Light and Bright
Marc Kristal -- Interior Design, 9/1/2007 12:00:00 AM
If you live in New York, chances are you love a good challenge. Fiction writer Lee Day and multimedia artist Ursula Endlicher definitely confronted one when they set out to renovate the 1,000-square-foot lower floor of their TriBeCa duplex. Well, make that three.
First: to insert a living area, two bedrooms, a bathroom, two offices, and storage without sacrificing openness—it's aloft, after all. Second: to bask in the pleasures afforded by a 40-foot-long west-facing window wall but also modulate sunlight. Third: to introduce contemporary notes while preserving the cast-iron elements and exposed brick that recall the building's 19th-century warehouse origins.
NArchitects partners Eric Bunge and Mimi Hoang reconciled these conflicts with what Endlicher refers to as a "gesture," a floor-to-ceiling ribbon of unusually pliable plywood with a translucent white finish. This innovative partition extends straight ahead from the front door to separate an entry corridor from a closet and a bathroom, then curves outward to form a loose C around the living area. A crescent of an office is built directly into the living area's wall. Behind it, at the far end, are the two bedrooms, one for Day and Endlicher and the other for Day's 15-year-old son.
The wall's bravura elegance neatly eliminates any feeling of enclosure. To heighten the impression of spaciousness, the architects used overscale sliding panels instead of pivot doors. What's more, the panels allow control over lighting. With fluorescent tubes tucked into the jambs, the doors act as de facto dimmers. "The amount of light you get is mediated by how wide open the door is," Day explains. "If it's completely open, you get only a thin, intense strip. But as you push the door closed and it slides away from the tube, the light diffuses."
Along the west-facing window wall, the architects echoed the sliding-door motif with aluminum-framed vinyl scrims that glide back and forth on three tracks. These 14 panels—measuring 10 feet high by 2, 3, or 4 feet wide—can be configured side by side to cover the windows entirely or selectively layered to let some sunlight in. Endlicher refers to the sliding doors and panels as "one thought that had two manifestations." She adds, "What's really nice is that, if I push two of the 4-foot screens together, I can project my art onto them." (She uses a projector mounted right beneath the Corinthian capital of a cast-iron column.)
Bunge and Hoang replaced an enclosed stair with one that expresses their belief in "the smallest possible profile or proportion in materials," Bunge says. Constructed from a cold-rolled steel truss sandwiched by steel plates, stainless-steel mesh for the balustrade, and ebonized oak for treads, the stair has a severe elegance that belies sheer strength. A pair of vertical light boxes—which tie in with the vertical fluorescents in the door jambs—are installed against one of the stairwell's two walls of white-painted brick. Another wall is covered in two coats of charcoal-gray chalkboard paint, perfect for impromptu artistic scribbles.
The ebonized oak of the stair treads also flows through most of the apartment as flooring. Concrete might have been a more typically "loft" choice, but Day wasn't interested. Growing up in a tile-floored modernist house in New Canaan, Connecticut, he'd always had cold feet. Dark-stained wood offers a cozy alternative.