Matters of Design: Four Units, Furnished
Michael and Gabrielle Boyd treated Paul Rudolph's stack of defiantly experimental Beekman Place apartments as a different kind of design lab
Craig Kellogg -- Interior Design, 9/1/2002 12:00:00 AM
"It dazzles everybody," owner Michael Boyd says of the Beekman Place apartment house where Paul Rudolph wreaked architectural havoc. Rudolph famously omitted railings for the flying marble stairs he installed throughout, and the 1970s penthouse addition, the architect's home until his death five years ago, is a constructivist masterpiece—part sculpture, part architecture, and all disco. Because the interiors are so spectacularly off-kilter, they were featured in The Royal Tenenbaums and the film adaptation of Hamlet starring Ethan Hawke. "But to think of them as a place to live," Boyd says, "takes a brave modernist."
The nine-story building had already developed a cult following by 2000, when Boyd, a composer for TV and commercials, and wife Gabrielle purchased all four of the units and committed to joining the three rental apartments with the penthouse. Because Rudolph's executors demanded that the buyer agree to a program of meticulous preservation, the Boyds found themselves in the position of conservators, cleaning and brightening the famous interiors while stripping away partially delaminated mirrored Formica and other latecoming modifications that had aged poorly. A strict attitude toward conservation of materials extended even to Rudolph's white plastic-laminate kitchen shelves.
Having shown such restraint in returning the architecture to its original condition, the Boyds determined not to treat the building like a Rudolph time capsule. Instead, they began installing their museum-quality functionalist furniture. The collection included pieces by Gerrit Rietveld, Marcel Breuer, Richard Neutra, Donald Judd, and Frank Gehry, each in pristine condition.
In the three lower apartments, the task was most straightforward. Rudolph had habitually adjusted them to accommodate various tenants, and knowing this was liberating. The Boyds installed chairs on white pedestals in a two-story unit christened the "gallery duplex" and outfitted an apartment with particularly high ceilings as a groovy recording studio. In a playroom on the fourth level, the couple placed a molded-fiberglass Eames rocker alongside four functionalist pieces designed by Breuer for a 1938 dormitory at Bryn Mawr College. A double-height unit with floor-to-ceiling shelving became the "library duplex," filled to the brim with the Boyds' exceptionally large haul of books.
The question of furnishings was most difficult in the penthouse apartment, the ultimate expression of Rudolph's oeuvre. A minimalist at heart, he saw furniture as an extension of interior architecture, not as a focal point in its own right, and he might well have blanched at the sight of his bachelor pad chockablock with mid-century collectibles. Since none of his original glass or acrylic furniture remained when the Boyds arrived, however, they opted for an alternate approach. Adjacent to an acrylic footbridge, the couple placed Frank Lloyd Wright's 1903 Larkin Building chair, a 1928 café chair by Josef Hoffmann and Oswald Haerdtl, and a 1950s shelving unit attributed to the team of Charlotte Perriand, Jean Prouvé, and Sonia Delaunay. A 1950 sideboard from Prouvé's workshop stood near Rudolph's built-in shelves of white gloss Formica. A Nelson Marshmallow settee beyond retained its 1956 wool upholstery. In the master bedroom upstairs, De Stijl objects included a Vilmos Huszar rug, a desk by Bart van der Leck, and a pair of Rietveld's Zigzag chairs. Overall, the effect was dizzying, but Rudolph's architecture is strong enough to leave no doubt about his design intentions.
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