Rebecca Flint Marx -- Interior Design, 9/1/2006 12:00:00 AM
If you could bottle the scent of light, the flacon might look like a pristine "square doughnut." That's Janko Rasic Architects partner Timothy Rasic's term for the defining feature of his New York showroom for Drom Fragrances International: A glass-enclosed central stairwell descends two levels below grade, allowing daylight to cascade into the interior's lowest depths.
That way, technicians in the glass-ceilinged subterranean laboratory feel less isolated. "They have a connection with people on the street, so they can draw inspiration from everyday life," Rasic explains. Meanwhile, clients visiting the street- level to-the-trade fragrance bar get a peek down into the secret world of scent development. "We're designing a total experience and also revealing the process," the architect continues.
To create the lab, one flight down, and "smelling booths," still farther underground—for a total of 6,700 square feet—he excavated 2 feet below the existing basement and wrapped the bottom 14 inches of the perimeter walls in a waterproof membrane. Because of concerns about hydrostatic pressure and a high water table, he then laid a 28-by-52-foot slab foundation 9 inches thick. "Essentially, the waterproofing and the reinforced concrete act as a giant bathtub," he says.
Topside, the landmarked 1850's cast-iron facade was easier to adapt for the transparency requested by Drom, a fast-growing Germany company that has a New Jersey production facility. Generous front windows erase the barrier between curious strollers and the perfumery, where bottles are displayed on white, luminescent, undulating shelves. These gleaming built-ins contrast with the opposing wall of exposed brick and the original flooring of old-growth heart pine.
With the exception of the red paint accenting a few surfaces, the palette is neutral for practical as well as aesthetic reasons. "Color can influence sense of smell," Rasic explains. To create depth and drama, he relied on lighting. By day, fluorescents backlight the perfumery's shelves, and incandescent pendant fixtures hang above. At night, blue LEDs on the ceiling and floor produce a mystical pallor.
A four-stage air purifier further minimizes olfactory distractions—resulting, ironically, in a fragrance business practically devoid of scent. Exhaust fans in the fragrance bar and smelling booths suck smells through a filtration system tucked in a vault beneath the sidewalk. By the time the exhaust rises through steel ducts to the roof, any hint of perfume is undetectable.
The building's landlord, who lives on the top floor, "might like fragrance," Rasic says. "But he doesn't want to smell it while he's having a barbecue."