Arthur Casas brings an international perspective to the Chelsea penthouse of lighting guru Ira Levy
Raul Barreneche -- Interior Design, 9/1/2007 12:00:00 AM
Ira Levy and Arthur Casas became fast friends when they met six years ago. Casas, an Interior Design Hall of Fame member, and Levy, whose Levy Lighting is behind projects as diverse as homes for Donna Karan, catwalk shows for New York fashion week, and a Burberry flagship in Tokyo, were soon collaborating professionally on the World Bar near the United Nations, among other jobs. Proof that the collaboration worked: Levy and his Brazilian wife, Helene, hired Casas to renovate their sprawling duplex penthouse in Chelsea.
Studio Arthur Casas turned a 3,000-square-foot box—albeit one with wraparound roof terraces and eye-popping views in three directions—into a comfortable home for the Levys, their young son and daughter, and frequent guests from Brazil. "The apartment has a lot of natural light in every room, which is not so easy to find in New York," Casas notes. The place also showcases the Levys' large collection of contemporary art.
The entire downstairs layout was dictated by a single wall sculpture: an 11-foot-tall, 16-foot-wide Muhammad Ali fight scene rendered entirely in LEGO blocks. To accommodate it, Casas put up a 19-foot-long central spine that runs practically all the way from the foyer to the dining area at the opposite end of the floor. The dining area can be closed off from the adjacent all-white kitchen when a pocket door slides out from the display wall.
There's flexibility upstairs, too. Overlooking the stairwell, which is brightened by an existing skylight, a glass-walled playroom doubles as a guest room—it has its own full bath. The Levys' children share an extra-large bedroom with a movable partition down the middle. "That way," Levy says, "they can sleep in the same room when they're little, then have some privacy when they get older."
Of course, Levy handled the lighting. He respected Casas's design, which kept the ceilings uncluttered and high, from 11 to 14 feet on the lower level. "We did mono-point lights and trimless fixtures," Levy says. "The lighting also had to be versatile to illuminate the art." Small recessed LED fixtures double as low-level night-lights along the staircase and elsewhere. In the dining area alone, additional lighting runs the gamut from a sleek David Weeks chandelier to a biomorphic Scandinavian 1960's table lamp.
Casas describes his style as modern but not exaggeratedly so, and he emphasizes natural materials, "a concept as Brazilian as bossa nova," he says. "It's something Americans are starting to identify with." For the Levy apartment, he chose natural materials from the Americas, both North and South, including white oak for flooring and paneling and a rustic Brazilian silk-and-straw fabric for cushions on built-in benches in the lounge and living room. One notable exception is the engineered-quartz surfaces. "We spent a lot of time investigating materials that looked natural but were more resistant," Levy explains. Casas came up with the idea of sandblasting the solid surfacing for the master bathroom; the usual honed finish appears in the kitchen and stairwell.
Furniture was selected with an eye toward comfort. Jean-Michel Frank's leather-covered club chairs furnish the lounge. In the dining area, Casas placed generous swivel chairs by Antonio Citterio around a hefty George Nakashima–esque table. There's a genuine vintage Nakashima armchair in the living room, which overlooks a roof terrace with plantings designed by the Brazilian firm Gilberto Elkis Paisagismo.
As with any collaboration, the project wasn't 100 percent smooth sailing. "We were against certain things Arthur proposed," Levy admits. "At least until we moved in." Case in point: the master suite's venetian blind and roller, which Levy argued would interfere with the spectacular skyscraper view. But the windows face south, so the treatment is necessary to counter the hot summer sun. Levy put on his professional cap and inserted a series of MR16 halogen downlights just behind the wood slats, creating an atmospheric glow.
Casas's interior doesn't have much color beyond the natural wood tones and, of course, the art. Among the collection's highlights are the mercury-glass bubbles that percolate up the stairwell—a site-specific installation that's one of several contributions by New Yorker Rob Wynne. At the top of the stairwell is a kinetic light sculpture, a grid of LED screens displaying blocks of color or even low-resolution video streams. That one was contributed by Levy himself.