Monica Geran -- Interior Design, 9/1/2003 12:00:00 AM
It can happen to even the most devoted urbanite. The namesake principal of Donald Billinkoff Architects and his physician wife, Sharon Lewin, were both longtime city dwellers, having lived in Manhattan for 25 years. Then, one day, Billinkoff and Lewin got an urge for an exurban adventure. So they purchased a 5,000-square-foot prerevolutionary house in the rolling hills of Bucks County, Pennsylvania—a place to spend weekends and vacations enjoying the rural pleasures of peace, quiet, friendly neighbors, and ample closet space.
With their base of command thus relocated, the couple traded in their city apartment for a smaller pied-à-terre. After signing a lease on a 600-square-foot one-bedroom in a 1980's high-rise on the Upper West Side, Billinkoff set about creating a stylish and space-efficient interior as serene as his country home, if slightly more snug.
His greatest challenge was the apartment's rental status: no ownership, no investment potential, thus no desire to initiate costly alterations. Other than an all-new Ikea kitchen, he limited his upgrades to inventive surface remedies rather than major structural changes. Instead of ripping up the plain-Jane oak parquet, he stained the floor a more refined dark brown. The radiators he screened with painted plywood panels, eliminating the need for custom cabinetry. And a little wall paint went a long way, too. One side of the living area received a dark brown sueded finish; the opposite side is taupe.
Furniture leans to neutral tones—pale maple and birch, gray upholstery—enlivened by such rich strokes of color as the living area's red molded-plywood chair by Charles and Ray Eames. To this restrained ensemble, Billinkoff then added budget-conscious accessories and art. The living area's 1950's ceramic lamp is a flea-market find. The framed photograph that hangs bedside was salvaged from a street corner, in Manhattan's truest Dumpster-diving style.
To divide the public space into dining and living areas, the architect designed a movable four-panel folding screen of trans- lucent Lumasite acrylic—very useful when visitors sleep over on the plush sofa bed. Among other pieces made with the apartment's petite dimensions in mind, the living area's three-panel credenza of milled birch slats is ideal for housing audio equipment. In the dining area, a maple cabinet reminiscent of an old-time rolltop desk opens to reveal cubicles, drawers, and shelves. "I call it a vertical desk," says Billinkoff. Linoleum-topped birch-plywood Alvar Aalto stools double as seating, side tables, and footrests and can furthermore be stacked in a corner when not in use. The maple dining set, designed by Roy McMakin, is a leftover from the couple's former apartment. To fit the new scaled-down digs, however, Billinkoff had to trim 15 inches from the tabletop.