The work of the architect Annabelle Selldorf ranges from the small scale of custom furniture to the new construction of a museum or a library. In this case Selldorf comes to terms with the renovation of a splendid loft on two levels, 550 mq, in the Chelsea district of New York City. The dwelling – created for a woman with two teenage daughters – is inside a French Renaissance style building designed in 1869 by the renowned architect James Renwick Jr.
The building was created as a facility of the YMCA (Young Men’s Christian Association), with a layout for activities of physical fitness, equipped on the upper level – that of the loft, today – with a gymnasium featuring basketball courts and a running track, a roof garden and a swimming pool (it was here that in 1913 Charles Merrill and Edmund Lynch first met, both members of the praiseworthy institution).
In 2002 the building was purchased by the State of New York and converted into a residential block. The renovation concealed most of the original structural elements, which Selldorf has skillfully salvaged and enhanced through a true operation of archaeology: the industrial look of the space is brought out by the burnished steel of the window frames and unadorned railings, and the cement tiles that give character and personality to the house, one of the nine apartments in the building today.
“In residential projects it is very important to know the needs of the client. Though I have my own personal idea, every house is a small portrait of the person that lives there”. This attitude is essential in Selldorf’s work: the architect is sensitive to the context and the function, and knows how to listen to clients, to understand their necessities. She creates a ‘tailor-made garment’ that transcends time, and has thus built an international reputation.
Her projects stand out for the aesthetic rigor of a luxurious architecture free of decorative excess. In this case, the challenge was to conserve the large proportions and spatial openness of the structure, evoking the spirit of the time in which it was a gym.
The dwelling is divided into two levels, with common spaces on the upper floor: a large living-dining area and an open-plan kitchen. For the dining zone next to the kitchen the architect has designed a table with a corner bench in walnut, creating a perfect place for homework or to spend free time with the family.
The Corian island of the kitchen organizes the functions without interrupting the visual continuity of the space, free of partitions. The two-story atrium (8.5 meters high) contains the staircase that connects the two levels of the house and underscores the open spatial treatment of the immaculate enclosure.
The lower level hosts the private spaces: the master bedroom with closet and bath, the rooms for the daughters and those for guests, a studio and areas for recreation, cinema and music. The walls are painted white to spread the abundant light captured by the large windows running along three sides of the building.
The neutral materials of the architectural landscape are set off by the bright colors of the furnishings, like the sofa by Gaetano Pesce in the living area or the lime green bookcases by Piero Lissoni. Great modern furniture classics are joined by contemporary pieces and antiques; among others, the round wooden table by Gio Ponti in one corner of the living room, and splendid pieces by Carlo Mollino, Børge Mogensen and George Nakashima, along with true rarities by Jacques Adnet and Philip Lloyd Powell, all stand out.
photos by Manolo Yllera – text by Cristina Gimene