On All Levels
Work AC's multistory New York loft for Lela Rose can handle everything from family life to fashion shows
Marc Kristal -- Interior Design, 10/1/2010 2:26:00 PM
Many people get in on the ground floor. But fashion designer Lela Rose and hedge-fund manager Brandon Jones want to stay there. In New York, where prestige rises in tandem with the elevator, the Texas-born couple prefer life at ground level. "I feel like the street is my front yard," Rose explains. "People sit on the stoop with us. We have dinner on the sidewalk. My son sells ice cream out the window." (Proceeds go to the World Wildlife Fund.)
So ground is good, as Gordon Gekko might put it. But what about belowground? The question arose when Rose and Jones bought a 6,000-square-foot industrial space as a home for their family of four. The loft featured a street level of Texan proportions: 35 feet wide and nearly three times that in depth, with a 16-foot ceiling. When Work Architecture Company's husband-wife principals, Dan Wood and Amale Andraos, first walked in, Wood says, "Our jaws dropped just a little bit." However, there were much lower ceilings in the rest of the space-rear sections of the landmarked 1867 building's basement and subbasement. They were also "super-dark," Wood adds, despite windows facing a sunken courtyard.
The multiplicity of Rose and Jones's needs further complicated the situation. Having a space grand enough for parties and fashion events would be a plus-but not if that entailed the loft aesthetic characterized by Rose as "fancy or superfluous or ginormous" and by Wood as "a minimalist roller rink." To ensure that grown-up concerns wouldn't crowd out the child-friendly areas, Andraos says, "We had to be smart about using every square foot but still make sure it was a pleasure to live there."
Work AC addressed the strengths and shortcomings of the apartment by dividing it into front and back sections with a stairwell between. In front, the existing structure remains: The capacious ground level, ideal for social functions, kept its 16-foot ceiling, even though that means ceilings in the basement and subbasement are just 9 and 6½ feet, respectively. In back, by contrast, the original street level, basement, and subbasement were demolished to make way for three new levels of roughly equal height-and a dark, partly uninhabitable area became comfortably scaled private quarters.
Further refining the front-versus-back divide, the ground level's front section is again subdivided into zones, each with a different function, mood, and materials palette. Collectively, they create a progression of experiences. It begins with the living area, which Wood describes as "the closest to a typical loft." Then comes the Austin Powers-esque bar, a bamboo-lined box with motorized tables that rise from the floor for Japanese-style dining. The eat-in kitchen follows, its concrete floor tinted an appetizing plum color. A gray felt-wrapped den, which includes a loft for kids' sleepovers, is the last space before the stairwell.
It's dominated by a steel-and-plywood lateral staircase that connects all five split levels. A single flight of stairs, housed in a corrugated plastic box, also crosses the void back-to-front to give the rear master suite direct access to what Wood calls "Lela's Sex and the City mega-closet," in the original front basement. The stairwell's other notable feature is her one imaginative misfire, a doghouse-shape red elevator meant to transport Stitch, the family's stair-averse Norwich terrier-and therefore known as the Stitchevator. "He's ridden in it once," she admits.
The master suite shares its level with a gym-office, and the deck in the middle is made possible by a void cut into the level above: the children's domain, comprising two bedrooms flanking a shared bathroom. This void and another one, positioned to bring sunshine down to the master bedroom, alternate with sections of glass roof-a rebuilt version of an existing skylight running the full width of the ground level at the rear of the building. (Skylights of this kind are a quirk typical of old New York industrial structures. Andraos and Wood just took advantage of it.) Some sunshine even penetrates all the way down to the rear of the subbasement, now suites for the nanny and guests, plus a playroom complete with a stage. The only part of the subbasement to the front of the stairwell, far from any natural light, hardly needs it. This cavelike space is now known as the "tequila nook," a hexagon surrounded by floor-to-ceiling honeycomb bottle storage.
For all the architectural legerdemain, the most impressive aspect of the apartment is its unpretentious exuberance, exemplified by a coup de théâtre that completely transforms the front of the ground level. A 60-foot-long table or catwalk seemingly materializes out of nowhere when a glass tabletop descends from the ceiling of the living area to connect to the bamboo-clad tables that rise from the floor of the bar; these, in turn, connect to the more conventional tables in the kitchen and den, pushed together. To date, this trick has facilitated a dinner party for 68 and a fashion show for Rose. "Some people might think, Oh, that's ridiculous," she says. For the Rose-Jones clan, however, it's all about participating in the street theater of New York.
Photography by Elizabeth Felicella.
sam dufaux (project architect); jason anderson; thomas christoffersen; adrienne broadbear; vivian chin; gaustas eigirdas; christo logan; tamicka marcy; lindsey meyer; amie shao; dayoung shin; queenie tong; lamare wimberly: work architecture company. tillotson design associates: lighting consultant. clover studios: audiovisual consultant. gace consulting engineers: structural engineer. brock built: woodwork. precision metal fabricators: metalwork. penta glass industries: glasswork. shala painting: painting contractor. designer epoxy finishes: flooring contractor. fred harris construction: general contractor.
ELKAY MANUFACTURING CO.: SINKS.
HANSGROHE: SINK FITTINGS.
MOOOI: PENDANT FIXTURE.
SUPERIOR FELT: PALE WALLCOVERING (DEN).
RUCKSTUHL: DARK WALL COVERING (DEN), FLOORING (DEN, CLOSET).
PORCHER: SINK FITTINGS (BAR, POWDER ROOM).
DUNBAR FURNITURE: SOFA (LIVING AREA).
LORIMER WORKSHOP: CUSTOM TABLE (NOOK).
SUPERIOR CLAY CORPORATION: STORAGE.
GUÉRIDON: BORNE (LIVING AREA).
RAGO ARTS: RECTANGULAR TABLE.
AERO: SIDE, COCKTAIL TABLES.
MAURIZIO GALANTE INTERWARE: ARMCHAIR.
ELASTICCO STUDIO: CUSTOM CURTAINS (LIVING AREA, BATH ROOM).
PRINCE LUMBER: DECKING (EXTERIOR).
KASWELL FLOORING SYSTEMS: FLOORING (STAIRWELL).
RANGINE CORPORATION: HANGING SYSTEM (CLOSET).
3FORM: PANEL MATERIAL (CLOSET, MASTER BEDROOM).
HERMAN MILLER THROUGH DESIGN WITHIN REACH: CHAIR (BOY'S ROOM).
SIMPLE FURNITURE COMPANY: TABLE, STOOLS.
Y&B LIGHTING & ELECTRIC SUPPLIES: SCONCE.
FLAVOR PAPER: WALLPAPER (POWDER ROOM).
EVANS & PAUL: CUSTOM VANITIES (POWDER ROOM, BATH ROOM).
KOHLER CO. THROUGH DAVIS & WARSHOW: SINK FITTINGS (BATHROOM).
HOME DEPOT: TILE.
STUDIO PRINTWORKS: WALLPAPER.
BARTCO LIGHTING: LINEAR FIXTURES.
DIVERSIFIED GLASS: CUSTOM SKY LIGHTS, WINDOWS.
BENJAMIN MOORE & CO.: PAINT.
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