Amsterdam-based designer Piet Boon began his career as a frustrated contractor. Clients kept saddling him with either beautiful designs that weren’t functional, or functional designs that weren’t beautiful. Boon thought he could do better, so in 1982 he founded his eponymous design studio. Turns out his instincts were right. The Dutch designer has since earned international acclaim for his ability to design livable, durable spaces and products without sacrificing his refined aesthetic and commitment to fine materials and craftsmanship. As a total design concept firm, Studio Piet Boon has built an impressive international portfolio of private, corporate, and commercial clients, including the stunning Gothic-meets-modern restaurant The Jane in Antwerp, which took top prize for best restaurant design at the 2015 Restaurant & Bar Design Awards.
Recently, Studio Piet Boon has been busy returning New York to its New Amsterdam roots with two luxury condominium projects in the city—Huys (Dutch for “house”) at 404 Park Avenue South in the NoMad neighborhood and Oosten (Dutch for “east”) in South Williamsburg near the East River. The 58-unit Huys sold out earlier this year, and the 216-unit Oosten, which is scheduled to be fully complete by late fall, is already setting records. Last year, a 5,091-square-foot penthouse in the building went for its full asking price of $6.49 million, making it the most expensive home ever sold in the neighborhood. Here, Boon discusses how his background in carpentry continues to influence his work, what “timeless” design means to him, and the relaxing powers of nature.
Interior Design: What are some of the unique challenges to designing residences in an urban environment?
Piet Boon: All our designs, be it a beach villa, or city residence, include key factors, such as the site environment, history, use, and interest of our client. Different locations and clients require different approaches. Therefore, no design is alike. City living involves constantly seeking to find a balance between the exciting public life of the city and the serenity and comfort of the private home. The environment is often both something to cherish, but also one from which to desire some respite. It is these contrasts of worlds that make designing residences in cities exciting and challenging at the same time.
ID: How did the Williamsburg neighborhood influence Oosten’s design?
PB: The design of Oosten is very much a collaboration between our studio, which designed all the interiors, as well as the New York-based firm Think! Architecture and Design, who the developers XIN commissioned to handle the beautiful architecture. It is the exterior of the building that reflects the area’s industrial heritage. In a nod to the city’s typical character, we chose to incorporate the New York brownstone in the building’s façade. Cast-iron window frames add to the Williamsburg industrial waterfront appeal.
ID: How do you use design to help build community and encourage interaction between neighbors in a dense city?
PB: The 216 homes of Oosten boast seven different types of residences, varying from duplexes to extraordinary townhouses and from lofts to penthouses. Combined, they make up a beautiful building, but also the fabric of the neighborhood—a neighborhood within a neighborhood, if you will. From the outside, before you even enter the Oosten, the industrial character of the architecture fits seamlessly with the local low-rise vernacular of the surrounding area. Once you enter Oosten, the building has a large common area in the middle, a shared roof deck, and other areas that foster interaction and create a community of itself within the building, including a library, fitness center, steam and sauna rooms, juice and coffee bar, and children’s playroom.
ID: You are known for designing residences with unique but effortless flow from room to room. Can you tell me a bit about your design philosophy when it comes to layout and how rooms connect within a home?
PB: When designing residences, we research how homeowners will use the spaces and prioritize them accordingly. By doing so, the routing is natural and effortless. We also try to incorporate long sight lines as much as possible—visually connecting spaces.
ID: Much of your work includes great green spaces and lots of natural light. I’d like to hear your thoughts on the importance of blurring the line between indoor and outdoor living spaces.
PB: An important part in all our designs is to create and make optimal use of space. To achieve this at Oosten, we connected the outside exterior with the inside interior. Without loss of privacy, all homes face a 13,860-square-foot landscaped open courtyard. This provides Oosten’s homeowners with the unique experience of having a “hidden garden.” Floor-to-ceiling windows also treat residents to a huge amount of natural light and a panoramic view.
We also did this at Huys, a 58-unit renovation of a historic building by Dutch developers Kroonenberg Groep, located in Manhattan's burgeoning NoMad neighborhood. For the roof’s design, Kroonenberg Groep collaborated with Studio Piet Boon and my good friend Piet Oudolf, who also did the High Line’s landscape architecture. At 2,929 square feet in size, the roof afforded us a great opportunity to create something special for the residents to meet and interact in. The inspiration for the design of the Huys roof came from looking at the way the High Line integrates plants into the furniture and experience of the space. We feature Piet Boon Collection furniture, and Oudolf selected perennials and grasses, which give a dynamic feel to the place and they change with the seasons so they are always attractive. The roof area also provides breathtaking scenery. The space intentionally highlights the existing arches from the Huys building and the views toward Grand Central Station.
The garden at my own home also holds a special place in my heart. Designed by Oudolf, it is a living piece of art—constantly changing and every season even more amazing.
ID: You’re known for your attention to symmetry and scale. How do these elements affect how people feel in a home?
PB: Our projects take us around the world. We see, we feel, we touch, we listen, and we create: always searching for the perfect fusion of ingredients for that one extraordinary design. We pour our hearts into delivering this rewarding sensation, completing the overall design experience at the highest level. The way one experiences a space is therefore of utmost importance. It is an art to design a pleasant, balanced environment, completely free of dissonance—elements that are fundamental for one’s well-being—which creates sense of calm.
ID: What are some of the most important design strategies for creating a calm living space within an urban environment?
PB: At Oosten, we wanted to create a perfect balance of functionality, aesthetics, and individuality. We wanted to emphasize well thought-out spaces, an abundance of natural light and space, clear sight lines, and subdued color schemes, rich natural materials, a high level of detail and finishing—just a really nice and effortless place you can call home.
ID: The word “timeless” often comes up when people discuss your work. This seems to refer both to designs that resist the vagaries of trends, but also work that is physically durable. What are some key things to remember when designing for longevity?
PB: We believe there is great beauty in simplicity. Bearing use, context, and function, our unique designs are built to stand the test of time. When designing, we look at location, how spaces are used, by whom these are used, and what materials are the most suitable to fit a certain purpose. Our roots in carpentry and construction have given us the advantage of having extensive knowledge in materials and building techniques. We know what works. We also embrace the imperfections and transience of natural materials. The passing of time leaves beautiful traces and these are anticipated in our designs. Last but not least, when it comes to designing for longevity, it is important to create a quiet basis. We keep our color palettes neutral. By doing so, we create a timeless backdrop, accommodating changing colors from personal belongings, furniture items, and works of art.
ID: Is there something in the Dutch culture that lends itself to functional and aesthetically pleasing design?
PB: This question comes up quite often. But to be honest, I don’t consider our firm to be a typical “Dutch design” studio. We are from and based in the Netherlands obviously, but we have a style that is distinctively ours. We abide by our own rules and that make us unique, both in our approach and execution. That said, my studio’s commitment to functionality stems from my own frustration with designs that were not well thought out. That was the reason for me to start Studio Piet Boon.
ID: What is your favorite space—inside or out—in your own home?
PB: I love everything about my home—not very surprising because I designed it myself. But my favorite space in my home—or any home for that matter—has to be the kitchen. The kitchen is the place where it all happens. It’s the heart of the home, where my family and friends gather to enjoy good food, share stories, and create memories.
When I’m not in the kitchen, I enjoy sitting on our porch. It acts as an extension of the home and connects the interior with the exterior and vice versa. My home is located in a natural reserve. So after a long period of travels or a hectic day at the studio, the porch is the best spot to relax and unwind—peace and quiet amidst little streams, green pastures, and grazing sheep.