Pure, Purer, Purest
For her minimal-minded clients, architect Robin Elmslie Osler established how much less is more
Kimberly Goad -- Interior Design, 4/1/2002 12:00:00 AM
Before Robin Elmslie Osler began work on what would eventually become new-media consultant Tom Klinkowstein and fashion designer Elizabeth Gillett's New York apartment—but was, at that point, nothing more than 2,500 raw square feet in a 1920s TriBeCa rubber factory—Osler asked her clients to come up with a few conceptual images to set the desired tone. Osler, who launched EOA/Elmslie Osler Architect six years ago, had worked with Klinkowstein before, so she already knew him to be a bare-bones minimalist. His image choices, Buckminster Fuller modular habitats and an equipment locker from an Apollo mission, were no surprise. However, the architect knew Gillett primarily through her collection of scarves, chokers, neckerchiefs, and evening wraps. Given the look and feel of the accessories—at once ornate and edgy—Osler assumed that her new client's aesthetic would be at odds with Klinkowstein's.
Gillett, as it turns out, is almost as much of a minimalist as her longtime boyfriend, although she favors organic materials to temper rigorous lines, as evidenced by the two images she offered Osler. One was of the model Stella Tennant wearing a Jil Sander dress that was typically Sander-esque in its austere silhouette but atypically softened through the use of a sheer fabric. The second image was of the snow houses Gillett used to build as a child in Ohio. "On a sunny day, the light inside those igloos was wonderful," she says. "And the acoustics were distinctly sleep-inducing."
"What was interesting to me," says Osler, "was the additional element Elizabeth was bringing—softness and texture, filtered through a very disciplined eye." Still, the distinction between the "soft" and "hard" sensibilities was subtle enough to go unnoticed by anyone but the architect and her clients. "I make frilly things, but I'm streamlined about the way I live," says Gillett. "Tom and I both like to pare things down. Neither of us likes a lot of clutter." One person's clutter, however, can be another's comfort. Klinkowstein believes that everything—every object, every detail—should be deliberated and ultimately discarded if not deemed absolutely necessary. He questioned the need for a sizable kitchen; he thought a bed would compromise the design of the master bedroom; he looked upon bathroom countertops as superfluous. Gillett, meanwhile, believed that a couple needs a bed; she acquiesced on the bathroom countertops but specified a cabinet for toiletries; and, the accomplished cook that she is, she insisted on a serious kitchen. "Instead of inviting friends over, Tom liked restaurants. I had to convince him that having dinner at home, in a beautiful space, makes food taste better," she says.
Taking these nuances into consideration, Osler assessed the loft, which basically amounted to a cement box supported by four massive columns. Although it required no structural changes, Osler raised a section of floor along the wall of windows by 18 inches to establish a spatial divide between public and private areas. Individual rooms are demarcated by sliding doors and wall panels made of unconventional materials: chalkboard, hogwire, insect screen sandwiched between layers of transparent glass, vinyl scrims. This unusual combination not only fused the couple's sensibilities but also addressed the loft's paucity of natural light.
"Because of the way the light filters through the different materials, the apartment feels like being in a cloud," says Osler. Indeed, many of the finished loft's elements look as if they were floating. The long countertop separating the kitchen from the living area seems to hang by some invisible means. The elevated his-and-hers offices appear to be suspended, by virtue of steps that stop just short of the landing. The master bedroom's streamlined, European-scale platform bed almost hovers above the floor.
It's in the master bedroom, placed in the far corner of the apartment, that Osler found inspiration in the snow houses that Gillett had constructed as a child. To temper the noise from the street below and simulate the acoustical conditions inside those igloos, Osler covered one wall in foam tiles that, not coincidentally, look like miniature ski slopes when the light hits them. A gray feltlike synthetic floor covering absorbs any additional noise, and a sliding door shuts out the rest of the apartment on nights when Gillett retreats to the master bedroom to sketch beneath the covers. "My igloos were so intimate and peaceful," she says. "That's the feeling I wanted."