Hide and Seek
Rebecca Flint Marx -- Interior Design, 9/1/2004 12:00:00 AM
For years, a Manhattan couple dreamed of owning their upstairs neighbor's apartment, a penthouse with a generous skylight and an expansive balcony. But when they were finally able to buy the 2,200-square-foot apartment, its cramped bathroom and awkwardly placed kitchen were hardly the stuff of reverie.
Enter David Howell Design, the firm of a New Zealand–born architect who had worked with the couple previously. His assignment included building a new guest bath- room, reconfiguring the bathroom attached to the master bedroom, and creating an open, airy kitchen that would be the centerpiece of a loftlike living and entertaining space.
"They like everything clutter-free," David Howell says of his clients—which was a potential problem, since they had a large collection of art and decorative objects. "How do you accommodate an enormous number of pieces without having tables covered with collectibles? Every nook and cranny has to deal with that issue."
Howell's first strategy was to make sure the kitchen didn't contribute any visual muddle. He kept appliances out of sight, in compartments concealed behind a seamless facade of sycamore, the wood he chose for most surfaces in the apartment. Even the TV got a hiding place, a slot from which the flat screen descends at the flick of a switch. Decorative objects have an assigned location, too. Tidy rows of spotlit ceramics are displayed in a series of niches just above eye level.
The clients' eclectic collection of works on canvas informed the design of the guest bathroom, which Howell conjured from a narrow raw space. "Its simple lines and restricted palette are a deliberate retreat from the vibrancy of the paintings," he explains. The result is an oasis of Jerusalem gold limestone, which covers the floor and most other surfaces. Two rectangular sinks cantilever above open-slab shelving to make maximum use of the bathroom's modest dimensions.
In the master bathroom, Howell wasn't quite so restrained in his use of materials. "They reflect the eclectic tastes and colors of the collection," he says of the herringbone limestone, marble, glass, and sycamore. Lack of space, however, remained a concern, and his clients' persistent aversion to clutter led him to design his most ingenious concealed storage space yet: a discreet under-sink kitty-litter box with a hidden entrance for the couple's cats.