How the basketball court at Chelsea's former YMCA became a fantasy duplex by a firm called the Apartment
Jeannie Rosenfeld -- Interior Design, 9/1/2005 12:00:00 AM
Sneaker marks scuff the maple floor, and white-painted lines peek out beneath a flokati rug. Delicate track lighting trims the steel girders looming overhead. "You really feel the soul of the place," says Stefan Boublil, founder and creative director of an interior design, marketing, and branding agency called the Apartment. He's referring to the strong connections that New Yorkers have to Chelsea's McBurney YMCA, the oldest continuously operating branch in the city prior to a condominium conversion this year. Now, Boublil has transformed the 1904 building's seventh and eighth floors, formerly a basketball court and track, into a slam dunk of a duplex.
Boublil and his wife, Gina Alvarez, originally meant the 7,500-square-foot space to be a new home for themselves and their infant son, Zoel. However, the couple ultimately chose to stay in their SoHo loft, using the YMCA space as a showcase for the Apartment's work. "People are always asking what we do," Boublil says. Alvarez, the agency's cofounder and business director, continues: "This shows we're not a traditional design agency—but multidisciplinary and very conceptual."
The tastemakers' cocktail of function and fun begins with a potent shot of reverence for architectural history. That meant meticulously refinishing the floors and court lines in all private rooms on the lower level while pouring concrete in public spaces. In addition to preserving the original girders, Boublil installed a replica to support the reconfigured upstairs—and painted this new version in the Apartment's signature hot pink.
While it may no longer be part of a community center, the swank duplex is very much about communal gatherings. The couple often host parties here, and the focal point remains center court, now a great room with a 30-foot ceiling and new 8-foot-high windows that look out onto Chelsea rooftops and fire escapes. An infusion of natural touches warms up the cavernous volume: Apple-green felt upholsters the sectional sofas, one of which sits on a high-pile flax rug the color of grass, facing a focal wall covered in a "forest" of zebrawood-patterned wallpaper, as Boublil describes it. A wet bar offers refreshment, while deep house or electronica wafts from a wall-mounted iPod and subwoofers. "I'm a total hedonist," he says. "I love pleasure."
The open staircase is a study in simplicity, with unpainted concrete treads and a countersunk balustrade of clear glass. At the top, where the track used to be, a long open kitchen makes food preparation a spectator sport. White reigns again in lacquered cabinetry and Corian counters. To make it easy to cook large dinners and clean up afterward, Boublil doubled up on all major appliances and fitted one of the sinks with an industrial prerinse faucet. He built a 60-bottle wine cellar into the island and, unable to find any light fixtures that ran its 24-foot length, enlisted a neon shop to fabricate a model from three slender tubes placed end to end. Meals are served across the room, at the dining area's long Douglas fir table paired with 12 of Verner Panton's white molded-plastic chairs. To one side, a low-ceilinged sitting room with pitch-black walls, carpet, and seating easily converts into a private theater for screenings with friends.
Where the public zone ends, the party beat goes on. Four bedrooms and bathrooms hug the perimeter on both levels, with a downstairs corner occupied by the master bedroom and its 400-square-foot closet. Aside from the shelves and cabinets, it's part lounge, part dance club. A very Miesian black leather-covered daybed sits in the center of the generous space. From above, a giant disco ball casts reflections on dozens of Havaiana flip-flops and American Apparel T-shirts, arranged like artwork, as well as expanses of vivid pink insect-motif wallpaper.
Boublil clearly likes his wall coverings whimsical. So much so that he designed his very own for a wall at the top of the staircase—behind a built-in garden where thyme, dill, tomatoes, and an Adonidia palm tree grow. This lush indoor garden thrives against the paper's verdant ground and white picket-fence border. But a single oversize hot-pink lily, jumping out from this pastoral reverie, signals that the Apartment's apartment will always be a hip urban oasis.