Arts and Craftsmanship
Nick Dine of Dinersan creates a classic and finely crafted town house for a pair of art collectors in New York.
Jen Renzi -- Interior Design, 8/1/2001 12:00:00 AM
"The project was really about getting nice, big walls for their art," says Nick Dine, principal of Dinersan, describing the turn-of-the-century town house in New York he remodeled for a pair of young but seasoned art collectors. No less crucial to the project's success, however, was creating an architectural framework that would neither distract from nor be effaced by the works they had amassed—ranging from large-scale canvases by Richard Prince and Andy Warhol to Donald Judd sculptures. The clients, a young couple with two children, "wanted a warm, serene environment, but they didn't want to create a white box." Nor did they desire "a specific statement by an architect"—an exercise they had embarked on in previous residences and were eager to avoid this time around. By concentrating his efforts on impeccable craftsmanship and hushed but precise details, Dine created a classic, unpretentious space that serves as a conceptual counterpart to the artwork it houses.
With co-principal Agneta Pettersan, Dine gutted the four-story, 4,400-sq.-ft. structure to undo "layers and layers" of renovations by former owners (who include renowned dancer/choreographer Jerome Robbins) and rebuilt it over the course of a year. With numerous remodeling efforts already under their belt, "the clients were very informed and understood all the complexities involved in a renovation." Dine preserved the fenestration of the existing façade, but virtually nothing else. He dissolved the mass of the rear wall to intensify the relationship with the backyard, and developed a fluid, informal layout to ensure that the clients, who entertain frequently, can "use the house thoroughly." The kitchen, dining room, and family area were grouped on the ground floor, which opens directly onto the backyard; library and living rooms are one flight above. A master suite and children's rooms comprise the third and fourth floor respectively.
To reference the site's historic character, all but eradicated in previous renovations, "we re-introduced traditional and classic details, which the scale of the rooms warranted," says Dine of the high-ceilinged manse. Graceful, custom plaster moldings and paneled doors were installed throughout the second and third floors, crafted under the guidance of project manager Reed Karen (who has a master's degree in cabinetmaking). A grand staircase with an off-kilter, Asian geometry was conceived as a sort of connective tissue. "The reveal, geometry, and proportions of the staircase reflect the restrained refinement of the spaces," says Dine, while bridging classical and contemporary elements as it unfolds from floor to floor. Oiled, Santos mahogany floors throughout further unite all four levels.
Although Dine is known for his progressive, avant-garde aesthetic—evident in boutiques he masterminded for hipster brands Kirna Zabête and Stüssy, as well as his own furniture collection for Dune, where he serves as design director—here he manages an old-guard look with equal dexterity. The designer had ample opportunity to indulge his up-to-the-minute sensibility, however: "We included as much cutting-edge technology as possible," he says, referring to the top-of-the-line HVAC system, high-end German kitchen, "super-minimal" Kroin fixtures, and low-profile Runtal radiators from Sweden. The "fancy, galley-style kitchen" is perhaps the most assertively modern of rooms, with its streamlined cherry Bulthaup cabinets and predominance of stainless steel. Bathrooms are likewise contemporary and feature limestone, travertine marble, mosaic tiling, and "simple, design-driven" chrome fixtures by Arne Jacobsen. Walls in the powder rooms and the master dressing room are lined with buttery-hued, variegated Douglas fir veneer. "The clients are originally from the Pacific Northwest," where it is an indigenous and popular wood, Dine explains.
Rather than create predetermined sites for specific artworks, individual pieces "found their appropriate locations after the interiors were completed," says Dine. "I knew the sensibility of the collection, which I think helped to inform the space." An understated décor, which mingles the clients' own furnishings with contemporary pieces from the Dune showroom, allows breathing room for the artwork. Wheeled ottomans in the living room—a design of Dine's—have a low profile so as not to obstruct views of the canvas behind. In the family and dining areas, lighthearted and colorful pieces by Richard Shemtov and Jens Denecke create warm vignettes suited to family living.
Dine collaborates with the same contractor on every project, ensuring high production values and "allowing us to maintain control where normally there is chaos," he offers, as if murmuring a Zen koan. "The design/build element is really critical to the project," and the firm's work in general, "to achieve this degree of finish." And to getting those nice, big walls.