Easy Does It
Designer David Mann does a lot with very little to update and furbish a Manhattan apartment.
Monica Geran -- Interior Design, 9/1/2001 12:00:00 AM
It wasn't dilapidated, nor conspicuously dowdy. It just looked a bit fatigued and decidedly unfinished. Thus, the subject being an apartment in Manhattan, it clearly needed a designer's rejuvenating touch. David Mann, appointed by the occupant—a busy executive who likes to entertain—did just that. He first devised an essentially cosmetic plan involving a lot of repainting, plastering-over, staining, and general updating, all contributing to the process of revitalization. Ensuing furniture selections were few but fine. This he did on a stringent budget, within a work schedule of two months. The mise-en-scène is a 1,200-sq.-ft./two-bedroom apartment of undistinguished post-war lineage on New York's Upper West Side. Mann, collaborating, as he does periodically, with project designer James Corbett, heads MR Architecture + Décor, also based in New York.
Elaborating on the preparatory phase, Mann runs through his list of visual eyesores and their remedial antidotes. There was, first of all, what he calls the "popcorn ceiling," a sprayed-on spongy/lumpy sort of substance—he likens it to cottage cheese—meant to cover up imperfections and, though he questions the claim, to mute acoustics. This offensive presence he buried under a layer of plaster. Next he renovated the kitchen by affixing new doors and repaving the countertops. He glass-tiled the bathroom walls, and replaced aged fittings; stripped and stained the building-standard parquet floors; changed the closets' hardware; and painted walls in a grayed palette ranging from off-white to graphite. In the interest of economy, inexpensive nylon fabrics, bought from a theatrical supplier, were used for window casements and sofa slipcovers respectively. A built-in bookcase in the study and painted-wood covers for radiators are still more extras bestowed without breaking the budget.
As for the proverbial goods and chattels commonly found in presentable households, furnishings then owned by the client had been minimized to a nondescript chrome/black-lacquered shelving unit and a not-so-gently-worn sofa. To fill the glaring gaps was, of course, Mann's mandate. Going by innate instinct rather than pedantic theory, the designer chose to offset the character-deficient pieces with a few but carefully chosen "nostalgic furniture classics"—chairs by Knoll and Gerald Summers in the living room and foyer respectively, an Alvar Aalto sofabed in the guest room/study, Verner Panton chair and ottoman in the bedroom, and Eames chair in the dining sector. Arresting in their stark simplicity are steel-and-milk-glass tables by metal artist Soraya. Accessories, ranging from a large nickel-plated globe to a Bauhaus-derivative wall-hung rug, reinforce the concept of doing a lot with little. It adds up to a sense of unity and calm, freed of undue decoration.
To conclude with a flashback to the start, openers dealt, as is customary in interviews, with queries about the assignment's genesis. How did the designer and client meet, what cinched their collaboration? Usually the reply is either confusingly convoluted, or astonishingly simple and direct. Mann took the latter way: he let Karen Fisher of Designer Previews broker the designer/client arrangement. The outfit cited is one of a handful of professional matchmakers—not a businesslike word, but apt even so—acting as qualified agents for registered designers. Visual and factual documentation is kept on hand for perusal by would-be clients; they, in turn, learn more about the registrants' work than they would from portfolio reviews. Preferring more to less, Mann is sold on thus enlarging his client base.