ight years living in New York’s Trump Tower proved more than enough for José Arozamena, the CEO of a private-equity group, and his wife, Carmen Escassi. It was Arozamena who fell for a duplex in a century-old town house that had been essentially desecrated. The defilement started with the facade, where undistinguished stucco obscured noble brick. Inside, the apartment was a maze of unnecessary rooms dominated by a flashy, glassy staircase. “I swore to my husband I would never live there,” Escassi says. Fortunately, Arozamena was able to persuade her to take the risk, hiring Mark Zeff’s firm, now styled Markzeff
Not an obvious fixer-upper, the duplex was in reasonable repair. However, Zeff, pronouncing it “a Sheetrock mausoleum, clearly an attempt to squeeze in as much as possible,” began with a demolition permit. “We gutted it, not keeping a single iota.” He even pulled up the oak-strip flooring. As walls and ceilings came down, hidden history came to light—along with design possibilities. Wooden joists and beams proved presentable enough to whitewash and keep exposed. Green paint could be stripped from some of the handsome brick walls. Just off the elevator, an unadorned cast-iron column particularly delighted him. “We highlighted all the jewels we found on our treasure hunt,” he says. To unify the sprawling open spaces that resulted, he laid acres of wide-plank white-oak flooring. “Everybody is so frightened about using wide wood, and I’m guessing the solid planks will cup slightly over time, but we went for the full Monty,” he says. “It’s going to be fine.”
The living area hosts an enormous bronze-
faced bureau with drawers proportioned for vinyl records. Escassi pulls open a drawer containing dozens of LPs. “My husband is very much into loud music,” she explains. Off the living area, a solarium has replaced an outdoor balcony. “In New York, something open like that means noise and dirt,” Escassi argues. This new glass enclosure and a matching one on the level above came with the extra benefit of upgrading the botched street facade. Meanwhile, enlarged windows in back bring light into the dining area and kitchen.
Above the kitchen island hang vintage ribbed-glass pendant domes from a warehouse in Zeff’s birthplace, South Africa. He brought them back to his own office, where the couple saw them and coveted them. “Everyone is going through this industrial love affair right now,” he notes. No less heroically utilitarian is the muscular blackened-steel staircase, scaled to recall Manhattan’s manufacturing past. Craned into the apartment in three ultra-heavy sections, the stair is cantilevered from the brick party wall with brackets he calls “seriously huge—we went a bit over the top.” To delineate the stair zone as separate from the expanse of wall to each side, he cut a vertical groove into the brick and inset a double-height strip of blackened steel.
Taking up the entire front of the upper level—about a third of the apartment’s total 4,500 square feet—is the extravagant master suite. It begins with a long gallery with a barn-board ceiling inspired by a weathered-plank wall in Zeff’s office. “As you already know, I despise Sheetrock,” he says. “I consider it my mission to hide as much of it as possible.” One side of the gallery is lined with finely finished paneling that conceals storage. On the other side, floor-to-ceiling glass-fronted cabinets, internally lit, evoke an elegant Edwardian clothing store.
Colorful flat-weave rugs mark progress along the gallery. “We spend summers sailing off Turkey and Morocco,” Escassi offers. She’s the one who furnished most of the duplex, using antiques and vintage pieces already in the couple’s possession. “I never saw a single item,” Zeff notes. He approved of almost every choice, though he was not prepared for the enormous cherry-red Venetian glass chandelier that appeared over the stair. “The Spanish clients were paying for it, so the Irish contractor installed it while the South African who designed the apartment looked the other way,” he jokes. An international incident averted, thanks to designer diplomacy.
Catalina Davidson; George Porter: Markzeff. Kit Middleton: Architect Of Record. Custom FX USA: Audiovisual Consultant. Thames Builders: General Contractor.