The great divide
Monica Geran -- Interior Design, 10/1/2003 12:00:00 AM
Many a young architect faces the same dilemma. Although Bill Peterson's residential clients usually requested modern kitchens and bathrooms, he noticed an industry trend to more traditional features. Yearning to design something more transitional than the client roster of Bill Peterson, Architect, allowed, he had a choice: Sit back and wait for the right opportunity or just create his own. Peterson opted for the latter, purchasing a derelict railroad-style duplex in an 1880's New York tenement.
The subsequent gut renovation taught him a thing or two about balancing old and new. "It forced me to reexamine my definitions," he explains. "The design is unabashedly contemporary, but it needed to acknowledge the apartment's historical context."
For the living room and bedroom, that meant installing graceful crown moldings and door casings to create a 19th-century backdrop for mid-century furniture by George Nelson and Florence Knoll. With cooking and bathing, he took more liberties, building an open galley kitchen and a glass-screened bathroom back to back at one end of the apartment's upper floor.
A 6 1/2-foot-high ceramic-tiled partition not only divides the two spaces but also conceals necessary pipes and accommodates the bathroom's ceiling-hung glass pocket door—which, when closed, slides into a gap in the crown molding, highlighting its curved profile. The glass of the pocket door and the bathroom's fixed end wall is frosted up to 6 1/2 feet for privacy. Above, Peterson left the glass clear.
Stainless steel shows up on both sides of the divider. In the bathroom, there's the tub surround and the sink vanity. In the kitchen, note the appliances as well as the counter, which cantilevers 30 inches beyond the area's back end. A second cantilevered counter, a mirror image of the kitchen's, seems to pierce the bathroom's glazed end wall and extend into the breakfast nook beyond.
Prudish Victorians would certainly have balked at Peterson's avant-garde solution. To the modern-day loft dweller, however, the openness and flow of daylight are a luxury. Of course, plumbing itself was a luxury in 1880's New York—not until 1901 did the Tenements Act mandate one bathroom for every two families in residence.