In Top Form
Arthur de Mattos Casas lets his imagination soar at a penthouse apartment in Rio
Kimberly Goad -- Interior Design, 2/1/2002 12:00:00 AM
This is no ordinary "beach house," any more than Arpoador is an ordinary beach. Gently wedged between Ipanema and Copacabana, on the southern edge of Rio de Janeiro, Arpoador's tiny stretch of waterfront boasts some of the toniest addresses in all of Brazil. Here, the mountains meet the sea for the kind of setting that architects dream of, the kind of setting that makes a long-neglected apartment worth buying and rescuing.
Three years ago, a young, newly married couple who had purchased just such a place summoned Brazilian architect and interior designer Arthur de Mattos Casas to Rio from São Paulo, where Studio Arthur de Mattos Casas is based. Their penthouse in Arpoador was a relic from the '70s—dark, with low ceilings and marble walls—but nonetheless had infinite potential by virtue of the surroundings. Situated on the water, the apartment affords a spectacular, panoramic view that takes in Copacabana to the northeast and Ipanema to the south, not to mention picture-perfect sunrises every morning and heartbreaking sunsets every evening.
"They told me they wanted something very clean," says Casas. To make sure that clients and architect were speaking the same language—one person's idea of "clean" is another's idea of "cold"—he invited the couple back to his own home in São Paulo to show them his version of the word as well as a few sketches of what he proposed for the penthouse in Rio.
Avid collectors of contemporary art, they liked Casas's penchant for subdued but soothing materials and neutral color schemes, all of which would provide the perfect backdrop for the couple's impressive holdings of work by Niki de Saint Phalle, Yves Klein, Jim Dine, and Christo. They also liked the fact that his expertise extends to all areas of living, from architecture to furniture design, enabling him to establish a coherent relationship between a space and the objects that occupy it. By the end of that visit, recalls Casas, "They said, 'You're hired!' " Originally, the penthouse occupied its building's sixth and topmost floor. After determining that the columns and beams were sound enough to support the extensive overhaul he envisioned, Casas had the entire apartment gutted to make way for a seventh story. The additional floor would allow for a dramatic double-height living room, plus a mezzanine that accommodates the master bedroom and identical his-and-hers bathrooms.
"We opened the apartment to Rio and the 180-degree view of the sea—the inspiration for this apartment was the sea," says Casas, and his mezzanine addition made room for the penthouse's most extravagant feature, an indoor swimming pool that has five small square windows along the bottom. These serve two purposes. One is practical, letting sunshine from the skylights above the pool penetrate to the living room below; the other is whimsical, giving the living room a glimpse of water splashing on glass panes above.
The tropical setting freed him in his choice of materials. Had he been designing the apartment in a cooler climate, he says, he wouldn't have used so much limestone. But the contrast of warm (setting) and cool (material) is appropriate in Rio. The artwork, protected by a special humidity-regulating system, adds the only jolts of color to his neutral palette of pale brown, white, and off-white.
"I don't like too many fixtures or too much decoration, but I love details," Casas says of his 150-page list documenting this project. Along the stairs to the mezzanine, for instance, he carefully positioned limestone panels so the veins form ghostly crisscrosses; above the pool, he stipulated that skylights retract electronically to create a poolside solarium. His love of multiplicity comes partially, he admits, from a penchant for teasing: "I like to do things that make people say, 'Well, how come?' " So how come the stairway connecting the living room with the mezzanine stops an inch short of the landing? In this case, the answer is the novelty factor: "It's unique." Not unlike this apartment by the sea.