September 1, 2010

A Pearl Anniversary: David Yurman’s Uptown Flagship

Tapped to turn an Upper East Side town house into a flagship for David Yurman jewelry, Michael Gabellini discovered that the New York company has something in common with two of his Italian fashion clients, Giorgio Armani and Salvatore Ferragamo: “It’s a family business-run by David, his wife, Sybil, and their son, Evan. That’s unusual in the U.S., and it gives them a certain confidence that comes from knowing exactly who they are, a classic American design house.” David Yurman boutiques, however, did not quite reflect that self-definition. “Some materials and furniture felt more European,” the Interior Design Hall of Fame member explains. Thus the project scope included not just a new location but also a wholesale reinvention. 

For inspiration, Gabellini and his partner, Kimberly Sheppard, looked to great American originals, from Frank Lloyd Wright houses to Donald Judd sculptures. “We had a meeting of the minds with David and Sybil that is, frankly, quite rare in this business,” Gabellini says. Understanding was the easy part; spatial logistics proved more complicated. Although the 6,000-square-foot Italianate town house afforded triple the retail space of the previous Yurman flagship, diagonally across Madison Avenue, the collection expanded significantly during the two-year design process. When Gabellini Sheppard Associates was commissioned, the bridal and men’s collections were still small, and couture didn’t even exist yet.

With the top two levels relegated to offices, Gabellini Sheppard had to maximize square footage on the lower three, dedicated to the boutique. Creating vertical flow between them are staggered voids, or atria. “They unify the levels and add drama within the available space,” Sheppard explains. The result is a series of interlocking volumes that Gabellini describes as a “Rubik’s Cube of complexity and delight.”

The arrival sequence establishes the desired tone of muted luxury-as opposed to the glittering white and yellow diamond chokers at Graff, directly to the left, and the chunky amethyst and aquamarine cocktail rings at Mauboussin, to the right. Yurman himself sculpted the cast-bronze door pulls based on his own cable bracelets. Inside the doors is a double-height foyer with a floor paved in gray striated marble and a wall surfaced in hand-troweled plaster with tone-on-tone stripes. Straight ahead, a walnut canopy shelters the women’s collection.

Freestanding walnut cases with free-edge counters angle across the space to invite lingering and exploration; their varying heights, from 25 to 41 inches, reinforce the feeling of domesticity. Likewise, vitrines are mounted at different levels on the walls rather than in strict rows. “It feels like a casual embrace, like a hand on your shoulder,” Gabellini says. For all the poetry, though, the displays are rather high-tech, opening via an invisible key-card system. “We created glamour and theater yet kept the jewelry secure,” he continues. 

Bejeweled eyeglasses are housed in what first appears to be just a side room before revealing itself to be a three-story swoosh of space. It’s anchored by an accordion-pleated wall of panels wrapped in gray-painted canvas. Look up, and you’ll notice that glass balconies on the second and third levels overlook this vertiginous void, and display cases extend 12 inches into it, literally grabbing extra space out of thin air. The dizzying cantilevers hark back to the modernist mountainside house in Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest. 

A smaller void at the rear is dominated by the staircase ascending to the men’s collection and the bridal-couture salon. Spiraling around a cluster of stainless-steel rods cascading from a skylight, cantilevered walnut treads and stainless risers are surrounded, in turn, by a glass balustrade. Its hexagonal shape was inspired by the cut of gems, while the rods reference not only Yurman’s cable bracelets but also Harry Bertoia’s sound sculptures. “They have a tactile allure. I’ve caught people strumming them like a harp,” Gabellini says. 

He emphasizes that lighting was a vital part of the scheme. “We always choose a specific quality and color for each client,” he explains. “Here, we thought about twilight, the most theatrical time of day. It’s easy to achieve in display cases, but how do you enhance the drama when pieces are taken out and tried on?” The answer: strategically positioned recessed ceiling fixtures-a mix of low-voltage adjustable metal halides and halogens, some with frosted lenses.

The identical walnut, glass, and blackened steel appear on all three levels, but the tone shifts subtly on each. “Every floor is its own microclimate,” Gabellini says. Aubergine silk-wool rugs and bronze-tinted wall paneling infuse the slightly darker men’s salon with masculinity. The side atrium’s painted-canvas wall treatment lightens in color toward the top, as does the plaster in the stairwell. Then there’s the third level’s bridal-couture salon, which offers such one-off pieces as a choker of South Sea baroque pearls or a white gold ring set with an enormous rose-colored morganite. Here the palette shifts to an ethereal color best described as champagne-a beverage served in the adjacent VIP room, as brides-to-be examine their options under the light of a table lamp by Christian Liaigre.

Photography by Paul Warchol.

daniel garbowit (project architect); elina cardet; ozlem ackay; stacey bertin; tomoko hirose; kentaro ishihara; tomomi narita; jongku yee: gabellini sheppard associates. cooley monato studio: lighting consultant. li/saltzman architects: landmarks consultant. code: code consultant. audio interiors: audiovisual consultant. severud associates: structural engineer. kohler ronan: mep. pillori associates: geotechnical engineer. moss & lam; orazio de gennaro studio: plasterwork. jaroff design & mison concepts; m. cohen & sons: metalwork, glasswork. mark richey woodwork­ing: woodwork. artisan stoneworks corp.: stonework. haywood berk floor company; marcello tile company: flooring contractors. shawmut design and construction: general contractor.

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