November 1, 2010

Perfectly Choreographed: A 1920s New York Apartment Redesign by Guy Re Moor

From the flagstone front steps to the long, narrow communal hallways, nothing at this 1920’s New York apartment building screamed architecture with a capital A. Nor was the one-bedroom pied-à-terre of a businessman in his 60s particularly enticing in itself. Windows faced the rear, and square footage was a scant 600, not promising much in the way of surplus space that a young architect would wish to lavish on a conceptual gesture or two. Still, Guy Re Moor saw the opportunity to design his first solo project and leapt at it.

Educated at Pratt Institute and the Harvard University Graduate School of Design and trained at Herzog & de Meuron and Preston Scott Cohen, Re Moor previously performed with the Martha Graham Dance Company for a spell. And the idea of movement is clearly key for the New York apartment. By modestly fine-tuning the layout, he was able to improve its proportions significantly.

The main room still incorporates living and dining areas and an open kitchen, but he gave the latter some definition by adding a tiny island. More important, he zeroed in on what he terms a “dysfunctional” short corridor that led to the bedroom by passing between the bathroom and side-byside closets with awkward pivot doors. Ripping out those closets and building new ones on the bedroom’s blank end wall accomplished a double objective: squaring off the room’s bowlingalley proportions and widening the corridor enough to create a place for Architecture in the form of an office alcove.

A built-in poplar desktop stretches the full width of the former closets. For the wall behind and the corridor’s whole ceiling, he injected a dose of the neighborhood’s “embellished vernacular” via his signature “functional ornament,” as he puts it. The surfaces are clad in custom-milled poplar moldings partially painted white. Arriving at the right profile took more than 50 tries. After getting it right, he carved away the molding to reveal openings for lighting and wire management.

Heavy new moldings for doors and windows replace the originals, which could not be saved. Instead of baseboard moldings, however, he used a small reveal. A swath of existing oak floorboards remains, while the ceiling is new. Because it’s a soundproof plasterboard system, surfacemounted porcelain sockets substitute for recessed cans that might have transmitted noise from upstairs neighbors.

The kitchen cabinets and islandstand on aluminum legs, letting the oak flooring sweep all the way through. In the living and dining areas, leggy furnishings maximize the Lilliputian layout by occupying the minimum amount of visual space. The small scale of a mid-century Danish settee, Re Moor feels, better suits room sizes in a 1920’s building.

Nevertheless, he went contemporary with a red wireframed occasional table. Like the vintage pieces, it touches the ground with a dancer’s poise. Martha Graham would be proud. 

Photography by Bilyana Dimitrova.

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