A Living Legacy
Ulises Liceaga revamps a New York town house for the next generation of the same family, his own
Jen Renzi -- Interior Design, 11/1/2010 3:35:00 AM
Everyone could use a fairy godmother, and that's especially true for an up-andcomer in the design world. "Architecture can be a cruel profession," Fractal Construction principal Ulises Liceaga says-as the architect son of an architect, he should know. "Most practitioners striking out on their own rely on a generous patron for their first commission." His own big break came from his father-in-law, who not only gave Liceaga the opportunity to renovate the family's Federal-style New York town house but also offered to hand it down to him, his wife, Christina Isaly-Liceaga, and the couple's son and two daughters, aged 2 to 6. "So, really, my wife was my client," Liceaga points out. "Luckily, we agree 99 percent of the time."
The 19th-century house required a comprehensive overhaul. That was a slow process- one that began in 2004, two years before Liceaga left Robert A.M. Stern Architects to go out on his own under the firm name Ulimar. "The project ate up lots of nights and weekends," he says. Further complicating matters, a planned penthouse addition required landmarks approval, a notoriously drawn-out endeavor. Other major improvements would be relegated to the inside, behind a brick facade that had to be preserved.
"Working for Stern taught me to respect traditional envelopes, which is the philosophy of my practice-integrating new design into old spaces," he explains. Showcasing that is the entry, where the restored mahogany staircase and plaster moldings are juxtaposed with forward-thinking light fixtures by Ingo Maurer. Ascend a flight to the main level, however, and the balance skews decidedly contemporary. Faux concrete floor tile flows through the space, from the white Italian kitchen at the front, through the central dining area, to the double-height living area. The latter is a virtual conversation pit, thanks to C-shape 1970's sofas that came with the house.
They encircle a cocktail table that Liceaga built by artfully arranging stacks of books.
The lofty living area's rear wall is glass embedded with a constellation of glowing LED pinpoints-a system devised by Maurer, who provided many of the house's signature touches in his role as lighting consultant. Fixtures recessed in various parts of the white ceiling make it look like it was slit with a knife to reveal an orange layer behind. The dining area's chandelier is his explosive Porca Miseria! Below it, can lights are embedded in the Corian top of his table, a prototype made for the Museum of Modern Art's 2004 reopening party.
Liceaga first encountered Maurer designs at an exhibition in Milan, where he interned one college summer. Although he didn't catch the Interior Design Hall of Fame member's name at the time, his fixtures left a lasting impression. Later, working as an architectural animator in his native Mexico City, he was entranced to discover that a friend collected Maurer's work. After moving to New York in 1999, Liceaga finally had the chance to visit the Ingo Maurer showroom and to meet the maestro in person. That connection paved the way for their subsequent collaboration. "Ingo visited once the house was gutted and suggested where to put certain pieces," Liceaga explains.
Photography by Eric Laignel.
ogawa/depardon architects: architect of record. hage engineering: structural engineer. charles g. michel engineering: mep. ross lee renovations: general contractor.
INGO MAURER : WINDOW, DOOR PANELS (LIVING AREA), BALUSTRADE PANELS (DEN), CEILING FIXTURES (DEN, KITCHEN, BOY'S ROOM), CHANDELIER (DINING AREA), SCONCES, PENDANT FIXTURE (ENTRY), LAMP (MASTER BEDROOM).
VITTORIO BONACINA THROUGH PROPERTY: CHAIRS (DEN).
KNOLL: CHAIRS (DINING AREA).
COR: STOOLS (KITCHEN).
VALCUCINE: CUSTOM CABINETRY.
MDF ITALIA THROUGH DDC DOMUS DESIGN COLLECTION: CREDENZA (LIVING AREA).
NEOMETRO: TUB, SINKS (BATHROOM).
HANSGROHE: TUB FITTINGS, SINK FITTINGS, SHOWER FITTINGS.
ISLAND STONE: WALL TILE.
FRITZ HANSEN THROUGH DESIGN WITHIN REACH: CHAIRS (BOY'S ROOM).
LAND OF NOD: RUG.
WEST ELM: BED.
POTTERY BARN KIDS: DUVET COVER, PILLOW SHAMS.
RAUSCH CLASSICS: FURNITURE (DECK).
MOROSO: CHAIRS (TERRACE).