S. Russell Groves performs minimalist magic to structure a Manhattan apartment.
Edie Cohen -- Interior Design, 2/1/2001 12:00:00 AM
ORDER AND SERENITY reign in the Senko penthouse on New York's Upper West Side. There's a place for every quotidian need. White drywall and bleached, whitewashed maple flooring form a flattering backdrop for a carefully edited collection of modern, vintage, and custom furniture. There's also a marvelous glass-enclosed rooftop dining room. Prior to S. Russell Groves's intervention, however, the 1,200-sq.-ft. space was an architectural hodgepodge, which the designer describes as "incoherent, with random changes in floor and ceiling heights." Groves, well known for the refinement and restraint his firm brings to both commercial and residential interiors, worked hard to make his solution for this apartment look effortless.
Part of a landmark pre-war building, the dwelling itself is a rooftop addition built during the 1960s. "It was a modern structure, a kind of garden apartment in the sky with an amazing terrace," the architect recalls. Without resorting to an all-out gut renovation, Groves nevertheless tried to impart an overall sense of order, seeking "to create a dialogue" between the existing plan and inserted gestures while adhering to the client's preferences for "simplicity of line, purity of form, and refined details in contrast with luxurious materials."
As his design for the Greenhouse spa illustrates (see following story), Groves avoids tricky treatments in favor of a few well-chosen alterations. For this apartment, he first installed three full-height volumes. One unit forms a central block for storage of glassware, tableware, and miscellaneous household items; another articulates a home office and laundry/pantry; and the third encloses bathrooms and guest wardrobe. Although it may be fashionable to proclaim that less is more and to praise minimalism, most people actually have acquisitive rather than ascetic natures, and hence require plenty of storage space. Groves's organizing volumes, clad with panels of whitewashed medium-density fiberboard, "act as architectural markers and create a spatial hierarchy," the architect explains. "As a result, the inhabitable space gains orientation and logic through its relation to the volumes."
Next on the renovation agenda was the dining room. "We stole from the terrace to enlarge the dining area," Groves comments. Taking cues from the existing skylight and terrace, he built a quasi-greenhouse to extend usable living space. A once awkward transition between the levels of the living and dining rooms was addressed quite simply through a change in materials, with maple giving way to concrete.
"We emphasized the level changes," Groves comments, "and underscored them by using different flooring materials." The architect utilized the same strategy to differentiate between the living room and open kitchen. Groves corrected another level disparity by replacing the existing ceiling with a clean plane incorporating recessed fixtures where needed.
Furnishings, though spare in line and deployment, are undeniably rich in materials. A linen rug, cherry dining table, steel-and-suede dining chairs, walnut bed and night tables, and a sofa generous enough to double as a bed all demonstrate Groves's facility in high-end product design. He tempers connotations of luxury with subtle references to an industrial aesthetic. The bedroom rug is of heavy-duty felt (albeit trimmed with Ultrasuede); kitchen cabinetry is stainless steel, as is the stock work table.
Architectural clarity, style, and substance are constants in Groves's work. So is a sense of refuge from the chaos of the city. The Senko apartment, like the Greenhouse spa, was conceived as a hideaway from the city's "color, light, and media assault."
The project was completed in nine months. Laura Bernstein and Sun Lee share design credits.