Henry Myerberg of Helfand Myerberg Guggenheimer Architects creates a dramatic setting for a Manhattan furniture gallery.
Julia Lewis -- Interior Design, 1/1/2001 12:00:00 AM
WHEN FACED WITH the fortuitous prospect of doubling the size of his eponymous gallery, French furniture dealer Tony Delorenzo seized the opportunity and promptly contacted Henry Myerberg of Helfand Myerberg Guggenheimer Architects. Having worked together previously on the designs of three galleries, a Soho restaurant, and a house in the Caribbean, Myerberg and Delorenzo have over the past 14 years developed an "ease of communication or shorthand," says the architect, "that makes each project more enjoyable and rewarding."
Before taking over the 5,000-sq.-ft., two-story space on the Upper East Side, Delorenzo presented 1920s furniture and objets in a small storefront next door, and 1950s pieces on the upper floor of the current gallery. (Delorenzo also owned 1950, a downtown store that specializes in furniture by Jean Prouvé and George Nakashima.) The colonization of the first two floors of 956 Madison Avenue "would not only allow the dealer to consolidate his uptown operations," says Myerberg, "but would also enable him to establish a formidable presence in Manhattan's most affluent neighborhood."
The gallery's sleek limestone, glass, and bronze façade is indeed an impressive visual statement that presages the rare and prized collection housed within. Inspired by the Hôtel du Collectionneur, a temporary building that was erected for the 1925 Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs, as well as the Paris office of Jacques Emile Ruhlmann, the building's colonnaded face features double-height glazing that is "scaled for window shopping and projects a bold, memorable impression," says Myerberg, The Delorenzo name is carved in the limestone façade, an elegant, tongue-in-cheek reference to the Ruhlmann shop, which bore similar signage.
According to Myerberg, "the client did not want the interior to look like a gallery per se but instead envisioned it as more of a residential museum." The architect responded to Delorenzo's direction by creating a refined setting with details that "actively respond to the robust quality of the furniture without overwhelming it." The entry is a dramatic, double-height volume with a French limestone floor. "From this vantage point," says Myerberg, "one can see through the entire store. The second floor is immediately apparent and the stair is visible to the left, but not in the way-it is an invitation." Ribbed, walnut-stained oak platforms flank the entry, providing an elevated surface for window displays, contrasting with the pervasive sense of verticality and establishing a visual connection to the staircase toward the rear. While the dark, lustrous wood and horizontal banding are a continuation of the stair treads and a nod to Deco styling, says Myerberg, these details also help obscure the HVAC mechanicals that are housed within the staircase landing and two piers.
The red stair rail, artfully composed of a single, ribbon-like bar that folds back on itself as it encloses the staircase, "is Royère meets Chareau meets building code and security," muses Myerberg. "We knew that we needed a tight railing and we wanted this architectural feature to evoke the attitude of the furniture," he explains of this element's gestation. "We looked at many different samples and colors before settling on the horizontal design and red paint finish. We wanted to convey that, like the furniture, it is simple but worked." Myerberg, whose own work reflects his interest in procession, designed the prominent landing and stylized railing to "announce the staircase" and give one pause before ascending or descending.
Upstairs, as below, furniture is arranged in vignettes and ivory carpet is inset into a dark stained wood floor, creating a casual, residential ambience. Here a small, sky-lit gallery is linked to the larger front room by a daring stainless-steel catwalk. "The steel grating is surprisingly thin and transparent. The experience of crossing it is a bit unnerving, but it underscores the dramatic, double-height quality of the space," says Myerberg. Lighting is recessed into discreet slots that run down the center of the ceilings and are hidden in a cove along the wall of the stair. The subtle lighting design integrates the sculptural antique chandeliers, sconces, and lamps that are installed throughout and are for sale, says the architect, resulting in warm "pools of light" in lieu of harsh, even illumination.
The new and expanded gallery offers an enhanced setting for Delorenzo's collection and a sophisticated street presence, concludes Myerberg. "It is a bold statement that will create a strong identity." Delorenzo was designed and constructed in seven and a half months. Credit extends to project architect Jonathan Reo and team members Garrick Jones and John Tinmouth.