Moneo Brock Studio creates a New York loft that celebrates light and sacrifices neither spatial openness or privacy.
Edie Cohen -- Interior Design, 1/1/2001 12:00:00 AM
NOT EVEN THE HOLLAND TUNNEL can stand in the way of exuberant Manhattan developers in search of the next great residential project. Nor does having this New Jersey link as the neighborhood landmark necessarily deter eager buyers. A warehouse conversion offering lofts with a host of amenities on Hudson Street just below Canal is yet another example of New York's anything-goes real estate market. The renovation of the building, however, was top-drawer, quickly dispelling initial doubts that architects Belen Moneo and Jeffrey Brock had concerning their clients' investment.
The 2,200-sq.-ft. space was delivered raw but had already been fitted with insulated windows plus plumbing and electrical risers. Thus endowed with basic mechanical systems, existing conditions freed the architects to concentrate efforts-and budget-on the project's planning and its compelling visual aspects.
Moneo and Brock identified two immediate concerns. A single source of daylight from the east elevation "forced us to place all the major living spaces along the window wall, threatening to rob the western areas of the plan of valued daylight," they explain. The second challenge was presented at the entry, which, if left as found, would have obliterated any trace of real progression or mystery with its floor-through views. "There was the nine-ft. door, and the strong structure of the fireplace was right there," says Brock. "The transition from the corridor to the interior was rather abrupt."
To allow maximum daylight sharing throughout the interior, the architects devised a partition system based on partial walls, clerestories, and sliding doors of translucent glass. The two bedrooms arrayed along the window wall, flanking the central living/dining/kitchen zone are both enclosed by sliding panels. Above, transparent clerestories provide a perception of space beyond. A similar treatment was used at the study. Its defining walls stop well short of the eleven-ft. ceiling height, and translucent sliding doors allow for easy continuity between it and the main living space.
Moneo and Brock solved the entry dilemma with a mixture of art and architecture. The result is a contemplative, ethereal antechamber that gives one pause before the main event. The entry leads from the doorway around one of the loft's four massive, mushroom-capped columns. The partners devised the entry sequence with a zig-zag wall that took "a big bite from the study," according to Brock. And the procession, Moneo adds, "emphasizes the column, making it part of the experience of the space."
The art, a commissioned piece by Amanda Guest, reinforced the architects' decision to establish a distinct entry zone; it effectively turned this introductory space into a site-specific artwork. The piece, a seven-ft.-high aluminum-and-glass panel framing handmade paper, is described pragmatically as "a foil in front of the entry door" and more poetically as "a diaphanous, translucent skin." According to Moneo and Brock, "the destination remains hidden and protected. The body is given a moment to adjust to the cool, clean environment of the main loft space."
The clients, who came to Moneo Brock after seeing the partners' own loft in a magazine, knew precisely what they wanted. They envisioned a minimal and clean atmosphere, initially requesting an all-white interior. But they were open to alternatives and soon grew receptive to color and texture. "The materials that we used were not expensive," Moneo comments. "In fact, they are quite common." But the modest materials certainly allowed the architects to showcase their creativity, resulting in an installation appearing more costly than it was. Originally an awkward impediment, the fireplace elevation, for example, now appears as a focal masonry construction thanks to mica cladding. The fireplace wall and the entry screen that adjoins it create an intriguing study in contrasting qualities of texture, mass, and translucency.
Similarly, Moneo and Brock relied on the deft treatment of common substances to create a viable kitchen alternative to the expensive Italian version desired by the clients. Cabinetry consists of mirror-backed etched glass on a plywood structure, as does a wall fronting a shallow storage zone just in front of the loft's party wall. Counters and backsplash are of Carrara marble; the central wall is surfaced with marble mosaic tile.
In the bathrooms, Moneo Brock's talents truly sparkle. The master bathroom's tub screen is a paneled construction of translucent Plexiglas studs sandwiching sheets of colored vinyl. In the guest bath, concrete walls pigmented a shocking chartreuse form a backdrop to a custom Plexiglas shower screen, a Plexiglas and steel lavatory, also custom, and a wild lighting fixture. This last item was assembled at the studio from incandescent lamps and fittings purchased from a local hardware store.
When it came to furniture, the clients made good on their early promise. They really did keep things clean and minimal. Only the cowhide rug and Achille Castiglioni's iconic Arco light make a slight nod towards extravagance.
Adhering to a tight schedule, Moneo and Brock developed the plan and construction documents in six weeks. The project was built in six months. Robert Robinowitz and David Griffin collaborated on the job.