Red, hot, and new
Josephine Minutillo -- Interior Design, 1/1/2005 12:00:00 AM
Italian manufacturer Cassina has built a furniture collection that ranges from icons such as Le Corbusier's LC4 chaise and Gerrit Rietveld's Zig-Zag chair to cutting-edge contemporary offerings from the likes of Hannes Wettstein and Patrick Jouin. And the inventory keeps expanding, most recently with the acquisition of Alias metal furniture. Cassina's bi-level New York showroom, however, hadn't grown by a single square inch for more than a decade.
Just as Cassina began to think about finding more spacious digs elsewhere in Midtown, basement space opened up right next door. The company quickly annexed the neighboring 2,200 square feet, then rehired architecture firm Giancarlo Tintori, which had just completed the successful redesign of Cassina's showroom in Milan.
The New York showroom remained open throughout the renovation. Now, after seven months of construction, differences are visible immediately: Even the storefront received a face-lift. Besides replacing an existing canvas awning with a more substantial stainless-steel one that proudly bears the Cassina logo in brilliant red, principal Giancarlo Tintori removed low-hanging soffits that had housed obsolete mechanicals—thus maximizing sidewalk gazing at window displays, changed every six weeks.
Inside, Tintori imported some of his Milan strategies to New York. The Cassina logo's red, for instance, became a signature element. Scarlet-lacquered partitions not only extend all the way up to the 10-foot ceiling, to define display areas, but are also 3 feet deep, to hide structural columns and provide storage. "By translating an important aspect of the company's logo into an architectural element, the Cassina brand becomes instantly identifiable," Tintori explains. "And the luminous quality of the red sets off the products graphically."
Despite the intensity of the red, the environment remains a neutral backdrop for the furniture—thanks to the planes of pure white. Floors are seamless epoxy. Walls are uninterrupted except for a few sculptural cutouts. Rows of spotlights are discreetly recessed in the ceiling, both upstairs and down.
The L-shape basement now offers almost twice the display area of the ground level, and the same red partitions frame more extensive vignettes incorporating larger pieces. It's here, for example, that Cassina shows Philippe Starck's M.I.S.S. home-theater sofa.
Part of the expansiveness derives from the fact that Tintori removed the original, central staircase and replaced it with one at the rear of the showroom. The dramatic new stair, fabricated in Italy and assembled on-site by a factory crew, comprises stainless-steel treads cantilevered from a freestanding steel wall anchored deep in the basement floor. The stairwell's rear wall is dominated by a giant red lacquer bar code shaped like a human figure—a graphic accent unique to the New York location of Cassina.
The top half of the 16-foot-tall figure is clearly visible from the street entrance. "Visitors see it as decorative," says Cassina USA creative director Pui-Pui Li. "But we regard him as a protector." Tintori, who calls the bar-code man Homo Codex, agrees: "He's the guardian of the showroom—benevolent, positive, attentively observing his surroundings."