Savoir Vivre

One of Atlanta's landmark high-rise residences is the embodiment of the good life, compliments of designer John Oetgen

The address tells you that this is a home at The Mansion on Peachtree, a Rosewood Hotel & Residence. But a sweeping glance of this high-rise retreat makes you think twice. It feels more like you’re in Manhattan, in one of those marvelous pre-war apartment buildings on the Upper East Side.

Perhaps it’s designer John Oetgen’s generous use of black-and-white marble, reminiscent of the black-and-white lobby in New York’s Carlyle Hotel (and, ironically, another Rosewood property). Or maybe it’s his use of wooden Venetian blinds, which lend a sense of permanence to the place, much like being on Park Avenue.

But Oetgen denies any specific references to New York. Rather, his muse was simply to find the soul of this space. Here, that translates to “elegant,” with a touch of the designer’s trademark “whimsy” thrown in for good measure.

That’s apparent from the moment you step through the front door into foyer; what could have been a mere pass-through is, instead, a gallery-like experience. Glamorously trimmed with black crown molding and baseboard, the long and narrow hallway is punctuated with original photography by the designer himself. “I felt like it needed windows,” Oetgen explains. “I’m a photographer, as well as a designer, and in the middle of this project I was in Paris, where I took all these pictures. Each one is ‘framed’ by a picture of a stuccoed limestone vent hole with a metal grate in the center. I’m the old-fashioned kind of photographer who cuts and pastes, so I literally cut out the grate in the center of each photograph and inset other photos—like the Luxembourg Gardens, the Mona Lisa, a tiger print I saw in the window of an antique shop, a marvelous arrangement of Christian Dior chairs, a view of the ocean while sailing to Paris on the Queen Mary. So you’re transported from an architectural, structural point of view into a fantasy world. And perhaps that’s what this residence is, going from an architectural fortress point of view into somewhat of a fantasy world!”

Fantasy or not, the comfort found throughout is very real. The living room, for instance, is very intimate, thanks in large part to a strategically placed screen. “This is a vertical space—it has nice tall ceilings—so I brought the height down a bit, creating a horizontal line with a Chinese hand-painted screen,” Oetgen explains. And that same screen not-so-coincidentally separates the living room from the adjacent bar. “I love the idea of seeing the window (over the bar) above the screen,” he adds. “But I didn’t want to see a kitchen counter, which is the bar.”

On the other side of the bar, the formal dining room is “smallish by grand standards,” says Oetgen. “But I wanted it to feel spacious, make it a place where you could have amusing, theme-oriented dinner parties. That’s why there’s no art in here.” Instead, the walls themselves take on an artistic quality; the designer had the wallpaper cut it in blocks, then applied like limestone blocks. “It sort of mirrors the exterior of the building,” he notes. “Plus, it elongates and visually expands the size of the room.”

But it’s the heart of this home—the kitchen and family room—that truly speaks to the aforementioned New York vibe. Those Venetian blinds? “I saw this marvelous light coming in, and I wanted to use Venetian blinds to calm it down and not make it so fancy. I wanted the feeling of a bistro,” Oetgen explains. As for the black-and-white marble floors here, it wasn’t so much The Carlyle that inspired him as it was Vermeer. “I’ve always loved the paintings of Vermeer,” he says. “There’s always a window on the left, a maiden of some kind and always those great Dutch black-and-white floors.”

He may have been inspired by one of the Masters. But when it comes to design, Oetgen is a master in his own right.

Designer John Oetgen opened his firm in 1973 and, to this day, continues to create stunning spaces that are a little unexpected and a lot of fun.

+ The styles I’m most drawn to are…the best of any period. I also love a great sense of architecture, be it cozy and cottage-y or massive and monumental. And I love psychologically different feelings. In any one home, I want a room that hugs you and a room that makes you feel “free.” A sentimental room and a lively, entertaining room. I think a good environment should offer a full smorgasbord of emotions.

+ What continues to inspire me is…travel. My favorite place to visit is Paris.

+ My favorite place to shop is…New York.

+ When I go out in Atlanta, you’ll find me at…Anis. Or any of the classic restaurants, like LaGrotta. Or maybe at a party at SCAD; I love to support SCAD.

+ My biggest splurges are always on…books, art and furniture—and really good restaurants!

+ The best thing I’ve recently discovered is…the color grape. My friend Duvall has introduced me to the world of grape.

+ I like to collect…books and art. And restaurant memories.

+ The luxuries I’d never give up are…breath and a heartbeat. I think they’re pretty much luxuries!

+ My heroes are…the artists that changed the world. Vermeer and da Vinci. Picasso and Kandinsky.

INTERIOR DESIGN: John Oetgen, Oetgen Design, Inc., (404) 352-1112; The Mansion on Peachtree Residences,