Dan Shaw -- Interior Design, 11/1/2008 12:00:00 AM
The starting point was a pair of concrete boxes in the sky. "We were asked to combine two sub-penthouses," recalls Adam Rolston, a founding partner of 3-year-old Incorporated Architecture & Design, of his residential project inside a new loft condominium in New York. But it wasn't exactly a tabula rasa. "We began this project at Tsao & McKown, where I worked for 15 years," explains Rolston, who had been collaborating at the architecture firm with Drew Stuart and Gabriel Benroth when they decided to open their own studio. "Calvin Tsao was very generous and let us take the project with us, and he continued to advise us. It's a nice example of how emerging architects develop their practice."
It's also a nice example of how three New York architects work with a globetrotting Italian client and his Miami-based interior designer, Sam Robin. "The loft is 'a portrait of the client ,'" says Stuart. "He's a successful businessman who's spent 40 years traveling for work, a real citizen of the world," explaining his taste for Pop Art, Chinese antiques, and contemporary Italian design.
The architects were confident they could establish the appropriate aesthetic once they solved the problem of combining the apartments. "Like most new condominiums, there's a central area that gets little light and has most of the bathrooms packed into it," says Benroth. "There were a bunch of building services that were tough to organize, so we carved out what we called the courtyard—what you'd find in a classic Chinese house, except this was inside."
The solution provided the set up for the central hall, which contains the 3,700-square-foot loft's most dazzling element: a freestanding, gilded, curvaceous form. "It spirals like a Richard Serra sculpture," says Rolston. You can move around it or enter it to discover a gem of a powder room. The glazed, metallic interior and exterior surface is a nod to the gold-leafed Chinese screen that's mounted over the master bed.
This unabashedly contemporary environment owes a debt to 19th-century Chinese furniture arrangement. "The Chinese always established symmetry with a central figure and flank elements," Rolston says. The rectangular living area follows this formula with seating areas at either end and a dining table as the midpoint. One end is conceived as the den, with a Chinese daybed, a TV, and a custom set of hexagonal stainless-steel tables that can be rearranged. The other end is more formal, with a sectional sofa wrapping a large, low cocktail table. Rugs of ecru silk anchor each area.
The dining area is defined only by the table and chairs. "We had a big debate about whether to have a chandelier or not," Rolston continues. Ultimately, clarity of space won. Rather than hanging a fixture, the ceiling was dropped 3 inches and two pin spots installed to wash the table.
Every room has a crisp feel, accentuated by ebonized sapele flooring, austere white walls, and bare windows. A complete set of solar and blackout shades running down the window jambs disappear into the ceiling when not in use.
The over-counter frosted-glass cabinets in the kitchen are partially sunk into the wall to create more space, and a notch running the length of the backsplash houses concealed electrical sockets. "Hiding outlets is one of our obsessions," Rolston admits. In the limestone-clad master bathroom, symmetry reigns. Two sinks bookend the tub; directly across stands the shower, which is flanked by a pair of toilet-and-bidet stalls hidden behind frosted glass.
"Much of what we've done is formal and ceremonial," says Rolston, "which is not what you would traditionally think of for a supermodern apartment." But it's a true reflection of the client's sophisticated sensibility.
Photography by Joshua McHugh.