Claudia Steinberg -- Interior Design, 9/1/2004 12:00:00 AM
At just 600 square feet, this apartment is definitely the most diminutive ever tackled by Morris Sato Studio—and most likely the tiniest ever inhabited by the firm's client, a recently retired entertainment executive accustomed to Los Angeles mansions but looking for a pied-à-terre on the Right Coast. The one-bedroom is located in an unassuming Hell's Kitchen building, originally a Catholic convent, but the executive's frequent stays at the nearby Hudson hotel had left him with an appreciation for monastic quarters.
Having seen two exhibitions designed by the husband-wife team of Michael Morris and Yoshiko Sato, the executive had also developed an appreciation for the work of the two young architects, and he asked them for a miracle in miniature. "Our projects have an ethereal quality, regardless of their scale," says Sato. Besides, when the events of September 11 froze the firm's larger commissions, the couple was able to lavish a disproportionate amount of attention on the Hell's Kitchen pied-à-terre, treating it as an exploration of cosmic and organic influences.
A single glance convinced Morris and Sato that a total gut job was the only solution. Left with one long rectangular space, they cleverly subverted its basic boxiness by slicing off one corner of the living area with a curved gypsum-board partition, its convex side bulging into the newly formed bedroom.
Although a tiny 200 square feet, it feels amazingly airy. Pocket doors slide out of sight when not in use. When they are, their coat of white automotive paint ties in with the same iridescent treatment on the custom headboard, placed against the convex wall so that the bed extends diagonally across the dwarf of a room. Morris describes the bed as a "hinge between our inner and outer worlds." Meanwhile, the underwater imagery of a digital pigment print by Kathleen Johnson provides a connection to the outdoors.
Art and architecture became particularly essential in forging a link to nature, since the apartment—though blessed with 10 windows on three exposures—has no good views. Consequently, the architects installed white shades to render the outside invisible and designed an interior landscape that recalls the natural world.
A bright green strip of carpet begins in the living area, then slips underneath the curved partition and extends into the bedroom to provide the client with a stretch of well kept "lawn." In a topsy-turvy touch, the yellow glass-mosaic tile of the kitchen floor throws sunshine at his feet, and similar blue tile on the bathroom's floor suggests a flawless sky. Round cowhide-covered pillows add a luscious blueberry color to the living area's custom sofa, tempering the slate gray of the leather on the seat.
Pale gray wool encases the Mario Bellini chairs surrounding Giuseppe Casarosa's glass-topped dining table. To screen the dining area from the front door and turn an undefined entry into a quasi-foyer, Morris and Sato designed a cabinet clad in aluminum and equipped with up-lit display niches. But the architects' greatest ingenuity appears overhead.
They gained a whole new horizon in discovering the original structural crossbeams hidden behind the existing dropped ceiling. Rather than leaving the beams entirely revealed, however, Morris and Sato chose to focus their excavation. In the ceiling above the living area, they cut a freeform cavity to expose a section of the crossbeams; halogen-strip cove lighting completes the effect. Above the dining area, identical halogens illuminate a gracefully elliptical cutout that holds a celestial "egg," a foam core covered with 160 layers of plaster. "No material besides plaster would possess such softness, taking on light and shadows," explains Sato.
Viewed at a wide angle, the egg reflects in the glass top of the living area's cocktail table, like the moon in a pond. In return, LEDs embedded in the aluminum rods of the table's base cast a deep midnight blue up at the ceiling. It's a dialogue between heaven and earth, a haiku for the 21st century.