TOTAH Gallery by Labo Design Studio Opens in Manhattan’s Lower East Side
When Raffaella Bortoluzzi, founder of Labo Design Studio, was tasked with turning a former liquor store into TOTAH, a Lower East Side gallery, balance was the key word. Though she had experience designing galleries before, owner David Totah wanted his space to be much more than four blank walls; it needed not only to properly frame the art, but to also become a gathering space for the lively surrounding neighborhood. Bortoluzzi says that “Lower East Side streets are vital, lived-in,” so she had to stay flexible when working to accommodate.
The first step was to mediate between the indoor and outdoor: the architect replaced a very closed façade with a wide glass storefront to bring in light and peek-ins from outside; to blend the divide further, she brought concrete sidewalk “squares” inside the space, an easy but innovative way to draw in passersby. The second was to get the existing structure to “do the work” for Totah and team; that was accomplished through rotating walls that could divide the gallery in two or even three areas if needed to accommodate different shows while maintaining a seamless appearance. To keep the office and studio apart from the proper exhibition space, they put a bookcase in the existing bearing wall separating the two, actually doing double duty as a secret door.
That level of attention to detail was carried throughout the space, especially as Bortoluzzi worked to create something well-proportioned. That meant display walls made to look like they are extended beyond the ceiling, and a floating administration box, additions to further liven up white walls. The bright graphics of Totah’s collection pop with the reinforced aesthetic of the final design. And, it’s a small world after all—while setting up the spot’s second show, Totah discovered that Bortoluzzi was actually a student of Lauretta Vinciarelli, the exhibition’s very subject.