Out of Africa pix
A Kenyan childhood informs colors and textures in the New York apartment of Shamir Shah
Craig Kellogg -- Interior Design, 1/1/2005 12:00:00 AM
In the New York living room of architect Shamir Shah and artist Malcolm Hill, a pair of French 1930's leather-covered walnut lounge chairs sit in front of a Christian Liaigre floor lamp.
Cerused-oak cabinetry flanks the room's mantelpiece of honed marble and a gouache on canvas by Hill.
Shah designed the cerused-oak desk and the sofa covered in wool bouclé.
For the kitchen, he chose lacquered cabinets, basalt counters, and limestone flooring.
The dining area's oak table and stained-maple bentwood Michael Thonet chairs.
Hill's plaster bas-relief on wood.
Velji and a silk-covered pillow in the living room.
Indian keepsakes arranged on a lacquered tray.
A South African antelope horn and a vintage lamp on the custom dresser in the bedroom.
A wooden cog from Montana, stainless-steel candlesticks, and modern pottery.
A niche in the foyer contains a West African antique mask, a drawing by Hill, skulls from Texas, and a teak tray of collectibles.
A pocket door can separate the living room and bedroom.
The bedroom features vintage alabaster lamps and a custom throw of woven silk.
Shamir Shah is no stranger to small spaces. The New York architect's namesake firm is known for designing ceramist Jonathan Adler's first boutique, a vest-pocket storefront in SoHo. And the parlor-floor flat that Shah shared with artist Malcolm Hill was diminutive, if exquisitely renovated. After seven years shoehorned into 500 square feet, however, Shah was ready to trade up.
He and Hill eventually found a 900-square-foot one-bedroom in a suitably laid-back Greenwich Village building. "No white-gloved doorman jumping out of his chair whenever we walked in," says Shah, whose proper British diction reflects a childhood in postcolonial Kenya, in a Nairobi household with uniformed staff. And if the apartment in question was as faded as the building's timeworn lobby, that suited the couple, too. "There was no way," says Shah, "that I was going to pay for someone else's shiny granite countertops." He removed some original trim—"arts and crafts is not my thing"—and stripped the layers of paint obscuring the more desirable details, such as the burnished- steel front door.
To prevent the pare-it-down renovation from turning hard-edged, Shah says he drew on textures and colors suggested by a lazy day of beachcombing, picking through "seaweed, bugs, rocks, and other bits of stuff." Grass cloth and dark brown 'furniture not only soften the freshly revealed architectural angularity but also recall Shah's East African roots. Because he finds that "dark furniture on a light floor appears to float away," he replaced the apartment's original oak strips with ebony-stained reclaimed butternut—adding a geometric coconut rug in the living room to anchor a sofa upholstered in gray bouclé and a pair of French deco leather-covered walnut armchairs.
The herringbone brick hearth is original, but the mantelpiece is new: a simplified neoclassical composition of honed brown-and-black marble with subtle gold veins. The mantel that Shah first encountered was paint-caked brick, accented by rustic tiles of English country scenes. (They're still underneath. In a gentlemanly gesture toward preservation and reversibility, he instructed the contractors to avoid spreading adhesive over the tiles.)
Shah replaced the living room's old picture moldings with very similar new stock, but he substituted much taller baseboards for the ones that were there. On either side of the fireplace, he built cerused-oak bookshelves with an intriguing wash of Japan black applied to their edges.
For the minuscule kitchen, ' he chose unmatched, gently nostalgic lacquered cabinets. He then installed a full-height, 18-inch-wide, stainless-steel refrigerator that's sleek as a blade, a super-stylish concession to the tyranny of limited space. In another visible example of attention to detail—this time combined with a slightly exotic luxury—he had the bathroom's shower floor digitally carved from a large block of off-white marble.
In the bathroom and elsewhere, virtually every single type of lighting is wired to dimmers installed in the wall. The foyer's half-silvered bulb, set in an old-fashioned porcelain socket? Yes. The sitting area's Christian Liaigre floor lamp? Check. Shah even fattened the ceiling beams to accommodate recessed, dimmable halogen spots. "Want to count them all?" Shah asks with a laugh. "I'm a fanatic when it comes to flexible lighting. But what I do for my clients is so extreme—anything in my own apartment pales by comparison."