Mansion in The Sky
With a TriBeCa apartment by Steven Learner, a couple trades suburban grandeur for city swank
Craig Kellogg -- Interior Design, 9/1/2009 12:00:00 AM
After years in a lavish house in Greenwich, Connecticut, two soon-to-be empty nesters heeded the urging of their children and decided to return to Manhattan in what their architect, Steven Learner, calls an "incredibly brave" leap of faith. "These are people with big personalities." And good timing. The house changed hands during the real-estate boom, enabling the couple to buy a 4,800-square-foot floor-through in a TriBeCa building with mammoth factory-inspired windows, 11-foot ceilings, and white-glove amenities that represented the next step for the neighborhood. Now renovated by Steven Learner Studio, the refined three-bedroom deftly blends informality with fine architectural detail, managing more than a little intimacy despite the acreage.
The wife, a fashion designer, willingly left behind the suburban floral chintz upholstery and curtains, realizing that cities are made of tougher stuff. Still, she campaigned for warmth in her new urban home. In a bit of give-and-take, she accepted Learner's advice on bypassing the developer's oak flooring in favor of honed lava stone, however bedrooms revert to wood with walnut strips.
Curved shapes add softness, too. Separating the living area from the study, there's a cozy effervescence in a divider welded together from blackened-steel rings, some containing glass rounds in a palette of watery blue and green, honeyed amber, and lemon yellow. In the master bath, the Italian 1960's chandelier's delicate cylinders of lilac crystal contrast with the espresso-dark polished marble walls and floor. A circle motif also is woven into the lichen-green rug for the office in the master suite. Chalk all those up as victories for the wife. The floor of the adjoining bedroom is mostly covered with a luminous off-white plush rug, while the headboard, a free-edge slab of black walnut, extends 25 feet to integrate a bedside shelf. Other organic elements include two terraria by Paula Hayes, one of them on the headboard shelf and another in the living area, inches away from a vintage driftwood lamp.
The master suite's Hudson River panorama is the backdrop for a Poul Kjærholm wicker chaise lounge that might have been plucked from the deck of a yacht floating downstream. Though the chaise is repro, the nearby pair of Hans Wegner chairs and ottomans are vintage, as is an assortment of the apartment's seating. The living area's welcoming George Nakashima armchair has even been reupholstered using a bolt of old wool, a natty warped check. These mid-century pieces share the spotlight with cushy custom upholstery. "There were a lot of sit tests," Learner says. The mix is reinforced by subtly retro architectural details such as the hallway's ribbed teak paneling, which wouldn't look out of place on the set of Mad Men. Ditto for the painted steel radiator covers installed below all the walnut window seats. Chalk those up in Learner's column.
Flouting convention, Learner hung a lanky David Weeks pendant fixture over the kitchen's marble-topped island but skipped a chandelier over the table in the adjacent dining area. (Instead, halogens are recessed in a cleanly architectural slot.) The dining area's rear wall displays a towering diptych by Jorge Pardo. And there's hardly a room in the apartment that doesn't boast some serious contemporary art, from the prismatic Sarah Morris canvas dominating the entry to Liam Gillick's striped acrylic panel hung horizontally, like a canopy, from the ceiling in the master bedroom.
A surreal landscape painted on a wood panel by a slightly lesser-known artist, Corinne Wasmuht, was destined for the single remaining swath of blank wall, over the asymmetrical blackened-bronze fireplace surround, but proved too enormous for delivery in the elevator one very warm summer day. A quick phone call from the worried group stuck on the sidewalk with the painting produced guys from the elevator company to negotiate the precarious final leg of the journey: A man rode on the top of the elevator cab, with the 6 ½-by-9 ½-foot panel in his arms.
It was Learner who'd suggested that the couple engage an art consultant to build a contemporary collection. The result is that both husband and wife have become unreconstructed collectors, keeping a running list of artists for acquisition. Learner even encountered resistance when he counseled that curtains in the living area would soften what could otherwise be an unforgiving gallery effect. "A large part of my process is education," he says, laughing. Curtains drawn back do, of course, reduce the amount of wall space suitable for hanging art. No matter—you can always buy walls. An apartment one floor down is on the market.
Photography by Eric Laignel.
PROJECT TEAMMICHAEL STEVENS; ANNA PEW; TAI MING MOY; RYAN LAWSON: STEVEN LEARNER STUDIO. CROMWELL ART: ART CONSULTANT. MELANIE FREUNDLICH LIGHTING DESIGN: LIGHTING CONSULTANT. INNERSPACE ELECTRONICS: AUDIOVISUAL CONSULTANT. AMA CONSULTING ENGINEERS: MECHANICAL ENGINEER. GALAXY GLASS AND STONE: GLASSWORK. TONY GILIBERTO: STONEWORK. JV WOODWORKING: WOODWORK. DSA BUILDERS: GENERAL CONTRACTOR.
PRODUCT SOURCESFROM FRONT ASWOON/SUSAN WOODS STUDIO: CUSTOM SCREEN (LIVING AREA). WAINLANDS: CUSTOM FIREPLACE SURROUND. BERGAMO: CURTAIN FABRIC (LIVING, DINING AREAS, BEDROOM), CHAIR FABRIC (DINING AREA), WINDOW SHADE FABRIC (OFFICE). THROUGH LIZ O'BRIEN: TABLE LAMP (LIVING AREA). THROUGH DONZELLA: CONSOLE. ROGERS & GOFFIGON: SOFA FABRIC. AM COLLECTIONS: CUSTOM RUG. MOKUM: PATTERNED LOUNGE CHAIR FABRIC. THROUGH R20TH CENTURY: RECTANGULAR COCKTAIL TABLE, CHANDELIER (LIVING AREA), LAMPS (STUDY, BEDROOM). THROUGH WYETH: ARMCHAIR, ARMCHAIR FABRIC (LIVING AREA), CHAIRS, OTTOMANS, TABLE (BEDROOM). THROUGH FRED SILBERMAN: FLOOR LAMP (LIVING AREA). THROUGH MALLETT ANTIQUES: ROUND COCKTAIL TABLE. THROUGH AERO STUDIOS: SOLID LOUNGE CHAIRS. MISSONI: SOLID LOUNGE CHAIR FABRIC. RALPH PUCCI INTERNATIONAL: CURVED SOFA (LIVING AREA), PENDANT FIXTURE (KITCHEN). THROUGH PASCAL BOYER GALLERY: CHAIR (STUDY). THROUGH ROBERT PASSAL: TABLE. CARINI LANG: CUSTOM RUG. KNOLL: CHAIR FABRIC (STUDY), CHAIRS (DINING AREA). BULTHAUP: CUSTOM CABINETRY (KITCHEN). DENNIS MILLER ASSOCIATES: STOOLS (KITCHEN), TABLE (DINING AREA), SCONCE (POWDER ROOM). THROUGH KARL KEMP AND ASSOC.: LAMP (DINING AREA). THROUGH VENFIELD: CHANDELIER (BATHROOM). THROUGH CRISTINA GRAJALES: WINDOW SHADE FABRIC. DORNBRACHT: TUB FITTINGS (BATHROOM), SINK FITTINGS (POWDER ROOM). STONE SOURCE: WALL TILE (BATHROOM), COUNTER MATERIAL (POWDER ROOM), STONE FLOORING. MAHARAM: CHAIR FABRIC, OTTOMAN FABRIC (BEDROOM). THROUGH LORIN MARSH: DESK (OFFICE). THROUGH GARY DIAS: STOOL. DONGHIA: SOFA FABRIC. FRITZ HANSEN: CHAIR (OFFICE), CHAISE (BEDROOM). BEAUVAIS CARPETS: CUSTOM RUGS (OFFICE, BEDROOM). JOHN HOUSHMAND: CUSTOM BED (BEDROOM). HOLLY HUNT: STOOL UPHOLSTERY (ENTRY). THROUGHOUT MARY BRIGHT: CUSTOM WINDOW TREATMENTS.