Often it’s the designers, not their clients, who are looking to make the big statement. So turnabout is fair play. For a loft in a former factory in the Flatiron district, just off Madison Square Park, it was Brian Messana and Toby O’Rorke of Messana O’Rorke who expounded the philosophy of “primitive minimalism,” as Messana calls it. “We’re reductivist, always trying to pare down.” Meanwhile, the young clients, an art dealer and a photographer nesting in their first proper apartment, preferred to show off their possessions.
A happy medium was devised in the form of the project’s showpiece item, a cabinet that anchors one end of the living-dining room, holding books and incorporating glass-topped vitrines for collectibles. “We normally hide everything behind doors. You wouldn’t see books,” O’Rorke explains. “But they saw it as a focal point.” The cabinet is built from white oak and, for a rough- luxe touch, trimmed in unlacquered brass—with a library ladder to match.
Following a gut renovation, the 800-square-foot apartment needed a proper bedroom. Messana O’Rorke therefore created one with the help of a set of frosted-glass sliding panels and a wall of closets. With all that storage, it was possible to sacrifice a closet in the dining area. Instead, there’s a closet-like home office that can disappear behind doors. Ditto for the kitchen’s “appliance garage,” which holds day- to-day necessities. All evidence of Messana and O’Rorke’s preference for healthy compartmentalization.
As the partners also prefer to hide lighting, indirect fixtures cast a subtle glow on the abundant woodwork. Much is white oak, not only the bookcase but also the cabinetry in the office and the kitchen, the shelving in the walk-in closet, even the bed. For contrast, the floor planks are a much darker oak, wire-brushed to add texture.
Bright white walls flatter a collection of modern furniture that’s quietly serious. Photographs by Robert Mapplethorpe and Irving Penn seem content to lean against the walls. Nothing shouts its importance.
“When clients are specific about the program, it’s so helpful,” Messana says. And even more helpful when architects find a way to adapt their own style with- out putting a crimp in it.