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Best of the Best 2005: Interior Designers

Adele Cygelman

When Carl D’Aquino and Francine Monaco joined forces seven years ago, the New York duo began offering a boutique approach to the entire architecture and design process. D’Aquino trained as an architect but, he says, he “made a left turn 20 years ago into interior design because I found it more fulfilling.” Monaco, who also lectures at Pratt Institute, stayed the course as an architect.

“We aren’t cookie-cutter,” says D’Aquino. “We aren’t repetitive. It would be easier for us if we had one signature look. We would be able to take longer vacations. But each project is a unique exploration that represents our clients’ personalities, and ours.”

D’Aquino’s first job was for newlyweds who were acquiring a small apartment in Manhattan. Like many of his early clients, they have remained loyal to his firm and over the years have hired D’Aquino Monaco for a number of projects, including their primary residence, vacation homes, and even corporate offices. “When a project is successful and it works, it becomes exciting having a history together,” D’Aquino notes. “The first project with a client is hard; you have to get them to talk and express themselves. We have to be able to understand each other and talk about everything. It gets very intimate. We know which side of the bed you sleep on.”

While their styles differ slightly—Monaco is a modernist, and D’Aquino enjoys mixing antiques with contemporary pieces—the partners share a common respect for all architectural periods, whether they are renovating a 100-year-old Pennsylvania gristmill or building a Shingle-style beach house from the ground up. “I am not a dictator,” D’Aquino says. “I have strong opinions, and if I see the perfect table for your house I will say, ‘Please buy this piece, it will tie everything together.’ But there is always a dialogue and a collaboration.”

D’Aquino prefers dynamic interiors, like that of his childhood home, where his mother sewed her own curtains and changed the covers on the furniture in spring and fall. “It’s like a hidden surprise when you take off slipcovers; you always forget what’s underneath,” he says. “Our rooms aren’t static. Add slipcovers, bring in fresh flowers, and do your own floral arrangements. It’s not going to ruin the design if you move a chair.”

The 12-member staff of D’Aquino Monaco will build models, make full presentations with drawings and swatches, and bring a piece of furniture to your house to see if it works—all to help clients visualize a room and make the process painless. “A perfect home is whatever makes you comfortable,” says D’Aquino. “The greatest compliment to us is when clients walk in and say, ‘I feel at home here.’ ”

 

D’Aquino Monaco, 212.929.9787, www.daquinomonaco.com

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