October 5, 2017

Designer Kenji Ito Remodels His NYC Apartment

Ito centered the living room’s seating group around Italian designer Gianfranco Frattini‘s 1974 Kyoto coffee table, in beech and ebony. Photography by Ashok Sinha.

An architect’s work is never done—just ask Japanese designer Kenji Ito, who earned his master’s degree from Pratt Institute in the early eighties. Consider his own New York home: originally converted a decade earlier, the 1,700-square-foot Gramercy area apartment is located on a tree-shaded street, in an historic redbrick town house that dates from 1850. The unit was already configured with a wide double-height great room, two bedrooms, and two-and-a-half baths, when Ito and his wife, United Nations video producer Patricia Chan, bought it, in 1991. They raised two kids there but ultimately saved the big renovation until after he retired from Knoll.

Ito spent his own youth in Kyoto, where he studied Zen temples and gardens. “That’s the beginning of my lifelong journey,” he notes. Japanese tradition informs his hard-won architectural philosophy: minimalist and pristine, with an enviable eye for placement and detail.

He served nearly all of his 26 years at Knoll as director of interior design, mastering the art of showrooms and trade show displays. The remodeled apartment naturally highlights his furniture collection, some full-size pieces and others scale miniatures. Alongside the living room mantelpiece, a small grouping Ito refers to as his “shrine” presents a toy Barcelona chair, thus making clear his affection for masterworks of the Western design cannon. Indeed, he has recently brought lessons from New York back to his hometown, where his latest project is a renovation of the family’s small vacation house, in Kyoto.

A low postmodern mantelpiece was designed, in part, to emphasize the unexpected drama of the sixteen-foot living room ceiling. Photography by Ashok Sinha.

Ito’s prized possession, a Wassily Chair by Marcel Breuer, takes center-stage. An aircraft cable balustrade on the edge of the mezzanine helps to connect that space with the multipurpose living room below. Photography by Ashok Sinha.

A shrine to Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s Barcelona Chair, in miniature, hangs above Robert Venturi’s colorful laminated plywood Chippendale chair, a design manufactured by Knoll. Photography by Ashok Sinha.

The master bedroom’s unpainted brick chimney serves as an architectural backdrop for a tidy upholstered headboard. Photography by Ashok Sinha.

An impressive framed abstract work on paper hangs above the convertible sofa bed in the master bedroom. Photography by Ashok Sinha.

Ito matched the small kitchen’s painted upper cabinets to the wall color, choosing a darker earth tone for the storage beneath. Photography by Ashok Sinha.

Recent Projects