Safari In The Sky pix
With touches of Africa and Asia, Shamir Shah Design imparts a subtle exoticism to a New York penthouse by Gauer & Marron Studio
Raul Barreneche -- Interior Design, 1/1/2006 12:00:00 AM
It's almost impossible to top the New York skyline. Particularly from this penthouse, where floor-to-ceiling glass opens up panoramas in virtually every direction and perimeter columns, placed just inside the curtain wall, even allow the glass to wrap the corners. The living room alone gazes south to the tip of Manhattan Island, west over the Hudson River, and north for a full-frontal take on Central Park. So it was lucky for Shamir Shah that, despite the breathtaking views, the owners of this privileged perch thought of their new home as a low-key refuge, an escape in the city. "A place to kick back and relax," Shah says. And one that was distinctly different from the lobbies that Shamir Shah Design has completed for several prominent residential developments in New York—regardless of the fact that one of these two clients happened to be a developer whom Shah has known for nearly 20 years.
Before Shah came aboard, Gauer & Marron Studio organized the floor plan and navigated the massive tangle of ducts, risers, and cables feeding the 70-story tower, which houses condominiums on its top floors and offices below. Luckily, one of the owners is an executive at the real-estate development company that built the high-rise. So architects Jim Gauer and Mariana Marron were able to work with the building's architect and engineer before addressing the apartment's finer points. The challenge was not to lose too many inches of the 12-foot ceiling. "Everyone thinks the top floor is great, but you're under an endless maze of mechanicals," Gauer says. He and Marron were able to accommodate the various systems while maintaining 9 1/2 to 11 1/2 feet on the side overlooking Central Park; corridors and other secondary spaces got 81/2 to 9 feet.
Rooms are organized to make efficient use of the T-shape 2,600-square-foot floor plan. Its larger part, the park-facing top of the T, is arranged in an enfilade that runs from the living room through the kitchen, media room, and master suite—the last three being where the owners knew they would spend most of their time. (Entertaining huge crowds was not a priority.) The spaces are separated by floor-to-ceiling translucent glass pocket doors, which balance the formality of the procession with a loftlike openness. Stand in the master bedroom, the apartment's easternmost space, and you can see all the way through to sunsets over the Hudson. In the more enclosed base of the T, Gauer & Marron placed the formal dining room and a very private guest room, located as far from the master suite as possible.
Shah picked up where Gauer & Marron left off, removing the coffered ceiling in most of the rooms, replacing a herringbone floor with straight planks, and re-proportioning the limestone fireplace. "Shamir's interiors have a very architectural sensibility," Gauer says. Shah ' masterminded the selection of finishes and hardware throughout and considered every nook and cranny of the kitchen and bathrooms as well as the furniture, almost all of it custom.
Shah proposed his signature earthy palette and textured surfaces with a subdued ethnic touch. It helped that the owners, inveterate travelers, have spent time in Africa and Southeast Asia, while Shah, who's of Indian heritage, was born and raised in Kenya. For the breakfast area in the kitchen, he designed a set of straight-backed upholstered chairs inspired by a simple, comfortable armchair the owners remembered from a lodge in Botswana. Objects from their travels extend the motif. "I love these kinds of spare, primitive things," Shah says, pointing to a sculptural African staff.
Some internal walls are covered in natural and molasses-colored grass cloth or dark brown and olive-green lacquer. And deep-stained walnut cabinetry is built into several rooms. Neutral but tactile, these colors and materials keep the apartment grounded—despite its sky-high perch.