Made to Measure
Custom features—many of them Corian—define Work principal Rachael Gray's own loft in the Garment District
Anne Guiney -- Interior Design, 9/1/2002 12:00:00 AM
DuPont may have abandoned the slogan "Better Living Through Chemistry," but the memorable line could well be a mantra for architect Rachael Gray, a principal of the firm Work. Her 4,000-square-foot Garment District loft might feature more of the company's Corian per square foot than any other spot in the country. Walls, tables, cabinets, bookshelves, and doors are just some of the places where she put the solid surfacing to use.
What began as a straightforward search for a material that would function as well indoors as it does out ultimately led to a Corian spree of impressive dimensions, partially thanks to a little extra help. "After I was quoted in a newspaper talking about how great plastics can be—Wilsonart is a client of ours—a Corian rep called up and asked if I had a project that I could use their product in," she recalls. "I said, 'Actually, yes. My apartment.'" Corian agreed to make a partial donation, and one thing quickly led to another.
There's a lot more to Gray's 11th-story loft than the clever use of a common material, however. The architect faced an initial dilemma familiar to every designer of residential lofts: how order and privacy can coexist with the very openness that makes the spaces appealing. It's the success of her organizational choices that separates this project from the hundreds of other sexy loft conversions all over the city. Luckily, she had plenty to work with. Her rectangular floor-through has 23 large windows on three sides and two small south-facing terraces. The key to her solution, a freestanding L-shape dividing wall entirely clad in Corian, creates two basic zones, public and private. Three bedrooms, four baths, and an office are tucked behind the divider, which itself contains room for storage. Kitchen, dining, and sitting areas occupy the sunny perimeter, cleverly kept free of partition walls.
The divider also pierces the brick exterior of the building to blur the line between the loft interior and one of the outdoor terraces, fulfilling Gray's initial intention and "starting the frenzy," she admits. Inside, a Corian bench runs the length of the western and northern segments of the perimeter, hiding radiators and still more storage. The kitchen, which features a standard-issue glass-paned garage door that opens onto the other terrace, has custom cabinets, sinks, and cupboards all made out of—you guessed it.
Her most ingenious use of the material is in the master bathroom, where a brilliant orange shower seat and sink platform set off pale green Corian panels bonded together on the walls for an effect similar to that of frosted glass. "What's great about using Corian vertically is that there is no grout, no overriding grid," says Gray.
Public areas are delineated by small gestures. The kitchen is raised on a concrete plinth, distinguished from the brown-stained oak floor of the rest of the apartment. A small office for Gray's husband, Nicholas Gray of Gray's Papaya juice and hot dogs, is also elevated; two steps up provide a sense of airy remove. The two sitting areas are linked not only by irregular quadrilaterals of rust-brown carpeting but also by the furniture: Eames Aluminum Group chairs in one and Jacobsen Swan chairs in the other are upholstered in similar olive-colored wool. (Throughout the apartment, almost everything that isn't upholstered is custom.)
Standing in lively, grimy contrast to the pristine spaces within, Gray's industrial neighborhood becomes an important element of aesthetic balance. Just look out the windows. Many of the old garment factories are still operating as such, with bolts of fabric stacked on worktables behind windows identical to Gray's, if a lot dirtier and cluttered with exhaust vents and fans. But the pièce de résistance—just four blocks away—is the Empire State Building, whose colored lights are on display every night.