A Home For All Seasons
Rineke van Duysen -- Interior Design, 9/1/2006 12:00:00 AM
Mixing the old with the new. Ask any interiors professional: It's one of the trickiest balancing acts in the business. But Michael Johnston Design Group walked that tightrope skillfully in helping a wealthy young couple integrate their traditional leanings into a rigorously contemporary Upper West Side home.
Actually two apartments joined together, the 3,200-square-foot duplex is split between the 17th and 18th floors of an art deco building on Central Park West. An art collector, the husband liked the prestigious address but was ready to relinquish all period details in favor of what his wife wryly terms a "white cube" environment. Michael Johnston assured her that wouldn't be necessary. "Prewar bones are an asset—they don't have to dictate what happens inside the spaces," he explained.
The architect concerned himself with maximizing light and space and improving circulation. "Walls and small archways were everywhere—the vernacular of that period," he says. "We took most of them out." On the top floor's park-facing side, that allowed the library, living and dining areas, and kitchen to capitalize on light spilling in from five picture windows. These public areas form a single long space, separated by a terrazzo-paved foyer and hallway from a parallel enfilade of private spaces: the master suite, a den, and a bedroom and bath for the couple's two children.
The master suite and den have multiple entries. Folding doors open to the central hall, while pocket doors on either side of the den can slide away to leave an uninterrupted internal hallway between parents' and childrens' rooms. Even when the sliders are closed, a 1/4-inch reveal at the bottom contributes to the impression of unity. "Nothing is defined, definitively, by a door," Johnston says. "Yet every space can be contained when necessary."
The stationary partition between the den and master bedroom looks like a solid wall until white lacquered panels fold back to reveal two entertainment centers. There's equally ingenious storage in the kitchen, where the glass panels of what might be mistaken for a backsplash turn out to be the sliding doors of storage for pantry items. In another game of "now you see it, now you don't," a walnut bookshelf in the library slides across to close off the space from the stair hall—and reveal a fully wired office.
Old meets new in the details. An heirloom glass chandelier dangles like an exclamation point from a dome that Johnston built into the central hallway's dropped ceiling. Just beyond, in the den, hangs an angular contemporary counterpart. Damask curtains billow around the public area's windows, complemented by state-of-the-art halogen lights. As for the living area's oversize Louis XVI–style sofa, the architect says, "It's a folly, a nod to my clients' sensibilities."
Swaths of 120-year-old oak floor planks, salvaged from a North Carolina tobacco mill, run in the rooms on either side of the central hall's white terrazzo. This gleaming surface then flows down the nautilus-shape staircase, inspired by Richard Serra sculpture, to the apartment's lower level, used both as a screening room and guest suite. In the spa-quality bathroom, Johnston placed a freestanding tub by Matteo Thun directly in front of a 5-by-7-foot casement window. Old and new, meet view.