It Takes Two
Designer Shamir Shah and artist Malcolm Hill make their home in a converted Chelsea printing plant
Craig Kellogg -- Interior Design, 9/1/2008 12:00:00 AM
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Shamir Shah used to be thoroughly delighted with the West Village apartment he'd overhauled to share with his partner, artist Malcolm Hill. Of course, it was always a bit small for a sociable couple. "We couldn't invite eight friends to dinner without moving the furniture," Shah recalls. Unfortunately, the neighborhood lacked an affordable upgrade, due to the ballooning celebrity quotient. "Gwyneth and Sarah Jessica," he continues, frowning. "They all live in the Village." Ultimately, he sold the apartment to a privileged New York University senior. "I worked my butt off for 15 years to live there, then handed the key to this kid," he says. The "kid" tried to buy all the apartment's contents as well. Shah finally drew the line at a couple of Christian Liaigre lamps, a handful of artifacts, and paintings by Hill. "The kid could buy his own art," Shah concludes.
Hill initially opposed a move to Chelsea, despite the facts that some of the city's premier contemporary-art galleries would be just down the street and that Shamir Shah Design was in the early stages of converting a 1930's printing plant there. The facility was operational until mere weeks before demolition began. Any weekday around dinnertime, the windows glowed a telltale blue-white from buzzing ranks of fluorescent tubes on the ceilings—Shah charitably describes it as a sort of "Dan Flavin installation." Working with the remarkably enlightened HJ Development Group, he transformed the 10-story building into the Heywood, banishing that fluorescent buzz in favor of white halogen spotlights that illuminate 50 luxury apartments of generous proportions.
Most New Yorkers consider 1,000 square feet large for a one-bedroom. So Shah and Hill's 1,800-square-foot one-bedroom with two bathrooms can be summed up in three words: Off. The. Charts. It's a testament to Shah's plan that he didn't even customize his own unit. Ditto for most of the finishes. The white lacquered kitchen cabinetry is building-standard, as are the quartzite wall tiles in the efficient master bath and the intricate marble mosaics on the guest bathroom's floor. Tobacco-brown stain for the flooring in his own apartment's public areas, bedroom, and office was necessitated only after a real-estate consultant suggested that Shah's original dark spec be replaced by blond oak planks for greater market appeal.
Having sold most of his Village furnishings, Shah started fresh. The living area's wooden tray-table floor lamp, for example, would have looked elephantine standing between the pair of French 1930's armchairs in his old living room but is right at home with the massive burl cocktail table here. (The table is a souvenir of a Fire Island summer house the couple used to own with friends. Three of them drew straws to take possession of the piece when the house was sold, and Hill won.) To accompany the table, with its free edge in the George Nakashima mode, Shah found a Jens Risom sofa and Poul Kjærholm armchairs. The mix of vintage seating also includes the dining area's Hans Wegner side chairs and the office's Danish mid-century sling chair. Shah designed the walnut bureau and headboard in the bedroom, which is bright with three large windows. Not legally a bedroom, due to the lack of windows, the dark office is moody, thanks to the matte black grass cloth on the walls.
Framed personal photographs and Shah's own pen-and-ink drawings cover an entire wall in the office. Artwork in the bedroom offers meditations on nature: Seiju Toda's lithograph of a fish in a box, the twins Mike and Doug Starn's mixed-media tree branches. The foyer boasts a black-and-white human silhouette that Shah first assumed, from afar, was an old dressmaking pattern. He discovered, upon closer inspection, that the figure is actually for target practice. Still, Hill's work predominates in the foyer, the living and dining areas , and even the alcove kitchen. Turns out the big Chelsea loft suits both artist and artwork better than he himself could have predicted. "I'm fully acculturated," he jokes. As Shah allows, "It's really the Malcolm Hill Art Gallery."
An abstract "landscape" by Hill, now installed above the office's sofa bed, was last seen over the marble mantel in the Village. The living area in Chelsea doesn't have a fireplace, so the focal point—the largest of the interventions in the apartment—is a jumbo triptych that fills the gently illuminated niche that Shah reserved for the purpose. The triptych's 15-foot-width was determined jointly by the couple. Over the course of 10 days in a separate studio, Hill built the piece from a combination of resin bas-reliefs, burlap, and scrap wood salvaged from the streets of the meatpacking district. Years spent painting murals at Barneys New York and sculpting forms for Bergdorf Goodman window displays mean that Hill is easily able to follow a designer's lead. At his own home, however, artist and designer work perfectly in tandem.