When Kathryn Gallagher was 11, the career demands of her father, the actor Peter Gallagher, forced the family to leave the Upper West Side of Manhattan for Los Angeles. A decade or so later, the demands of her own burgeoning career — specifically, a role in the 2015 Broadway revival of “Spring Awakening” — meant a move back to Manhattan. And she knew precisely where she wanted to land.
“I was like, ‘If I’m going to live in New York, it has to be the Upper West Side, which is home, and which is where the best bagels are to be found,’” said Ms. Gallagher, now 28, a current Tony nominee for her performance in the musical “Jagged Little Pill” and a Season 2 cast member of the Amazon series “Modern Love,” based on the New York Times column. “This is my neighborhood.”
Initially, she rented a studio apartment on the fourth floor of a walk-up building near Central Park West, the fulfillment of every “young-woman-in-the-big-city” dream she ever had. There were tall windows, exposed brick, crown molding and just the right degree of scruffiness. But what with the three or four (or more) daily walks required by her dog, Willie Nelson, the trips up and down the stairs became burdensome.
Kathryn Gallagher, 28
Occupation: Actor and songwriter
Design for living: “It’s very helpful for have a mother who’s an interior decorator. I inherited my mom’s sense of style, but added 50 points for zany wackiness.”
Ms. Gallagher is an avid student of life. Her conversation is studded with phrases like “lessons hard learned,” “a journey of learning” and “learning curve.” So it will come as no surprise that when she went hunting for a new apartment two and a half years ago, she had absorbed enough wisdom to hold out for something that was close to ground level but with the raffish charm of the walk-up.
She found such a place — a one-bedroom with high ceilings and period detail on the parlor floor of a townhouse near Riverside Park — at the end of a long, rainy day of searching with her mother, Paula Harwood, an interior designer.
“The moment I walked in, I was like, ‘When this was a single-family home, this was where they gathered after work to smoke a pipe and have a whiskey, and there were books lining the walls.’ I created a whole fantasy for the life that was lived in here before,” Ms. Gallagher said.
“This is a one-bedroom apartment that was never supposed to be a one-bedroom apartment,” she added. “I think of it as a library and a lounge. I love it.”
It’s true that there’s more vertical than horizontal space, and Ms. Gallagher, an eager cook, has “a criminally small” kitchen. But, really, what’s a dearth of counter space when measured against the vintage mirror over the fireplace, the fireplace itself, the Tiffany-style ceiling pendant, the French doors separating the living room from the bedroom, and the massive wood front door?
“I’m obsessed with the door,” Ms. Gallagher said. “No one is messing with this door. This door has seen many things.”
In pulling the apartment together, Ms. Gallagher came to an important realization: Mom really does know best. It was Ms. Harwood, after all, who inveighed against the folly of trying, as she put it, to move in overnight. “She was like, ‘You won’t know what you need for six months. Don’t buy everything at the beginning,’” Ms. Gallagher said.
Only recently, for example, did she have radiator covers made. “I was like, ‘Of course I need them.’ But it took me a long time to realize they were even an option,” she said, noting that she’s using the newly available flat surfaces to hold books. “I’m really excited about that.”
The one thing she did insist on soon after signing the lease was a red velvet sofa. “And my mother was like, ‘Are you sure?’” Ms. Gallagher said. “‘Because if you get a red velvet couch, everything else has to be chill. You can’t get an orange chair and a purple rug.’”
As if. The red velvet, tufted, Tuxedo-style sectional makes its strong statement, while a leaf-patterned rug in shades of sage, cream and blue provides appropriately quiet support. “It’s the kind of couch that, if this were the 1920s, someone with curls in a long silk robe would be sitting on it smoking a skinny cigarette and drinking a martini,” she said.
In the interest of filling out the scene she has so earnestly conjured, an Art Deco bar cart with mirrored shelves is just a few feet away.
In moments of uncertainty in life and in work, Ms. Gallagher’s first instinct is to nest. “I never imagined spending so much time in the apartment,” she said. “But since the pandemic, I’m finding I just love it more and more, and have found little ways to personalize it, by putting things that make me happy in every corner.”
The list includes tarot cards, guitars and journals. Atop and around the fireplace are large quantities of crystals and candles, as well as vases that once contained congratulatory opening-night bouquets, then candy canes during Christmas season, and now dried flowers.
On the wall behind the sofa hangs a photo of Ms. Gallagher’s maternal grandmother, who was a member of the now-defunct ballet company at Radio City Music Hall; an original piece by Erté, a gift from that same grandmother; and a needlepoint likeness of the four principal female “Jagged Little Pill” cast members, stitched by Ms. Gallagher’s dresser, Dyanna Hallick.
On a wall in the bedroom is a handwritten card from Alanis Morissette, whose music forms the basis of “Pill”: “Kathryn: thanks for your courage and willingness and grace and power and vulnerability. Love Alanis.”
Peter Gallagher, who is “super handy,” according to his daughter, took on the role of picture-hanger and also installed a clothes rod in an armoire from the family’s old apartment, to turn it into a coat closet for Ms. Gallagher.
“I had my dad on FaceTime when I was re-caulking the bathtub and when I was putting in an air-conditioner,” she said. “I think he was prouder of me for installing the A/C than he was of my Tony nomination.”