The Odd Couple *
Business Incubator seeks Duplex Residence—Bromley Caldari Architects brings them together at two similarly mismatched New York town houses
Aric Chen -- Interior Design, 8/1/2004 12:00:00 AM
Folk art and biotech may seem a strange combination. But so were two neighboring New York town houses joined to house Cacophony—an incubator for health-related companies—along with a duplex pied-à-terre for the owners. Bromley Caldari Architects principal Jerry Caldari brought everything together over two years.
Built in the early 1900's, the five-story brick houses now offer 11,700 square feet of offices, conference rooms, and other facilities, leased to young companies not yet ready for their own space. The owners' 3,300-square-foot apartment occupies most of floors four and five. However, before Caldari could start cobbling this amalgam together, he had to solve one major problem. The west town house rises from sidewalk level, while the other house is sunken several feet below grade, so floors don't align.
Caldari's solution was to carve a five-story atrium out of the center of the west town house and knock out part of the adjacent party wall. Catwalks cross the open space to connect offices in the front and back of the west town house. Perpendicular stairs descend from those catwalks to landings in both of the houses, like Venetian bridges spanning uneven banks.
That problem resolved, Caldari set out to meet two mandates. The first has become the start-up mantra: Provide areas where people can interact casually. The second was to integrate the owners' collection with an office environment. Entering the atrium lobby, with its floor of Indian slate tile, one immediately encounters an American 19th-century sheet-iron weather vane. Beyond, a conference room features a pair of ceremonial painted Gopi boards from New Guinea as well as a Mira Nakashima table and console in English oak burl. In the trademark style of her legendary father, both pieces retain the contours of the original tree trunks. "The clients are wood maniacs," says Caldari.
Their passion reveals itself again in the east town house's second-level conference room, ' where the walnut floor's undulating insets of yellow heart onyx radiate outward from a massive oak mantel—a relic of the room's former life as a parlor. Ornate carved pilasters also remain, complemented by African masks and examples of international modernism. The table combines a vintage Florence Knoll base and Caldari's oval onyx top; the conical glass pendants are by Achille Castiglioni.
Smaller meeting rooms take up the front of the west town house's levels two, three, and four, with offices occupying the remaining space, plus the east town house's entire third level. The duplex comprises the fourth level of the east town house and both sides of the top level.
On the west side of the upstairs, a catwalk spans the atrium to connect the front guest bedroom and the rear master suite, with its walls paneled in sapele, an ebonized oak floor, and a small private terrace. At the front end of the east side, a mezzanine den is located above the fourth level's eat-in kitchen. The kitchen's limestone pavers, salvaged from a French 19th-century château, extend all the way back through the double-height living room.
The room's 20-foot-high glazed rear elevation is draped by a dramatic Jack Lenor Larsen curtain, its angled strips of ocher fabric contrasting with a sidewall's grid of cabinetry in American walnut and ebonized maple. A few open shelves hold books. The rest display a diverse population of 41 African helmet masks.
Across the living room, a black granite mantel anchors a white-painted expanse—canted slightly outward but left intentionally bare. As Caldari explains it, "We had to convince the clients of the beauty of a blank wall."
For a biotech incubator in New York, Bromley Caldari Architects joined two town houses via a five-story atrium.
In the living room of the penthouse duplex pied-à-terre, cabinetry of American walnut and ebonized maple displays a collection of African helmet masks.
Beyond the entry, a conference room occupies the rear of the west town house.
The conference room's Gopi boards come from New Guinea.
The east town house's conference room retains an original fireplace, but the flooring of American walnut and yellow heart onyx is new.
Bromley Caldari's system of stairs and catwalks resolves differences in the houses' floor levels.
The duplex's curtain by Jack Lenor Larsen acts as a backdrop for A.B. and W.T. Westervelt's archangel weather vane in copper and gold leaf, circa 1890. A 19th-century pine mannequin drapes its arms over the balustrade's stainless-steel cables.
A walnut staircase leads from the living room to the mezzanine den.
The floor is 19th-century French limestone.
An African-American wool coverlet and a painted-wood African sculpture flank the hall connecting the living room and kitchen. A similar coverlet faces the kitchen's antique pear-wood table and leather-covered Eames chairs.
The atrium stair is American walnut and painted steel. Center:
A late 19th-century wood and metal dress stretcher hangs outside the den, where a 19th-century copper weather vane accompanies wool-upholstered seating.
Aside from new windows, the two houses' brick and limestone facades remain as they were in the early 1900's.
The stairwell windows on the rear elevation are laminated with rice paper.