Groove with a View
Comma transforms a characterless Gramercy apartment into a pleasure pad for a professional couple.
Henry Urbach -- Interior Design, 9/1/2001 12:00:00 AM
David Khouri and Roberto Guzman, principals of Comma, first captured the design world's attention several years ago with their launch of stylish and inventive furniture. The partners continue to develop an impressive array of furniture projects, but have recently returned to architectural design, which they had moved away from during the early years of their practice. "People were coming to us for furniture pieces," says Khouri, "and as our relationship developed they would start asking for help with more architectural work. It all just evolved pretty organically."
This is exactly how it went for the owners of an apartment on Gramercy Park, a banker and a doctor who bided their time until the building's only apartment with a large terrace came on the market. On the 17th floor they found a 1,000-sq.-ft. space; the interior, however, was falling apart. Original 1950s appliances and fixtures were in disrepair, wallpaper was stained and peeling, the parquet wood floor was buckling, and there was clamshell molding everywhere. "Honestly," says Khouri, "it was the ugliest apartment I'd ever seen."
Still, the place had obvious potential. First there was the 700-sq.-ft. terrace, which wraps around the apartment on three sides and offers views to downtown Manhattan and beyond. A solid wall with a metal door had, amazingly enough, once separated the living room from the terrace; Khouri blew out the entire southern wall, added light steel structure, and installed floor-to-ceiling sliding glass panels. He also removed the hung ceiling to gain an additional foot in height and expose a handsome pattern of concrete beams that required only a coat of plaster and paint.
The clients asked Comma for an apartment that would entice them to stay in the city on weekends, as well as a space that would accommodate regular entertaining and occasional overnight guests. Khouri responded by removing the wall between two small bedrooms and creating a set of sliding rosewood panels between the master bedroom, dressing area, and study/guest room that allow these spaces to be connected and divided at will. Comma built a special shower to connect the guest bath to the deck, a feature more common to beach houses. The architect also expanded the master bathroom. The kitchen and guest bath, which could not be enlarged because of building risers, were completely overhauled to become "as gem-like as possible." Pocket doors and continuous flooring—a luscious, swimming-pool blue, poured epoxy resin—maintain a spatial flow throughout the apartment, further emphasized by materials that bleed and wrap from one space to another.
As the couple frequently entertains, they wanted a practical and accessible kitchen that would still lend itself to festive occasions. Khouri responded by installing a system of concealed neon tubes in red, orange, and blue that can be dimmed and mixed in various combinations. Wonderful cupboard doors were molded from self-skinning urethane, a material used for automobile dashboards, to yield a seamless surface without intervening pulls or handles. The cabinets and sink are made of white and orange solid surfacing. For the entry hall, Khouri designed a large, glowing closet faced in water-white glass that is illuminated from within.
Building requirements limited the extent of terrace renovations, but Comma nonetheless transformed the bleak, faceless expanse into an engaging and character-filled space. The salmon-colored brick flooring was stained a dark gray and fitted with recessed metal pans filled with grass-like succulents and river rocks. The clients' Saarinen dining table was refitted with a powder-coated metal top, and Bertoia chairs and chaise lounges were purchased to yield a terrace more than tempting enough to keep its owners at home on weekends.
Khouri acknowledges that this apartment, with its unconventional and relatively delicate surfaces, would not be right for every client. "These guys are incredibly attuned to their environment," he says, "and don't mind asking guests to take off their shoes before walking on the floor." Throughout all stages of design, from spatial planning to furniture prototyping, the clients' unusual willingness to stretch with the project encouraged Khouri to take risks and discover new ways of doing things. "How many people," he wonders, "would be willing to work with you while you figure out how to make kitchen cupboards from self-skinning urethane?"
We would love your feedback!