January 1, 2012

Once Upon a Tile: A Modern NYC Apartment by HWKN

When it comes to apartment hunting in Manhattan, discovering the perfect location is, more often than not, only half the battle. The floor-through bought by a married couple expecting their first baby offered 2,100 square feet. However, while the unruly floor plan definitely needed to open up, it would still have to keep all unsightly objects, well, out of sight. Translation: No baby gear strewn all over.

A gut renovation by the wife’s brother’s architecture firm, HWKN, yielded a combined kitchen and living-dining area, three bedrooms, two bathrooms, and a powder room. They’re configured as essentially a series of squares and rectangles that generate “pouches” for storing household mess. The entry is a hall that leads straight to the center of the apartment, where a perfectly square gallery serves as the knuckle that connects public and private zones-and even has a dedicated closet for a baby stroller.

“One of the challenges with this project was warmth,” Marc Kushner says. (In addition to being a principal of HWKN, he’s the CEO of the networking Web site Architizer.) To help create that warmth, he enlisted Christopher Stevens’s namesake firm. “The couple were torn between having a clean and ordered environment and something that felt more grounded and personal,” Stevens adds.

He avoided big statements with the furniture, largely sticking with modern classics chosen to be compatible with objects brought back from frequent  visits to Africa by the wife, who runs an NGO. Decorative lighting, such as a Lindsey Adelman chandelier with glass-bubble globes, is more playful and unexpected. Vinyl on the dining banquette and outdoor fabric on the sofa areb aby-friendly. Stevens also weighed in on surface materials, particularly in the kitchen.

He and Kushner wove in color and wood to soften thea rchitectural envelope. The most prominent use of color is in that central gallery. It’s entirely royal blue, ceiling and floor included. Flooring in surrounding spaces is the original maple, retained in a cost-saving maneuver but bleached to dispense with the yellow tone.

Another concern was ceiling heights, which range from 8 to 10 feet. “We avoiding dropping the ceiling where we didn’t have to,” Kushner explains. “The ceiling registers the program spaces, dropping in hallways, for lighting, and lifting at important places like the gallery and the kitchen.”

To avoid losing height in the kitchen, a stretched ceiling system conceals light fixtures around the perimeter. “They’re actually neon,” Stevens notes. “But we chose a more yellow ‘incandescent’ tone.”

Designed to keep the focus on the living-dining area, the kitchen remains neutral. The quartz composite of the counters and lacquered MDF of the backsplash and island cabinetry are both gleaming white.”So many of my clients request white counters in the kitchen but are not prepared for the reality of maintaining white marble. Quartz composite is a practical alternative,” Stevens continues. White also complements the bleached oak of the wall cabinetry.

The signature wood in the master suite is black walnut. Outside the bathroom, a free-edge slab serves as a bench. It’s built into paneling in the same walnut, like the bathroom door.

Matching the bench, free-edge black walnut fronts the drawers of the double sink vanity. The vanity counter and most of the walls and floor are tiled in white ceramic squares. Even the sink fittings are white. For contrast, the identical tile in the shower is black.

Leaving the black-and-white scheme of the master bathroom behind, the powder room is monochrome: Tiles here are virtually the same blue as the nearby gallery. Kushner and Stevens built in a vase that respects the hyperrationality of the tiled grid but offers the possibility of flowers as a way to break free.

Photography by Michael Moran/Otto.

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