Blue, Bluer, Bluest
Mark McMenamin -- Interior Design, 1/1/2009 12:00:00 AM
Were it not for water, Duravit would be at sea. This critical cause-and-effect wasn't lost on architects Eduard Schmutz and Matthias Mayer as they plotted the 190-year-old German bathroom giant's first stand-alone showroom in the U.S.
Hired before Duravit settled on a specific New York site, Schmutz & Partner began designing in the dark, focusing on concepts over specs. "Which features are not derived primarily from the location and can be carried over to a greater, overall concept?" the architects asked themselves. They came up with four responses—water, light, texture, and color—and incorporated them into a buoyant environment called the Blue Space. Eventually, once Duravit signed a lease for a 6,500-square-foot, three-level storefront, abstractions could become reality.
The ground level owes its seamlessness to a combination of factors. Around the entire perimeter, floor and ceiling joints were fitted with flexible plywood "wiggle boards" to simulate an unbroken connection with the walls. Then the walls and ceiling were sanded, skim-coated, and painted a spa-worthy pearlescent aqua, while the floor took three layers of color-coordinated epoxy. The result is a photographic sweep that even Richard Avedon might have envied.
Art ultimately gave way to commerce, as the architects considered Duravit's need for displays flexible enough to accommodate the unknown characteristics of future products. Most conventional are the niches containing complete collections moodily lit by dimmable fluorescent tubes and halogens. In the middle of the floor, islands stand ready to support a vast array of wall-mounted essentials, from Foster + Partners's basin to Philippe Starck's bidet. Because the islands are not only topped by cobalt glass but also wrapped in anthracite-stained oak veneer, they suggest driftwood in a dematerialized sea of blue.
To reflect the Duravit creed, that the bathroom should be a genuine living space, the architects built three freestanding "stages" for vignettes of 100 square feet each. Stainless steel clads the sides of the canopy structures; the backs are glowing screens for branding images. As customers walk toward the rear of the showroom, the height of the units gradually increases, and a switchback staircase looms.
Did we mention that Duravit also planned to host events and house its New York staff in this same space? The staircase rises first to the mezzanine lounge and kitchen, for entertaining groups, before continuing upward to the office zone. In the conference room, there's currently an installation of Herbert Schultes's Mirrorwall, launched in Europe last year. When the large-scale sink-and-storage system moves downstairs, the flexibility of the new space will face its first blue-ribbon challenge.