and great light gave him flexibility to create three separate seating areas to accommodate a large cocktail party or a get-together with close friends.

Living room seating area flanked by metal tables with oversized pink lamps and pink and blue armchairs.

Photo by Michael Mundy

A carpet by Stark grounds the pink and blue living room. The blue velvet pillow fabric is by Kravet.

Phillip’s priority in this space was to create a room of related but separate environments, a place “where you don’t want to leave.” To do so, the designer thought about how his clients live. They entertain; their children have friends over; beauty and style are priorities. With that in mind, Phillip turned the previous dining room into an indulgent library/family room. And he integrated the formal dining area into the living space, custom-designing the table with a Bronze Corian top that is both practical and great-looking. It’s the details throughout that make the room as intriguing as it is welcoming—the firedogs by Marc Bankowsky; the early 20th-century Leleu floor lamp; the instances of tiger print, which act as neutrals, sustaining the patterns at play.

Primary bedroom in a serene soft sage palette, decorated by interior designer Phillip Thomas

Photo by Michael Mundy

For the younger son’s room, the designer upholstered a niche to create a quilted headboard. Ceiling paint is “Sapphireberry” by Benjamin Moore; bed linens by Matouk.

In contrast, the library, with its lacquered red walls and iridescent gold ceiling, radiates warmth. “There are certain spaces that you just want to envelop you,” says Thomas. “The library is one where you feel like you’re getting hugged, like a cocoon.” That feeling is juxtaposed by the chandelier—designed by Phillip—that had illuminated the former dining room. He calls it a “celestial explosion, evocative of a chandelier you might see at Lincoln Center.”

The kitchen is the room that required significant renovation. “They’re cooking for two growing boys, and they have a cute, rambunctious dog, so this room had to work,” says Phillip. In the interest of style longevity, cabinets were left white and walls were covered with a blue vinyl wallpaper that can be cleaned easily. Great light and a dynamic layout mean the room gets lots of use.

Blue and orange bedroom with upholstered niche for the bed, blue ceiling and blue carpet.

Photo by Michael Mundy

For the younger son’s room, the designer upholstered a niche to create a quilted headboard. Ceiling paint is “Sapphireberry” by Benjamin Moore; bed linens by Matouk.

The serene main bedroom has a ta-da moment in the wife’s dressing room, with a fabric by Michael Smith covering the walls. “Don’t you want to wake up in the morning and feel like you’re being kissed? It takes me back to childhood when my grandmother covered me in kisses,” says Phillip. The fabric color frames, flatters, and connects to the soft pink on the bedroom’s ceiling. That’s the genius of Phillip Thomas. He uses the lessons of a life well traveled and studied to create rooms that are comfortable, interesting, and style rich—with a wink.


Click images to enlarge.

dressing room wallpapered in red and pink kisses, designed by Phillip Thomas

Photo by Michael Mundy

“She may have been apprehensive at first, but the fun and femininity of the space are hard not to love,” says Phillip of the wife’s dressing room. Chandelier by Circa Lighting. “Don’t you want to wake up in the morning and feel like you’re being kissed? It takes me back to childhood when my grandmother covered me in kisses.” — Phillip Thomas

Built-in desk in the a primary bedroom

Photo by Michael Mundy

The main bedroom was large, so Phillip and the architect designed a niche for a desk area.

Red ceiling  and rich wood paneling in the study

Photo by Michael Mundy

The walls in the husband’s study are clad in wenge wood, and the ceiling in faux pony hide wallcovering. Lantern by Vaughan.

playful blue boys bedroom punctuated by a kelly green homework desk, designed by Phillip Thomas

Photo by Michael Mundy

In one of the boys’ rooms, Phillip cut the striped ceiling paper into squares, adding energy to the space. Carpet by Stark.

entryway, Gracie wallpaper, navy blue door

Photo by Michael Mundy

Phillip originally envisioned the front door in black lacquer, but the client suggested navy blue lacquer instead. “It’s a wonderful twist on the formula. I appreciate it when a client pushes back. It makes our journey more interesting.” — Phillip Thomas

powder room wallpaper

Photo by Michael Mundy

De Gournay’s Deco Monkeys spices up the powder room.

bar decor, blue decor

Photo by Michael Mundy

In the bar, different papers cover the wall and ceiling, adding energy to the monochromatic space.

living room décor

Photo by Michael Mundy

The living room carpet is by Stark; blue velvet pillow fabric is by Kravet.

blue-and-white boys bathroom designed by Philip Thomas

Photo by Michael Mundy

A blue-and-white bathroom connects the boys' rooms.


On color in a small space: The library’s allover red worked because we embraced one color. There was less visual clutter than if we’d had contrasting trim and moldings.

Study the light: Color changes over the course of a day. There are so many subtle nuances.

Never ignore the ceiling: In the main bedroom, for example, the ceiling is a subtle pink that bathes the room in soft light.

Take a walk on the wild side: There is a luxury to animal prints, but they also can take such a beating and you never notice it. They only get better.

Lighting matters: Don’t shy away from a large light fixture. It draws your eye up to reveal the architecture.

Be a bookworm: I know screens are practical choices for reading, but bookcases are so important. Your books are a reflection of your tastes and history. I tell my clients, “If you love a book, buy it in hardback. Use your Kindle for the beach reads.”







  • Custom carpet, Stark, starkcarpet.com
  • Marc Bankowsky andirons, Jules Leleu polished and gilt mahogany floor lamp, and vases (on mantel) in bronze, Maison Gerard, maisongerard.com
  • Custom-colored crosshatch strié decorative paint, Andrew Tedesco Studios, andrewtedesco.com
  • Icarus sconces, Vaughan, vaughandesigns.com
  • Vintage Italian pink Murano lamps, David Duncan Antiques, davidduncanantiques.com
  • Global Views Governors Palace mirror, globalviews.com
  • Maison Jansen acrylic table, James Worrall, jamesworrall.com
  • Custom club chair, Phillip Thomas Inc., in Quadrille Les Indiennes fabric, quadrillefabrics.com, with Samuel & Sons contrast cord and tape trim, samuelandsons.com
  • Custom tufted ottoman, Phillip Thomas Inc., in Nobilis Velours Tiger fabric, nobilis.fr, with Houles Twiggy Braid trim, houles.com
  • Custom slipper chair, Phillip Thomas Inc.
  • Custom ivory sofa, Phillip Thomas Inc., in Holly Hunt Wall-to-Wall fabric, hollyhunt.com
  • Custom club chair, Phillip Thomas Inc., in Luigi Bevilaqua Radica fabric in Azzurro, luigi-bevilacqua.com, and Samuel & Sons cord on tape, samuelandsons.com
  • Custom dining table, Phillip Thomas Inc., manufactured by Morgik Metal, morgik.com
  • Antique dining chairs, Arenskjold Antiques Art, arenskjold.com, in Holly Hunt Bora Bora leather in Color 6000/26, hollyhunt.com
  • Curtain fabric, Holland & Sherry Silk Taffeta in Ivory with custom-colored Bamaco embroidery, hollandandsherry.com
  • Custom curtain hardware, Phillip Thomas Inc., fabricated by Morgik Metal Designs, morgik.com


  • Wall paint, Benjamin Moore Ladybug Red in high-gloss finish, benjaminmoore.com
  • Metallic ceiling paint, Modern Masters Flash Gold, paintsupply.com
  • Carpet, Stark Antilocarpa, starkcarpet.com
  • Custom Coco-style sofa, Phillip Thomas Inc., in Schumacher Serenissmo Velvet Rouge fabric, fschumacher.com, with Samuel & Sons piping and tape trim, samuelandsons.com
  • Pillow fabric, Clarence House Samarkind, clarencehouse.com, with Robert Allen trim, robertallendesign.com
  • Gold fabric, Hutton Collections Zen Garden, huttonscollection.com, with Robert Allen trim
  • Blue velvet pillow fabric, Lee Jofa Shoridge in Lapis, kravet.com, with Samuel & Sons trim
  • Custom Odom-style club chair, Phillip Thomas Inc., in Scalamandré Ungherese Rigato fabric in Lisere, scalamandre.com, with Samuel & Sons cord and tape trims
  • Custom Pierrepont-style club chair, Phillip Thomas Inc., in Pierre Frey Khiva fabric in Prune, pierrefrey.com, with Samuel & Sons cord on tape
  • Custom ottomans with storage, Phillip Thomas Inc., with Studioart Vertigo leather, studioart.it
  • Art, Christopher Gates Scott, shingleisland.com
  • Curtain fabric, Holly Hunt Silk Luxe in Crimson, hollyhunt.com, with custom Clara embroidery by Holland & Sherry, hollandandsherry.com
  • Custom hardware, Morgik Metal, morgik.com


  • Wallpaper, custom Deco Monkeys in Terracotta by de Gournay, degournay.com


  • Aversa glass lantern, Vaughan, vaughandesigns.com
  • Custom ottomans, Phillip Thomas Inc., upholstered in Studioart Elica leather in Arancio, studioart.it
  • Custom sofa bed, Scott Jordan, scottjordan.com, upholstered in Romo Fabrics Peron in Charcoal, romo.com


  • Achille Salvagni Emerald bronze side table, Maison Gerard, maisongerard.com
  • Wallpaper, DPH 70 in Plume by Nobilis, nobilis.fr



  • Linens, Meridian collection in Ocean Flange by Matouk, matouk.com
  • Wallpaper, Hinson Splatter in Navy on White through Scalamandré, scalamandre.com
  • Paint, Benjamin Moore Tangy Orange, benjaminmoore.com
  • Ceiling paint, Benjamin Moore Sapphireberry
  • Carpet, Brigade in Blue/White by Stark, starkcarpet.com
  • Custom upholstered headboard, Phillip Thomas Inc., with Romo fabric, romo.com
  • Chandelier, France and Son, franceandson.com
  • Roman shades, Quadrille Wavelength fabric in Blue on Oyster, quadrillefabrics.com, with Pierre Frey Portofino contrast border in Orange, pierrefrey.com
  • Custom-upholstered armchair, Phillip Thomas Inc.


  • Wallpaper, Christopher Farr Crochet in Cobalt, christopherfarr.com
  • Ceiling paper, Christopher Farr Cremaillere in Cobalt
  • Carpet, Brigade in Blue/White by Stark, starkcarpet.com
  • Pillow fabric, Fabricut La Lagune in color 03, fabricut.com
  • Custom chair, Phillip Thomas Inc., upholstered in Raoul Textiles Boris in Delft, raoultextiles.com
  • Curtain fabric, Templeton Madeleine in Cerulean, templetonfabrics.com
  • LED pendant, Raimond medium, lumens.com


  • Linens, Matouk Ceylon collection with custom embroidery, matouk.com
  • Custom Martin Patrick Evan carpet, martinpatrickevan.com
  • Chandelier, Utopia by Circa Lighting, circalighting.com
  • Custom-designed bench with bolsters, Phillip Thomas Inc.
  • Window curtain fabrics, Holland & Sherry Glazed Linen in Oyster with custom Marnia embroidery, hollandandsherry.com


By Frances MacDougall | Photography by Michael Mundy | Interior design by Phillip Thomas, phillipthomasinc.com


This story originally appeared on the cover of FLOWER magazine’s Jan/Feb 2021 issue. Subscribe to the magazine or sign up for our free e-newsletter.