A bigger, brighter TriBeCa office by Specht Harpman is graphics firm Number Seventeen's latest acquisition
Jane Margolies -- Interior Design, 9/1/2003 12:00:00 AM
Scott Specht once climbed into a Dumpster in the Garment District to rescue discarded rubber button molds. He and Louise Harpman, partners in marriage and Specht Harpman, cherish wooden patterns for locomotive parts and hair driers with molded-plastic heads, discovered respectively in a warehouse in New Haven and on sidewalks in New York. Call it scavenging, call it salvaging, or, if you must, call it collecting. Specht and Harpman do it. And they saw right away that their new clients do, too.
"There was all this great stuff," Harpman recalls of the architects' first meeting at the TriBeCa office of graphic design firm Number Seventeen. The 1,200-square-foot space, shared by principals Bonnie Siegler and Emily Oberman and four employees, was overflowing with movie posters, bowling pins, and metal lunch boxes, not to mention every pink while-you-were-away message slip the staff had ever filled out. Over Oberman's desk hung a My Fair Lady album cover in Hebrew.
Building on the success of their witty work for Saturday Night Live, Sex and the City, and hotelier André Balazs, Siegler and Oberman had recently leased the adjacent 800 square feet and planned to join the two spaces. Oddball possessions and a concern for the bottom line were both part of the mandate. "It was as much about organizing and displaying as it was about enlarging," Harpman notes.
The architects appreciated the interior's turn-of-the-last-century industrial elements—the steel-framed skylight, the hardwood floors—and decided to tread lightly. After removing the dividing wall, they'd place a conference room, video storage area, and kitchen on one side of the space, retaining Siegler and Oberman's 13-by-23-foot office at the rear. The rest would remain open, defined by custom shelves, banquettes, and workstations.
During the two-month renovation, Number Seventeen's entire staff retreated to the rear office—along with the printer, fax machine, and copier. (From this beleaguered bunker, pleas for release would occasionally erupt.) Walk into Number Seventeen today, and the first thing you notice is the glorious sunshine filtering through the skylight, into a library area. Here, an orange vinyl-covered cushion tops a maple banquette, inviting staff members to sprawl with a reference book or sketch pad until the eureka moment strikes.
Backing the reception counter are ladder-framed shelves of brushed steel and maple. Besides showing off Siegler and Oberman's beloved bric-a-brac, including the countless message slips neatly impaled on 20 spike holders, the shelving supports a light box in the same inexpensive corrugated plastic that's commonly used for postal bins. At night, when staffers are staying late to meet a tight deadline, the light box casts a warm glow on Number Seventeen's maple custom workstations. Each features its own steel partition, providing a modicum of privacy as well as a magnetic surface for inspirational ephemera.
There's an appealingly offhand quality to the space. Naked bulbs dangle from the ceiling. The oak floor got a quick sanding, a coat of polyurethane, and a single orange-painted stripe, but a scar from the demolished dividing wall still shows. "Why spend the money to cover that up?" asks Harpman, who says the project cost $95 a square foot.
Then there are the two separate entry doors. Number Seventeen's original office and the annexed space each had an entrance, of course, and Specht Harpman recommended eliminating one of them. The clients, however, thought that one door could be an entrance and the other an exit. As it turns out, everybody uses the original door, the second one serving mainly to baffle visitors—and provide Number Seventeen's ever creative staff members with a running joke. One week, they'll post signs indicating that one door is "left," the other "right." The following week, the doors are labeled "good" and "bad." As far as Specht and Harpman are concerned, it's all good.