D&D, PDC, Etc.
Design-center giant Cohen Brothers shows off its Midtown headquarters by Area
Jen Renzi -- Interior Design, 9/1/2007 12:00:00 AM
Property powerhouse Charles Cohen has snapped up a number of the country's top furnishings hubs over the past 11 years. Starting with New York's D&D Building, the president and CEO of the Cohen Brothers Realty Corporation has expanded his portfolio to include Los Angeles's Pacific Design Center, the Decorative Center Houston, and the Design Center of the Americas in Dania Beach, Florida. Cohen's efforts to revamp the showroom biz—as well as the family company, founded by his father in 1946—reflect a yen for creative problem-solving and constant reinvention. "My job is as much about redevelopment as development," Cohen remarks. "It's vital to keep fresh."
That goes for his headquarters, too: Cohen recently overhauled the 16,000-square-foot space that the company has occupied for 15 years. "This office is a showroom for our work," he continues. So who better to overhaul it than designers already familiar with Cohen Brothers properties? Area Architecture principals Henry Goldston and Walt Thomas had renovated the green building at the PDC back in 2000. "Henry and Walt were the only ones I interviewed for the job," Cohen says. "Their use of materials and attention to finishes weren't like anything I'd seen before." Area went on to complete numerous Cohen-related projects, including the renovation of the DCH, and is now renovating DCOTA. "We got to know Charles's aesthetic through those projects. He likes clean and simple—but not stark," Goldston says. Cohen's own space, split between the 28th and 29th floors of a Midtown tower, would also require a level of comfort and detailing suited to someone immersed in the luxury furnishings world.
Area's design was guided, furthermore, by the office's sky-high views and Cohen's desire for a unified layout. Previously, the two floors were more separated than connected by an enclosed central stairwell. The architects blasted it open, then reworked the rest of the layout to spiral around a new staircase of tempered glass. As Goldston puts it, "The old configuration was like a traditional home divided into little rooms, whereas this is like a Richard Neutra house." Sitting in the reception area's chunky club chairs, upholstered in caramel leather, visitors can now see right through the staircase and, beyond it, the glass-walled main conference room to take in the Queensboro Bridge.
Glass finishes differ throughout, for variety and privacy. "You can customize the frit patterns of the staircase treads—it's a great system," Thomas says. (It was built in Germany, shipped in sections, and fabricated on-site.) On either side of the staircase, partitions are etched with a 1/16-inch-thick striped frit to screen the workstations behind. Offices and conference rooms' glazed fronts are clear on top, etched and slightly iridescent along the bottom 3 feet. "The textures take standard office glass to another level," Thomas continues.
While the glass varies subtly, other materials and forms repeat for continuity. Walls in reception are veneered in a striated West African hardwood that also details the workstations. The same polished marble tile used for reception flooring clads columns near the staircase and in Cohen's own office. Dark gray granite appears throughout, from edging on the reception desk to credenzas in the conference room. Curved canopies float above elevator lobbies, reception, and the stair. "We embedded the canopies with a grid of itty-bitty halogens to give a starry-night look," Goldston says. "It creates the illusion of floating above the city."
The glass stair enclosure is flanked by two large-scale curlicue wall sculptures—in kelly green, navy blue, turquoise, orange, lipstick red. "We chose 'architectural' artworks," Cohen explains. They range from Josef Albers and Dorothy Wood to newer photography by Douglas Levere and Andrew Bordwin. Cohen's office got an abstractly architectural Peter Halley acrylic on canvas.
Cohen's sanctum, located at one end of the semicircular upper level's run of perimeter offices, balances heavy and light. The heftiest item is a low table composed of three stacked slabs of granite, this time a pale gray. Also firmly on the bird's-eye maple floor is a pair of Poul Kjærholm armchairs. Meanwhile, a slim leather-covered sofa cantilevers off the wall, hovering in midair. "The levitating quality echoes our transparency concept," Thomas says. He and Goldston outfitted the room in a quiet medley of materials, from the maple of the flooring to the Macassar ebony of the desktop and the woven leather covering a wall. "Textures change, but colors are monochrome. It's variety and serenity together," Goldston says. Cohen points out that the palette reflects the ever dissolving boundary between commercial and residential design: "People spend so much time in their offices these days that they're more inclined to use stone and wood, finishes you'd see in the home."
As for landscape design, Cohen himself handled the 29th floor's separate terraces—each with its own artificial hedges and Astroturf putting green. One is for staff. The other belongs to Cohen's father, Sherman.