William Weathersby | September 01, 2011
"The desire for symmetry, for balance, for rhythm is one of the most inveterate of human instincts," Edith Wharton and Ogden Codman, Jr., wisely noted in The Decoration of Houses. "Proportion is the good breeding of architecture."
When a hospitality executive was looking to move from trendy NoHo to a calmer street in Greenwich Village, he discovered a gem of a 1901 brick and limestone town house just off Fifth Avenue. A condo conversion had yielded two apartments per floor and, along the way, an associated problem: proportion, or lack thereof. With the kitchen open to a combined living and dining room, the 1,800-square-foot three-bedroom was "like a contemporary loft shoehorned into a historical shell," Reddymade Design's Suchi Reddy says.
"He loved the multiple bow windows, but the conjoined living spaces seemed out of character with the house's pedigree," she continues. "Plus, the dining area was too small, and the kitchen was bigger than it needed to be." Though it might seem counterintuitive in real-estate circles to reduce the size of a kitchen, Reddy and her client immediately agreed on making it discrete—and discreet. As an avid chef, he liked the fact that he would be able to mask culinary operations from guests while two pocket doors, symmetrically placed, aided circulation between kitchen and dining area.
With the insertion of a dividing wall, the kitchen shrank by 31 square feet, to 151, and the center island became a peninsula. Reddy simply painted the developer's walnut cabinetry white. The nickel-finished cabinet hardware, stainless appliances, and statuary marble counters remained unchanged.
With vast southern exposures, the apartment benefits from wonderful changes of sunlight. To capitalize on it, Reddy refinished the walls in pinkish-gray Venetian plaster after raising the ceiling in the living-dining room 8 inches. "Since we'd divided the public space, adding height helped balance the volumes," she continues.
Wharton and Codman's dictates aside, the apartment is by no means a period piece. Reddy filled a century-old envelope with nontraditional elements and enlisted pattern, wallpaper in particular, to bridge the centuries. For the side of the dual pocket doors facing the dining area, she chose a damask print embossed with images of soldiers wielding rifles. "The graphics are like a flocked Rorschach test," she notes. She surfaced the doors' kitchen-facing side with Sheila Bridges's Harlem Toile de Jouy, in which basketball hoops and boom boxes appear amid a seemingly traditional mise-en-scène.
Complementing furniture by Charles and Ray Eames, Jean Nouvel, and Piero Lissoni, rugs run the gamut of materials from goat's hair to scraps of antique silk saris. "We built on good bones with unexpected layers of visual intrigue and irony. I was lucky to have such an adventurous client," Reddy notes. From her very first meeting with him—when she saw that his collection included a Balinese headdress and a quirky brass scale encased in a glass cube—she knew that they would get along.