Vladimir Kagan invented convertible solutions for his friends' New York apartment
Mark McMenamin -- Interior Design, 2/1/2008 12:00:00 AM
For much of the past two decades, Vladimir Kagan has been best known for designing mass-produced residential furnishings. It took a pair of real-estate developers, outfitting their pied-à-terre in New York's landmark Alwyn Court, to put the spotlight on his first passion: couture.
Working with interior designer David Hering, the 80-year-old Kagan designed furniture to reconcile the divergent tastes of the apartment's owners, Bob Gease and Bob Echele, while also squeezing as much functionality as possible into 1,450 square feet. This right-brain/left-brain tussle gave rise to a series of multi functional pieces, clever but never gimmicky.
"There were no restrictions. I could let my imagination and our craftsmanship take over," the ever smiling Kagan says. His ingenious solutions range from a cocktail table, which can be raised and expanded for dining, to a bar that conceals four high-backed chairs.
Dreaming up what he calls "beautiful solutions" for clients who have also included Gary Cooper, Marilyn Monroe, Barry Diller, and Angelina Jolie is one of Kagan's favorite experiences. And he intends to explore the territory further when he opens the Vladimir Kagan Couture showroom at the New York Design Center in April.
Back at the Alwyn Court, it's a time not of beginnings but of endings. Bob Echele died before the 12th-floor corner apartment was complete. As it changes hands and the furnishings scatter, Kagan revisits the process and ponders the often fleeting nature of design.
How did you approach this project?
The owners were good friends of mine, and I knew their tastes. Echele liked modern, Gease antiques. I had to blend both looks.
And where did you go from there?
They asked me for a home office, so I conceived a deco-inspired armoire. It's really a piece of architecture. In order to incorporate all the functionality, the cabinet had to be 24 inches deep, but you're not conscious of its true depth because of the fins that step back on the sides. When the doors open and the desktop comes out in front, it's supported by a drop-down leg—which you don't see, because it's concealed behind a maple panel that frames a hand-made needlepoint design by my wife, Erica Wilson.
What came next?
Both Echele and I loved the Chrysler Building, and he asked if I could use some of its motifs for a bar cabinet. So I had a sculptor make two eagle heads and cast them in acrylic, sandblasted to simulate Lalique glass. Then I attached one eagle to each end of the bar top. It's solid black granite—a practical surface.
The front of the unit is actually the backs of four chairs stowed underneath. I was inspired by the Chrysler Building's elevator doors for the parquetry design on the backs. We used five different woods. The legs are acrylic, which makes the seat look like a cantilever.
The chairs go with your convertible table?
Exactly. We did a lot of research on lift mechanisms that could fit into a small pedestal and aren't hydraulic, because we were afraid of oil leaks ruining the silk carpet. In the end, we did it with sprockets, which are mechanical rather than hydraulic. When the table goes up, half of the burled walnut pedestal lifts, telescopically, with the top. You're not aware of the underskirt, which stays with the mechanism.
To expand the top to seat 10, there's a leaf. We hid it under the bed.
The sofa behind looks familiar.
It's my Omnibus design from the '70's, adapted to fit the radius of the bay window. The idea came from my house in Nantucket.
What's the status of the apartment?
Very sadly, it's being dismantled. It was so much Bob Echele's work, and it was very emotional for his partner to be there without him. A friend purchased the major pieces for an elegant office in a private bank. But the desk-armoire will go to auction.
How does that feel for a designer?
It's very distressing. But some of the most exciting jobs I've done have been demolished. The fact that these pieces are finding a new life is very exciting. And I'm happy the project is being documented. It would have been even more distressing if it had been torn apart, and no one had ever seen it.