Craig Kellogg | November 26, 2013
In the last days of disco, New York lofts traded for a song. The target market for a 1979 residential conversion called the Printing House was aspiring creative types, as renters and occasionally as buyers. Stacked up inside the 1911 Italianate behemoth, the apartments were compact and rudimentary, mostly just a couple of windows wide and lacking true bedrooms. Sleeping quarters were semi-enclosed mezzanines inserted over kitchens, thanks to the 15-foot ceilings. And those layouts remained frozen in the boho past even as the loft lifestyle slouched toward luxury. “Now the market is ‘uptown’ people moving downtown,” Andrew Kotchen explains. When a developer purchased all the rentals to gut and sell, the opportunity to rethink them for today was awarded to Kotchen and Matthew Berman’s firm, Workshop/APD.
“Our look here is rustic modernism,” Kotchen continues. Downstairs, in the main lobby, that meant ripping out everything save an original tiled groin vault. Then came a couple of gestures that are straightforward if massive. The archtects milled solid-surfacing for an undulating wall treatment. Nearby, heavy blackened-steel panels are perforated with an intentionally unreadable letterlike motif—type set by a printer gone mad.
Upstairs, the way forward was less clear, since owner-occupiers, sprinkled at random, confounded adjacencies for the combination of units. “Think of a mouth with missing teeth,” Kotchen jokes. Berman clarifies, “It stacked out like a Tetris game.” They ultimately combined the 104 available rentals to yield 60 co-ops, two-bedrooms predominating. Because square footage is more valuable than headroom, the mezzanines had to stay—camouflage became a necessary strategy. Gypsum-board sheathes their disorganized, distracting steel and concrete support structures for a cleaner silhouette. “The big question was whether people would accept the way that the mezzanine appears from below,” Berman says. The architects ultimately installed louvered sliding panels to permit mezzanine overlooks to be closed without blocking air flow. On the mezzanine floors, Berman continues, “lick-and-stick” oak parquet was peeled away in favor of cerused oak in solid strips despite the additional thickness. “Literally, quarters of an inch mattered.”
While construction continued, Workshop/APD furnished a model unit, a 1,180-square-foot two-bedroom. “You have to show buyers that it can feel like home,” Berman says. The front door opens to a foyer that’s small but double-height. Modular panelized cabinet doors—which the firm had developed several years ago with an Italian manufacturer—turn the asymmetrical niche created by a structural column into concealed storage. The same panels then continue into the minimalist kitchen.
Here, the architects placed a slender glass-topped table and, instead of a standard island for food prep, an element in white solid-surfacing that can slide back and forth over the glass. Stairs off the kitchen are elegant blackened steel with what Berman terms “the patina of a machine.” Sunlight enters from the living area beyond. Its double height allowed him and Kotchen to suspend a new gypsum-board ceiling to recess lighting and keep things proportional. Both the architectural details and the furniture have a tailored industrial look carefully scaled to avoid gigantism in the narrow space.
Built-in bookshelves on one of the living area’s sidewalls face framed art hung against black grass cloth lacquered to shimmer in the sun. “We needed to bring in a little bling,” Kotchen says. The cocktail table is an oversize chess set. To add vintage Euro glamour, a Marco Zanuso armchair sports tawny brocaded upholstery inspired by embroidery in a recent Dolce & Gabbana collection.
Combining two virtually identical rentals to create the model apartment, Workshop/APD turned the living area of the second unit into the model’s master bedroom. It therefore has the same double-height ceiling—with enough clearance to hang a huge spiky vintage chandelier above the bed. Meanwhile, high on the wall, sconces by Arne Jacobsen illuminate a painting found on the Web site of London’s Saatchi Gallery. Artwork in the mezzanine “children’s” room is a set of colorful artist postcards pinned above the twin beds’ headboards, directly on the gray wall covering made from recycled newsprint. A night table displays an oversize Kidrobot covered in graffiti, and an early Magnavox boom box, a castoff rescued from the sidewalk, sits on the floor. Complete with cassette player, the boom box would not have looked out of place on the set of Ordinary People or Saturday Night Fever. Call it downtown disco nostalgia, no sound track required.
Daniel Burns; Kristyn Bock; Xandro Aventajado; Christina Pino; Thomas Zoli; J. Tyler Marshall; Brook Quach; Ryan Erb: Workshop/APD. Michael Zenreich Architect: Architect Of Record. Gace Consulting Engineers: Structural Engineer. AMA Consulting Engineers: MEP. Argosy Design: Metalwork. Adam Wilk: Wood-Work. Estilo Upholstery; GG Fine Furniture: Upholstery Workshops. Associated Fabrication: Solid-Surfacing Contractor. Foundations: General Contractor.