Let There Be Dark
Robyn Dutra -- Interior Design, 2/1/2008 12:00:00 AM
Robin Elmslie Osler knows the importance of proper lighting, not only because she's an architect but also because she once modeled for the likes of Helmut Newton. "I have an intimate understanding of how light works in photography," she says. However, in the case of La Boutique, a photography retouching studio with big-name clients including Chanel and Vogue Italia, it's an absence of light that's actually required. This commission pushed her conception of light versus dark to a higher level.
La Boutique is on the top floor of New York's historic Collier's building, where EOA/Elmslie Osler Architect had been working for the past year on both an exterior restoration and an interior renovation for the Kelly Klein Photo Studio, right down the hall from La Boutique. The success of the Kelly Klein design and Osler's knowledge of the landmark in general cinched the deal to build out a workplace for La Boutique's nine-person staff. Plus, general manager Tarik Malak chimes in, "She speaks French."
Osler was charged with retaining the 2,300-square-foot space's industrial chic, a look quite unlike the futuristic interior at La Boutique's Parisian parent company, B'Pong. Her minimalist envelope relies solely on neutrals: a floor of ground and polished concrete, white walls, and an exposed ceiling.
Sand-colored, eco-friendly structural fiberboard, something that's usually hidden out of sight, was Osler's main materials move. Citing its durability and tactility, she employed stacks of the stuff to build the bases of workstations and even whole walls—the reception area looks like it's carved out of solid, striated blocks. The fiberboard functions as sound insulation, too, so retouchers can work in silence, undistracted. After all, it's crucial not to lose focus while working on the level of micro-pixels.
With blackout shades pulled down over the windows along the outer row of workstations, the main office area is almost completely dark. "Darkness was my guiding principle. Obscurity was my mission," Osler says. The one exception is the glow from computer screens, which shine through the workstations' partitions of corrugated resin and perforated stainless steel for a slightly moiré effect.
Malak's office, which doubles as the conference room, is the only work space where brightness is more important than darkness. That's because the retouched photos are carefully examined here, on a giant magnetic whiteboard. Beneath the original skylights, Osler suspended three fluorescent proof fixtures from stainless cables—providing constant illumination and preventing glare by angling the fixtures so light bounces away from the whiteboard rather than into your eyes.
Concerns about lighting were equalled only by the need for comfort. To keep the overall climate cool, a separate room isolates the massive heat-generating Fuji Final Proof and Epson Pro 4800 printers responsible for the majority of output at the studio. And the generously proportioned workstations all come with an Alberto Meda task chair.
Clients sit in deceptively basic-looking Maarten Van Severen side chairs that owe their comfort to a seat made of integral polyurethane foam and a backrest with integral springs. "I wanted those chairs for six years," Malak enthuses. He first spotted their slim silhouettes in the library at the Centre Pompidou in Paris.