Food and Wine
Kelly Beamon -- Interior Design, 9/1/2006 12:00:00 AM
It all started with that elusive urban prize, the spacious kitchen. Having one was crucial to the way that Ron Burke, a human-resources consultant, and his partner, insurance broker Dave Christensen, like to entertain. "Dave bakes, and I barbecue," Burke says. "Our focus was on cooking, no doubt."
Burke and Christensen had been living in a chopped-up Upper West Side duplex, as is, when they visited a friend's loft—and were instantly impressed by its softly drawn function zones. Contacting the designer, Joerg Schwartz Architect, the couple explained the lay of the land: Their duplex occupies the top floors of a 1905 town house. The roof terrace had amazing potential, but there were also layers of incongruous architectural details from past lives.
Servants' quarters had left behind the tiny downstairs guest room that Joerg Schwartz found right in front, beneath the mansard roof. A '70's nursing home had bestowed the huge sloping window, a replacement for dormers like those still visible on the neighboring houses. The living area's brick fireplace surround, Schwartz recalls, "sucked up all the room and really made it look like an attic. There was nothing original to work with."
The pair set their sights on an apartment that would adapt when they play host. Beyond that? "Two ovens, plus storage for at least eight dining chairs," Burke says. "Just something practical." Being oenophiles who rent cellar space in New Jersey for their 800-bottle collection, the couple would also welcome a place to keep a few on hand. Not to mention areas where the two could retreat privately and even work occasionally from home while out-of-town guests slept or moved about.
But would all that lifestyle fit in 1,000 square feet?
Schwartz set about opening up the interior and building storage into virtually every corner. In the kitchen, which gained 24 square feet when he knocked down the guest room's walls, he added a 30-inch-deep pantry and, facing it, a drywall enclosure for the refrigerator. A granite-topped island houses a convection oven—right across from a conventional range, as the cooks requested.
An oversize doorway connects the kitchen to the rest of the former guest room, now part of the living area. Here, Schwartz had two pale green sofas specially made to run along the window wall. Cube tables invite guests to rest a drink while chatting with the chef or, maybe, lay down a book plucked from the built-in maple shelves. When one of the sofas unfolds into a bed, it's perfectly positioned for watching the TV housed in the cabinet that wraps the side and back of the refrigerator enclosure.
Schwartz hid that offending brick fireplace surround behind floating maple panels that stop 1 foot short of the ceiling. On either side of the firebox, one panel is hung on offset piano hinges. He opens both doors, revealing closets for candlesticks, votives, and the stereo system.
Besides maple, the dominant theme downstairs is "East River green," as Schwartz likes to call it. That's the color of the lacquer camouflaging the MDF cube tables and TV cabinet—as well as the stain used for the oak flooring. The dark color makes the space appear larger, he adds: "Boundaries disappear." He achieved a similar effect with the stained-oak credenza that quietly distinguishes the living area from the dining zone, with its round table and four chairs. (Eight folding chairs are stowed away.)
Maple returns to impart a lighter feel to the upstairs bedroom, where Schwartz shoehorned a bed and desk in the center, 13 linear feet of closets along the sidewalls, and built-in shelving next to the door to the roof terrace. Since he'd already carved out a channel for ductwork to vent the kitchen's range hood out to the roof, he took advantage of the connection to give the cooks an outdoor gas grill, too.
The upper and lower levels are connected by a revamped flight of steps with an austere steel handrail painted greenish black. Under the stairs, Schwartz found a discreet space for a 64-bottle wine cooler. Nothing says home like a glass of 1997 Pertimali Brunello di Montalcino.