Graft brings Hollywood to a penthouse in Berlin
Andreas Tzortzis -- Interior Design, 11/1/2005 12:00:00 AM
After graduating from SCI-Arc, Lars Krückeberg and Wolfram Putz set up a Los Angeles practice under the odd moniker Graft. ("To graft is to bring things together and create something new," Krückeberg explains. "That's what we do.") The architects soon assembled a starry cast of clients including Brad Pitt, Will Smith, and James Spader. Along the way, the two also recruited a third principal, Thomas Willemeit, a friend from undergraduate days who'd been working for Studio Daniel Libeskind.
Graft has since globalized—opening offices in Berlin and Beijing—but the three principals haven't forgotten Hollywood. "We like to speak about architecture in movie terms," says Willemeit. "We think of storyboards rather than single images." Appropriately enough, one of Graft's first German assignments was a headquarters for Zeal Pictures, an American film production company. And if the firm's third major Berlin project looks like a movie set, that's because it often functions as one.
The apartment of media executive Dirk Fabarius, it occupies the 3,500-square-foot top floor of a 19th-century building on the edge of the hip Prenzlauer Berg neighborhood. Fabarius bought the property with the intention of renting it out for parties or as a location for photo shoots, and Graft fulfilled that brief so successfully that the space has already served as a backdrop for Hugo Boss shindigs and layouts in glossy magazines.
Twelve months before the first photographer and caterer arrived, Graft faced a very different scene. The roofing and framing timbers of the building's attic were so badly rotted that the architects had to demolish it. In its place, they built the penthouse, a "house on top of the house," as Willemeit describes it.
This new structure is U-shape, with a 5-foot drop from the front wing to the rear one. ' An undulating white wall snakes through the open plan, linking the split levels while enclosing bathrooms, two kitchens, and other service spaces. Living, working, and sleeping areas flow into one another, outside the wall, but they can be separated by sliding doors.
As the wall curves through the living area, deep niches hold banquettes—eliminating the need for much other furniture. Banquette cushions' orange leather covers are easy to remove and replace with different colors, and niches can be repainted at whim, both necessary features for camera-ready flexibility. Most of the wall remains grayish-white, its surface of cement-based plaster oiled to a soft sheen that contrasts with the ordinary white-painted plasterboard, used for perimeter walls, and the dark smoked-oak flooring.
The two wings are connected by a long kitchen with a massive island of cast concrete and a floor of polished concrete. In the three bathrooms, Graft set up a similar combination: polished concrete for the floors and cast concrete for sinks, each a unique shape.
Heat, light, blinds, and the elevator are all controlled by a small computer touch screen mounted on the kitchen wall. Stretching the entire length of the opposite wall, a magnet board strikes a quirkily homey note—as does one Murphy bed in the open guest space at the front of the apartment.
These aren't the only idiosyncratic touches. "We talked to Dirk about 'erotic architecture' and suggested putting a bathtub in the living area," says Willemeit. "He immediately loved the idea." So there's a white porcelain tub sunk into an orange leather-upholstered niche diagonally across from the fireplace, within conversation distance of the kitchen.
Graft couldn't help but let the loft's other tub in on the fun. The architects cut a 4-foot-tall keyhole shape in a guest bathroom wall, so the tub is visible from a banquette outside. Remember that classic risqué scene from The Seven Year Itch? There's Marilyn Monroe, submerged in bubbles, her toe caught in the drain.