April 23, 2016

Workshop/APD Brings an Artsy, Urbane Touch to an Apartment Overlooking New York City’s High Line

The famously high prices commanded by Manhattan’s luxury real estate market don’t guarantee perfection; sometimes even these lilies require a bit of gilding. “A lot of upscale developments are finished in a very vanilla, generic way,” explains architect Andrew Kotchen, copartner of the New York firm Workshop/APD. What these apartments often need, he continues, is not a gut renovation so much as a sense of character and cohesion. “Much of our work in this type of building involves layering spaces and adding visual texture so the apartment doesn’t feel flat as you move through it,” he says.

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That was certainly the goal for this 2,300-square-foot three-bedroom, located right on Chelsea’s famed urban park, the High Line. The client couple had hired Workshop/APD before the building was completed; even without seeing the final finishes in place, they knew they wanted certain upgrades—particularly of the standard-issue kitchen and closets. Equally important was to accommodate their art collection, which included works by Julian Opie and emerging Korean painter Kibong Rhee. “The first thing I did was to send Andrew pictures of our art,” the husband notes. “I wanted the pieces to be integrated into the design, versus it looking like we had purchased them after the fact.”

There was also an issue of flow to be resolved. As originally laid out, “all the spaces kind of leaked into one another; there was no definition to them—making the apartment feel smaller,” says Kotchen. Nor was there a foyer to speak of: “You sort of fell into the entry vestibule,” which had direct sight lines into a pair of kids’ bedrooms, he describes.

Kotchen and team created a proper entrance hall by installing full-height panel doors that close off the bedroom hallways. A decorative plaster finish engineered to look like concrete gives walls a sense of depth, providing a warm yet neutral backdrop for a large-scale Opie canvas that greets visitors as they step off the elevator. “We designed the entry around that piece,” Kotchen notes. The luminous blue from the artwork repeats in the bedroom hallways, lined with closet doors lacquered the same rich, expansive hue.

Defining spaces through savvy treatment of the ceiling plane is a Workshop/APD signature. A dropped canopy gave the entry zone a more roomlike feel. In the open-plan living/dining area, uneven soffits were smoothed out, unsightly air-conditioning registers replaced with linear slots, and a recessed ceiling cove created to maximize headroom.

Kotchen exaggerated the wraparound windows with mirrorlike back-painted black-glass sills; from certain angles, the fenestration seem to continue to the floor. “You get this incredible extended depth that’s very subtle but highly effective,” says the architect. With so many windows, living on the High Line can  result in unintended exhibitionism, which the clients avoided by selecting a 6th-floor unit. “From this high up, you never see a single person, or the High Line itself, unless you stand right by the windows,” notes the husband. “You can be as in it—or away from it—as you want.” When more privacy is desired, motorized solar shades drop down at the touch of a button. The shades also help mitigate glare from sunshine and city lights.

Since the living area had to suit casual family activites and formal entertaining alike, furnishings were chosen and arranged to multitask. The club chairs swivel and the custom sectional has a slightly angled boomerang shape, “so you can sit looking one way or another, and also see the TV,” says Kotchen. The custom coffee table is actually a cluster of smaller modules that can be rearranged at whim. A silvery ombré rug draws the eye across the space. “It looks different depending on where you’re sitting,” says Kotchen, who notes that the apartment’s carefully calibrated color palette encompasses some 15 shades of gray. Blues appear here too, notably the Franco Albini Fiorenza lounge and the stools, upholstered in navy leather, that pull up to the kitchen island. (The kitchen itself—Poliform, per the client’s request—features marble counters.)

The master suite received perhaps the lightest touch, yet with the same unifying principals in mind. A wall clad in custom fumed-oak panels anchors Rhee’s Floating Island, artfully illuminated by a Lindsey Adelman chandelier. Flanking the bed, with  its wing-chair-style headboard, a pair of blackened steel nightstands mirror the floating shelf in the entry. In the dressing room, a herringbone-pattern calf-hair rug in strokes of gray reiterates the overarching color scheme. “The whole reads as a cohesive story versus a series of individual vignettes,” notes Kotchen.

As with many similar projects, the modifications here were ultimately about transforming an uninspired interior envelope into an environment that reflects the occupants and feels like home—and that might even impress the neighbors: “Seven or eight units in this building are exactly the same as ours,” the client explains. “But when residents get off on our floor, I think they’re blown away by the difference.”

Project Team: Stephan Thimme; Brook Quach; Chris Gardner; Daniel Fletcher; Dan Burns; Carlos Canella; Kaitlin Mcquaide: Workshop/APD. Mentors Construction: General Contractor. Audio Video Systems: AV Consultant.

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