Site and Sound
Timpson Seggerman designs a meticulously crafted West Village home for a music executive.
Jen Renzi -- Interior Design, 9/1/2001 12:00:00 AM
From concept to completion, the design process rarely, if ever, unfolds in a smooth, linear fashion. Its logic is both more complex and more organic—a succession of half-steps and false starts, incremental progress followed by inconvenient setbacks. Structural flaws are uncovered, programmatic needs shift, a sudden flash of inspiration (or utter foolishness) forever alters the course of events. Designers can fight the inherent chaos every step of the way or simply let go and give in to the process. Timpson Seggerman wisely embraced the latter—and to stunning effect—in a residence he designed for a work-at-home music producer.
The client had purchased a two-story landmark garage in the far West Village and sought a multidisciplinary talent who could oversee every aspect of its renovation—from designing the air conditioning vents to fabricating the furniture. "I got the job because I said I'd do everything," says Seggerman, who could offer an unparalleled degree of control by spending the duration of the project on-site and by overseeing metalwork, masonry, and woodwork in-house. Although time was not an overriding concern for the client, he valued an obsessive attention to minutiae. Over the course of the four-and-a-half-year construction phase, Seggerman experienced the space as the client would—observing effects of light and climate as they changed from day to day, season to season. This holistic process allowed for spontaneous, minute-by-minute alterations as the project evolved, and for considering the nooks and crannies that designers frequently overlook. "We utilized every little niche, every square inch of the space," marvels Seggerman.
In a nice bit of conceptual symmetry, Seggerman's improvisational approach mirrored how the client hoped to use the space. "He requested the largest possible house within the limitations of the lot," with each room suited to various modes of entertaining, working, and relaxing that the client might desire at any particular moment. The building was reconfigured into a 10,000-sq.-ft. residence with three full floors plus a penthouse aerie, a basement-level recording studio, and 3,500 sq. ft. of outdoor terraces. With the exception of an impressive cast-iron façade on the lower level, "it was just a shell, with nothing inside," Seggerman recounts. He mapped out a basic layout—work/party space on the ground floor; sleeping quarters on the second; living space on the third—and set to work. "The place really developed over the course of construction; we let the shape of the building dictate the design" and circulation, says Seggerman. "A lot happened in relation to accidents of light or season," he continues.
Seggerman stabilized the building's shell (with the assistance of Evans-Heintges Architects), preserving as much of the original structure as was possible. The existing cast-iron columns, steel beams, and masonry arches on the first and second floors informed the new construction. To create continuity between the various levels, Seggerman deployed a humble palette of glass, brick, slate, steel, and wood, sensitively juxtaposing materials to create contrasts of tone and texture.
Seggerman honored the industrial patina of the exposed-brick walls, carefully stripping away coats of paint "so that a little bit of each layer shows through." He skimmed remaining wall and ceiling surfaces with waxed and pigmented plasters that age gracefully. Although the installation was laborious—executed, amazingly, by a single craftsperson—upkeep is low-maintenance: "Just buff it and wax it." The plaster planes capture vicissitudes of daylight, sculpting subtle compositions of light and shadow. The space was conceived, explains Seggerman, "so the owner could follow the sunlight as it moves throughout the day. Gathering evanescent light qualities was a big issue." Corners were "softened" and window wells deepened to enhance light penetration. The designer also used acid-etched glass as often as possible in place of solid walls and doors; all told, Seggerman installed over 2,500-sq.-ft. of glass in the residence.
The designer's obsession with natural illumination was unbridled. "I was going to put higher wall dividers between the rooms on the third floor, but everything seemed to get in the way of the light," he explains. The high-ceilinged space was thus kept open and loft-like to capitalize on the expansive windows and skylights. Along the living room's clerestory window, Seggerman applied a 34-ft.-long swath of gold leaf that casts a blue-green glow at a specific, fleeting moment in the late afternoon. "It's an inconceivable light when it happens—like a James Turrell artwork," he describes. Tucked away from view, the gilded surface is enjoyed only indirectly. "It's so great to take an expensive material—the only one used in the space—and hide it like that," says a delighted Seggerman.
This philosophy extends to the entire residence. "I wanted you to be able to sense and feel the space, but not notice it per se. I tried to make it so that nothing jumps out at you." Various details are revealed only over time: a slate step that seems to float unsupported, track lighting that forms a continuous line with a turning corner, a light box eked into a sliver of leftover space. With the help of an army of local craftspeople, Seggerman labored lovingly over the details so that—ironically—they'd be almost invisible, subordinated to an overall impression of peace, quietude, and comfort.