New and vintage, casual and elegant—everything hangs together at a West Village town house by Andrew Franz
C. C. Sullivan -- Interior Design, 9/1/2006 12:00:00 AM
The notion of designer as therapist often rings true, especially when it's a client's first—or biggest—home project. Coaxing an owner through those crucial first steps out of her comfort zone takes patience and emotional support. For architect Andrew Franz, this familiar role took an ironic turn when his namesake firm began working on the West Village town house of a psychoanalyst and her investor husband. The result: A style breakthrough for all concerned.
As always in psychoanalysis, it started with her childhood—spent in austere, traditional settings. Hence her phobia regarding anything modern. Naturally, the energetic architect pushed her to be bolder, less inhibited. More surprising was the fact that his own psyche changed, too. He strayed from his customary minimalism into realms of cut velvet, wild chandeliers, and woolly ottomans.
The 1840's house, split up into apartments in the 1920's or '30's, had its own issues. Reclaiming its single-family glory meant upheaval of a structural sort. A purist might have re-created the traditional front stoop and placed the kitchen in the basement. Instead, Franz designed a garden-level entry that leads to a casual, contemporary family room and playroom, leaving the main floor's living room, dining room, and kitchen open and bright. He also ripped out an awkward powder room and built a new one downstairs instead.
"It was about transparency and harvesting natural light," he says. "Everything followed that lead—the Murano glass chandeliers, the built-ins of luminous blond aspen, the depth and reflectivity of the lacquered walls and cabinetry."
But while Franz tends toward the masculine, linear, and Italian, his client pressed for the feminine, curvy, and French. Their give-and-take culminated in a trip to the famed Marché Paul Bert in Paris. There, the client conquered her fears completely: She and Franz returned home four days later with sore feet and a trove of chinoiserie, country furniture, and art mirrors. And this mutual therapy session clearly paid off in the exuberant but tuned decor of the house's three central floors.
In the living room, the effect is serene and intellectual, with two brown velvet-covered sofas surrounding a mod 1950's cocktail table of milky white acrylic cubes, watched over by an affecting mother-daughter portrait by Alice Neel. Even the kitchen's up-to-date riff on the great room doesn't upstage the old-house charm. Bluish-gray lacquered cabinets above and rosewood ones below set off the yellow Spanish marble of the counters and backsplash. Reconditioned double-hung windows and plaster moldings speak to the house's history.
Upstairs, bedrooms and baths lean to the neo-traditional, Franz says: "We weren't ashamed of being new."
"Direction came from the architecture as much as the client," he adds. "No surgery was needed to perfect the old. Just a strict diet and exercise." His unfussy amplifications and adaptations are timeless rather than of-the-moment.
Some of Franz's most valuable architectural interventions are unseen. The back garden—now fitted with pavers from China's flooded Chang River valley—was first excavated to align with the family room. Throughout the house, pocket doors and hidden closets maintain openness and order. New recessed lighting, bronze linear diffusers, and radiators are sunk into floor troughs or tucked behind window cabinets. Franz maximized the ceiling heights by locating air handlers in the cellar, alongside an MP3 sound system. Behind the walls, the house is more Raymond Weil watch than grandfather clock.
While the big moves yielded the light, drama, and comfort, the smaller choices were what truly propelled the decorative trajectory. "So much in design hinges on a single decision," Franz explains. "Like the rosewood kitchen cabinets being reverse slip-matched, flowing and organic, not book-matched. That one gesture changes the entire character of the room. You don't always realize it when you're making a critical decision, but suddenly all the other pieces fall into place."
Previous spread: In the living room of a West Village house, Andrew Franz Architect placed a leather-covered bronze bench beneath an acrylic on canvas by Yayoi Kusama.
Top, from left: Antique Chinese foot-binding cabinets stacked by the playroom. Another Kusama painting and a stone head on the living room's mantel. The family room's sofa upholstery by Josef Frank, vintage Womb chair by Eero Saarinen, and cabinetry of French aspen. An oil on canvas by Andrew Chan. Bottom: A French 19th-century walnut table sits beneath a 1950's Venini glass chandelier in the dining room. It's set off from the living room by a re-created surround that contains closets.
Opposite: The living room's Italian 1950's acrylic table and Paul Frank's wool-upholstered ottomans are bookended by custom velvet-covered sofas, while an Alice Neel oil portrait of a mother and daughter hangs to the left of the fireplace.
Opposite top: The kitchen's rosewood and lacquered cabinetry contrasts with the Giallo Sahara marble backsplash and counters. Opposite bottom: Baguès silver-plated brass sconces with crystal birds are mounted on either side of an existing window.
Top: The guest room features a Chinese 19th-century cabinet, gessoed bergères attributed to Maison Jansen, and a vintage Venini chandelier. Bottom: An Elizabeth Murray pastel hangs above the dining room's lacquered side table.
Opposite: A new stair with steel stringers and teak treads and handrails descends to a garden with bluestone pavers reclaimed from China's flooded Chang River valley.
Top, from left: The third-floor landing's Murano glass chandelier from the 1950's. A hallway's French 1950's mirror with its backlit plastic frame. A vintage cast-iron tub and radiant-heated teak flooring in the master bath. New Dawn climbing roses outside the penthouse office, clad in tongue-and-groove cedar. Bottom: Silk cut velvet and faux fur upholster the custom headboard in the master bedroom. The room's 1959 pendant fixture is bronze.