Puzzling it all out
Lisa Selin Davis -- Interior Design, 3/1/2008 12:00:00 AM
Privacy can be elusive in New York, where people are stacked high in apartments as small as 300 square feet. Yet when a husband and wife with small children tapped L.E.FT to transform two apartments in a tenement building into a 1,500-square-foot floor-through, the couple were prepared to flout traditional notions of privacy, even—actually especially—in the case of the bathrooms. Partner Naji Moujaes deconstructed a standard bathroom's tub, shower, sink, and toilet and gave each of these functions an individual station. Together, they fit like pieces of a puzzle.
This “tectonic design,” as Moujaes calls it, is a response to the unusual layout of the combined apartment. The front, one large rectangle that wraps the tenement building's central stairwell, contains public areas and the children's quarters. The back, part of an addition tacked on via a short connector with windows on both sides, is now the master suite. To maintain natural light and a small amount of privacy while fitting in two places to bathe, Moujaes did some radical thinking. “Full bathrooms would have cluttered up the space, wherever you put them,” he says. Instead, he broke them apart.
Near the children's bedroom, two freestanding units house a shower and a toilet. Next in the succession come an open niche for the sink, a closed unit for the washer and drier, and a much larger one for an office. Because of its size, the office also blocks some sight lines to the living-dining area, giving the children privacy.
Inspired by sculptor Rachel Whiteread's white plaster casts of forgotten or overlooked volumes, the four units don't actually fit together perfectly, and that's intentional. Walls that are rounded or constructed at odd angles create interstitial slits, pockets, and cubbies not quite big enough or square enough for traditional storage but a dream for hide-and-seek. “A child can actually sit in these little spaces,” Moujaes says. “They encourage interaction.”
By contrast, the master suite's shower enclosure and WC share a straight, unbroken front. Their doors of etched, tempered glass allow light to pass through, while the body inside becomes a silhouette. (In a slip of the tongue, the owners have referred to these units as “glassrooms.”) The interior surfaces of both are clad in glass mosaic tiles in a vibrant cobalt blue. Directly beyond, on a platform tiled in an icier blue, the sink and tub stand completely unenclosed.
The sink hugs a section of wall that curves out, making room for a storage niche in the shower enclosure behind. Everywhere in the apartment, reciprocal details reveal themselves. Take the storage unit that doubles as a wall of the children's bedroom: What bumps out on one side pulls in on the other. As Moujaes notes, “It's like the relationship between mother and child.”