Take a moment to consider the Helfand Architecture–designed office of New York's upstart arts weekly
Craig Kellogg -- Interior Design, 5/1/2004 12:00:00 AM
Once home to presses for McGraw-Hill, the 1914 building where architects Richard Meier and Charles Gwathmey maintain studios has been overrun by New York's design elite. Ian Schrager also commands his hospitality empire from a crow's nest there, and it was one of Schrager's employees who alerted Cyndi Stivers, president and editorial director of the arts weekly Time Out New York, about the availability of the building's former ballroom and ancillary spaces.
Stivers jumped at the chance to secure both architectural grandeur and 12th-floor views of Midtown and the Hudson River. But where crystal chandeliers once hung from plaster medallions, Stivers found a room stripped to its neoclassical bones—and freshly painted white by the landlord. So she and Time Out Group chairman Tony Elliott hired architect Margaret Helfand.
Seven years before, Helfand had designed rough-and-ready NoHo offices for Time Out New York's launch. A memory of those heady days remains in the nonconformity of the 22,000-square-foot new space, where neither task chairs nor file cabinets precisely match. (Though all are black.) ' "The basic challenge was to dominate the chaos," Helfand explains, noting the constant pileup of DVDs, CDs, and books arriving for review.
Since advertisers, models, directors, and actors would also be turning up, Stivers saw the need for a somewhat more pulled-together feeling this time around. Accordingly, Helfand Architecture invented a compact and inexpensive custom workstation in plywood topped by dichroic green plastic laminate. Even Stivers, in her private corner office, works at a variation of the modular system. To preserve the open feeling overall, Helfand installed the workstations on a grid, placing editors and the art department under an existing mezzanine occupied by sales, marketing, circulation, finance, and human-resources staff.
She replaced the mezzanine's gypsum-board balustrade with a forward-looking combination of milky acrylic panels mounted in front of slim uprights of raw steel. Identical uprights march down an angular new staircase that Helfand calls a "magnet" for lingering. It's built of folded steel plates with 1/4-inch-thick treads of oiled mesquite butcher block. "We did spend a couple of dollars on that," she admits. "But you have to have a few of those beautiful elements, or a design just dies on the vine."
Above the landing of the cantilevered stair hovers a tangle of suspended fluorescent tubes sheathed in stainless-steel mesh. Below the light, Helfand clustered sculptural furniture that wouldn't look out of place in today's design-conscious college dorm—a natural fit for Time Out's editors, many of whom are recent graduates. A pair of upholstered seats by Patricia Urquiola, both showroom samples, retain their original yellow and orange fabric, and the noncorporate ambience shows up again in the welcomingly shaggy wool-knot rug that Stivers ordered for a break-out space at the top of the stairs. '
The ballroom's wealth of small-scale architectural details freed new elements to be bold and simple. Cubicle dividers of oriented strand board were milled by robotic routers at a Brooklyn shop, then lacquered using steel and aluminum dust before being trucked in for assembly. Reducing waste, Helfand used OSB leftovers to build dividers with notched constructivist profiles.
Because a shipment of steel studs was delivered rusty, Helfand painted them silver to coordinate with the clear finish on stairway and mezzanine railings. She took an equally pragmatic approach to walls and ceilings, merely touching them up instead of repainting. Partly an ecological stance, it also saved $20,000. "It's like living in an old house," Stivers adds, glancing at a water stain spreading down a wall next to a double-height window.
Dealing with the quirks that occasionally arise in any structure nearing the century mark is just a small part of the flexible, creative outlook that has helped Stivers launch ideas that were once, she says, "backed up like planes at LaGuardia Airport." In fact, she goes so far as to credit the ballroom-office's free and interactive environment with the recent birth of a quarterly spin-off, Time Out New York Kids.