Man of Steel
With metal as his motif, Joseph Valerio took on a TriBeCa loft
Cindy Coleman -- Interior Design, 9/1/2004 12:00:00 AM
There's nothing like a man—or a woman—in uniform. But what about an apartment? Just such an idea occurred to Valerio Dewalt Train Associates principal Joseph Valerio after taking in "Uniform: Order and Disorder" at the P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center in Long Island City.
The exhibit showcased expressions of uniformity through art, fashion, cinema, photojournalism, and pop culture, and Valerio found himself mentally extrapolating those ideas to interior design. "It examined the power of a uniform—what it says about a person—and it hit me that it's exactly the same phenomenon for buildings," recalls the architect, who went on to test his new theories at an airy yet generic TriBeCa loft.
The loft belonged to longtime clients Tracy Gardner and Dani James, whose previous home in Chicago had won a national AIA interiors award for Valerio Dewalt Train. When Gardner, a business strategist, and James, a lawyer, moved to New York, they were truly starting from scratch. Situated in an industrial building, the couple's 3,000-square-foot L-shape apartment came with a run of six arched windows. And that was about it.
Considering the notion of "dressing up" a space, Valerio began to visualize it as an art installation with pieces fabricated elsewhere, then reassembled on-site. "The idea of prefabrication naturally led us to metal, because it's precise," he explains. His concept outfitted the loft in an assertive uniform—one he describes as "urban guerilla, complete with grit."
The uniform's fabric is galvanized steel, used to build platforms, cabinetry, and dropped ceilings and to clad walls and columns. The series of steel structures divides the loft into contiguous living and dining areas, a kitchen, a study, and two bedrooms. (Valerio also redid three steel-free bathrooms.)
"The steel solution transforms an off-the-rack drywall box into a highly sculptural environment," says Valerio. Indeed, certain elements, placed purposely askew, impart an almost tumbling quality.
His plan also kept the construction timeline short. After prefabrication in Chicago, the structures were trucked in and set in place over just four weeks. Only minimal mechanical, electrical, and plumbing rough-ins were required, since all systems are housed in steel ceiling and floor formations.
Steel cabinetry provides storage and separates function zones. In the living area, cabinetry holds a media center. In the dining area, it pivots outward to reveal or conceal the kitchen. The study transforms from a reading retreat to an office zone when steel doors open onto two workstations.
The rugged quality of the metal contrasts with the ipé of the floor, the whiteness of the walls and ceiling, and the leather of most of the seating. Leather covers the living area's Piero Lissoni sofa (pale gray), the dining area's Frank Gehry chairs (bright red), and the study's Arne Jacobsen chairs (black). In the master bedroom, the birch of the custom bed and dresser tempers the largely monochromatic scheme.
With the help of Valerio's well chosen accents, what could have been cold and uninviting is instead warm and welcoming. The run of original arched windows makes an enormous difference as well. Streaming in all day long, natural light proves to be a steel uniform's best accessory.