Messana O'Rorke designs a Manhattan loft where living and working coexist with ease
Donna Paul -- Interior Design, 2/1/2002 12:00:00 AM
Merging home and office in a single space can offer the best of both worlds, but to achieve the benefits—beautiful surroundings, no commute—balance is essential. Everything must work together harmoniously. Messana O'Rorke Architects was hired to accomplish this delicate feat for a client who runs his own brand-imaging company, with eight employees, out of a 5,600-square-foot New York loft where he also lives. The client chose the two-person firm after seeing its portfolio of residential, gallery, retail, and office projects. "I knew the look I wanted was a combination of all four of those," he says.
The "white box" had to be divided into home and office zones that functioned independently but could work together when necessary. The list of considerations was long, the process emotional. "The raw space itself was so beautiful—the idea of putting up a wall broke my heart," says the client. But walls did go up, along with the pocket doors of translucent plastic for the foyer. An unusual 21/4 inches thick and 10 feet high, these luminous doors dominate the 300-square-foot entry, which elegantly divides the loft into two nearly equal sides. "It's the sorbet course," the client says, only half joking. "It prepares you for what's next." The culinary metaphor speaks to the role of transition: a pause allowing one to distance oneself from the street below and to savor what is to come.
Even though budget constraints forced some decisions, Messana O'Rorke was in many instances able to turn drawbacks into win-win situations. "In every way we could, we maximized the existing conditions. We just flowed with all the variables," says Brian Messana. Ceilings were not dropped to cover exposed pipes—the idea was to let age and patina add character. One of the biggest visual successes of the project is the original concrete floor with its variegatd patterns: It was simply sanded, cleaned, and sealed with a water-based urethane. "If I'd had an extra $100,000, I would have been seduced into thinking I needed a new concrete floor, and I don't think it would have had the impact this has," says the owner.
Filled with light from a wall of east-facing arched windows, the living room also does duty as a reception area for visiting clients. A long table that dominates one end of the room acts as a stage for an assemblage of the owner's ceramics and quirky flea-market finds but can quickly be cleared to serve as a conference table. The sofa, an original Florence Knoll from the 1950s, was bought by the client, a passionate collector of mid-century furniture.
The challenge in the office area was to provide surfaces for layout, display, storage, and computer workstations while maintaining a minimal look that functions as a neutral backdrop for the different brand images created there. The strongest visual component of the long office space, the 26 Florence Knoll credenzas that the client already owned, were not always part of the plan. Initially, stainless-steel tables with flat files had been considered because the original, desk-height Knoll credenzas were too short to be functional. After much brainstorming, the seemingly impossible became viable. The solution was to bring these very collectible pieces of furniture to a height of 36 inches by adding white laminate cubbies on top. This created a sea of work, presentation, and display surfaces. And, says the client, "It also makes a great serving buffet for a party."
Private living spaces such as bedroom and bath are tucked into a rear section of the loft, reached by a long corridor that can be sealed off with a sliding door. When closed, it appears to be a wall, offering no hint of the inner sanctum beyond. This is significant, as such simple visual tricks helped achieve a sense of seclusion. Behind the door, the master suite is open in plan, which is consistent with the rest of the loft. (One difference, however, is fenestration. The architects gave the living room the benefit of the loft's largest windows; the bedroom and bath, where less light is needed, have just one window each.) In the bedroom, the low bed floats in the center of the space. In the bathroom, the owner's fantasy of waking each day in a hip hotel is fulfilled by a spa-worthy glass wall and rain shower.
While the loft has dual functions, it is unified by a single clear vision: The owner's atypical approach to modernism hits just the right notes. And when the sliding doors of the office close, creating needed separation, it signals the end of the workday. Let the evening begin.