André Balazs, the hotelier known for his see-and-be-seen spaces and for his eclectic interiors, is listing his longtime New York home—complete with a 13th-century Florentine fresco and a custom "light wall"—for $12 million.

Mr. Balazs, who spends most of his time in Europe, said he is selling because he rarely spends any time in the city, and could just as easily stay at his Mercer Hotel nearby when he does. He noted that it is "not the optimum time to sell" given the impact of Covid-19 on the New York real-estate market, but it simply doesn’t make sense for him to keep the property.

The roughly 4,200-square-foot apartment has many custom built-ins like bookshelves to house his many books, which include a collection once owned by the late graphic designer Paul Rand. The apartment "now looks like a library, basically," he said.

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Collectible pieces include a large boardroom table designed by Brazilian designer Sergio Rodrigues that is now used as a kitchen table. Among Mr. Balazs’s favorite features of the apartment is the "light wall" built into his hallway: a 30-foot-long canvas wall that is lighted from behind. Furnishings are available for an additional sum.

Hotelier André Balazs is known for his see-and-be-seen spaces and for his eclectic interiors.

Dave Benett/Getty Images

The property is in the Soho district on Mercer Street, in a boutique building dating back to around 1895 and which was once home to rocker Jon Bon Jovi, records show. While many of the buildings in the area cap out at around six stories, the property rises to 10, giving Mr. Balazs views of the Empire State Building, the World Trade Center and the Hudson River. "I’m an Aquarian. I can’t live without seeing water," he said.

Mr. Balazs, 63, said he initially moved to Soho about 35 years ago after graduating from journalism school at Columbia University. Having grown up in Cambridge, Mass., he said he was attracted to Soho’s community of academics and artists—resulting in more art galleries than restaurants or retail stores—and its low-rise feel, which made the apartments feel bright and airy. He has lived in about five different apartments in the neighborhood since then, he said.

He bought this property in 2003 for $5.75 million, records show. He bought it following his separation from Katie Ford, the former chief executive of modeling agency Ford Models, with whom he shares two children. The former couple wanted to live close by so that the children could move easily between their two homes, he said.

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Mr. Balazs said he reinvented the apartment numerous times as his life evolved. In the early days, it had to accommodate two young children. It later became the home of a single man. Then, he shared the space with girlfriends like actress Uma Thurman.

The man behind hotels like the Chateau Marmont in Los Angeles and the Chiltern Firehouse in London said that he also used the home as a laboratory to test his latest design ideas, like installing the fresco on the ceiling of the living room. He also tested little details like heated towel racks. "If I could live with it, I knew it could work in a hotel," he said.

He estimated that he has spent $3 million to $5 million on reinventing the property over and over again. "It’s what I get my kicks out of," he said.

When he is in the U.S., Mr. Balazs said he normally stays at his estate in New York’s Dutchess County. The manor-style property dates back to the 1940s and is known as Locusts-on-Hudson. He also has a home on New York’s Shelter Island.

Tal Alexander and Oren Alexander of Douglas Elliman have the listing.