Bruce Bierman customizes his Palm Beach carriage house down to the very last inch
Donna Paul -- Interior Design, 2/1/2003 12:00:00 AM
"We'll just decorate it," said designer Bruce Bierman when he took his initial look at this Palm Beach apartment. "Then I thought, Who am I kidding?" Despite an unbeatable location, less than a block from the ocean, the Addison Mizner–style carriage house hadn't been touched in 70 years. Everything needed to be reworked. Walls had to be taken down, plumbing and electrical systems overhauled. As Bierman realized that first day, the 600-square-foot space was destined for a total redo.
He needed the apartment because, although Bruce Bierman Design is in New York, the firm's Palm Beach clientele has grown significantly. (Likewise, his partner, William Secord, found that the dog paintings sold at his eponymous Manhattan gallery had become sought-after in Palm Beach.) Three months after Bierman started the gut renovation, he and Secord took up residence in their new part-time home—a home in Bierman's signature style: clean without being cool, modernist without being minimal.
Bierman typically takes on large-scale projects professionally. He had, however, tackled his own 750-square-foot beach house on Fire Island, New York, demonstrating a flair for making less seem more. Much more. He's become adept at using chromatic tones, texture, and scale to attain his characteristic brand of spatial harmony. "I design these kinds of spaces as if I'm designing for a yacht," he explains. In this case, a small yacht fitted out in a subdued tapestry of beiges from palest cream to taupe.
Taking down walls created a combined kitchen, dining, and living area that's 23 feet long and 15 wide. To allow for a more gracious flow within that space, Bierman floated the furniture in the center. The sofa not only serves as an anchor but also divides the living area from the dining-kitchen zone. "When there's only one way to move around a space, it becomes confining," he notes. Sliding doors with sandblasted-glass panels span the length of the room, lending privacy to the new bedroom, which is where the original kitchen stood.
"The psychology of how a space is perceived is what matters," says the designer, an expert at finessing such perceptions. Consistent materials help him accomplish this. Here, he dressed the interior (nearly) head to toe in pure white Corian. The impervious material doesn't warp, stain, bleach, rot, mildew, or harbor termites, making it perfect for the seaside.
Besides appearing in such obvious applications as kitchen counters, sink, and cabinets, Corian turns up rather unexpectedly throughout. Door frames. Night tables. A custom television cabinet. Even kitchen cabinet handles are made of Corian, as is the bed's platform. Bierman took the material to a new level with the bathroom's tub surround, sink, vanity, and walls. What he finds particularly compelling about the material is that its seams disappear. The bathroom's floor-to-ceiling wall cladding, for instance, shows no lines. "This allows the eye not to be interrupted," he explains.
Bierman had worked with Corian before, but never to this extent. He felt that his Palm Beach apartment was small enough for an experiment. Not that the experimentation came cheaply. "There was nothing off-the-rack. Everything had to be custom designed," Secord points out. There was a final payoff, though. Bierman found that concentrating on Corian made the job simpler. As he puts it, "Choosing a single material can be liberating."
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