Full Metal Jacket
Della Valle + Bernheimer Design introduces tough, undulating walls of laser-cut steel to organize work and living space in a Boston artist's loft.
Henry Urbach -- Interior Design, 8/1/2001 12:00:00 AM
The South End of Boston is a formerly industrial area that has in recent years been reoccupied by artists and other urban pioneers. This loft, designed by the New York firm of Della Valle + Bernheimer Design, occupies a third-floor space in a city-subsidized live/work building for artists. It accommodates a couple in their mid-sixties—an artist and her husband, a writer/mathematician. The couple opens their home to periodic studio visits, sometimes attended by large groups of people, and therefore asked the designers to establish a significant degree of separation between work and domestic spaces.
Della Valle + Bernheimer maintained existing concrete floors throughout the loft, and introduced a ceiling made of foam sheets for acoustical reasons. Along the entire perimeter, Sheetrock walls were finished with raw plaster. The couple asked the developer to make modest changes—HVAC and kitchen/bath plumbing locations—during construction.
The 2,200-sq.-ft. loft was organized into three major zones with two undulating walls made of steel panels. The middle area—the painting studio—is a free-form expanse that accommodates entry, work space, and a generous open kitchen, as well as dining and living areas. To one side of this zone are more work areas, including a ceramics workshop, a meditation room/office, and storage; to the other side are the more private domestic spaces—laundry, kitchen, pantry, master bedroom, and two bathrooms. "The point of the walls," says design principal Jared Della Valle, "was to conceal work areas and personal effects, and to keep the main space open for exhibiting work. The clients didn't want a whole lot of information about their lives on display." As these walls organize a relation of intimate and shared spaces, they also provide a continuous display surface for the artist's paintings, works on paper, and ceramic sculptures.
The walls are built of laser-cut plates of ¼-in. steel. Taking advantage of a fairly new technology that is at once economical, quick, and technically accurate, Della Valle + Bernheimer sent its design drawings by e-mail to a laser cutting shop in Massachusetts; three weeks later, the panels were delivered to the construction site in Boston. The architects designed a special, two-in. column hinge to hold up the steel plate, and searched long and hard to find a tiny bearing that could smoothly handle the weight of the pivoting panels.
The panels are perforated at several heights to accommodate wooden shelves and steel hanging hooks for displaying artworks. Door handles were also set behind the panel surface. Overall, the laser-cut perforations give the loft a kind of ornament and cadence while allowing the planes to readily present a changing display of artworks. "We wanted to create something neutral," says Bernheimer, "something that would be forcefully designed but would still remain in the background."