Art and Furniture
The clients had proclaimed an affinity with modern design when they built their previous residence 10 years ago and simultaneously embarked on the serious collecting of art and furniture. Pieces by Sam Francis, Charles Arnoldi, Alex Katz, Sean Scully, Tom Lieber, and Suzanne Caporeal attest to the commitment, as does Mies van der Rohe, Saarinen, and Vignelli furniture. For the new house, the couple opted to up the design ante from modern to out-and-out contemporary.
Shubin + Donaldson Architects was well versed in this vernacular, having completed warehouse conversions for the Los Angeles ad agencies Ogilvy & Mather and Ground Zero as well as residences in Malibu and Beverly Hills. Resume aside, the deal was clinched because Shubin and Donaldson “really listened,” the clients relate. What the architects heard and what they first saw, however, were diametrically opposed. The clients had purchased a 1-acre hillside lot with sweeping views of Santa Barbara Harbor and the Santa Ynez Mountains. So far, so good. The downside was the house, which the partners describe in disparaging terms. “A dumb tract house with lava rocks outside” was one comment. And this one about the interior: “It was dark and hadn’t been touched for years.”
It took healthy imaginations to envision the house’s future as a clean, light-filled setting for the clients’ impressive collections. Nevertheless, the architects opted initially for renovation. Four months into the process, cost estimates proved prohibitive, and plans still held compromises. For almost equal money, a ground-up structure satisfying everyone’s needs could be built. “Give us a weekend to devise a scheme,” the architects requested.
Entry, living, Dining, and Kitchen Zones
That scheme, predicated on cost efficiency and the loft archetype, is conceived as three rectangles massed around an entry court. The main piece is “essentially a big shed,” Donaldson explains.
It encompasses 1,440 square feet with minimal divisions among entry, living, dining, and kitchen zones. But the mandate for ample wall space, to display artwork, posed a contraindication that S+D resolved through a gallery cum circulation axis. Spanning the shed’s length, this axis joins public areas to a pair of guest bedrooms and baths. The second block is the master suite with study; the third component is the three-car garage. It’s as elemental as that.
“We used steel trusses and decking–the kind seen at Costco–because they provide not only reasonably priced construction means but also a sotto voce address to the desired design vocabulary when exposed at the entry and lengthwise walls,” Donaldson comments.
That primary move is supplemented by other subtle architectural details. A split between the public expanse and guest quarters creates a rear pocket courtyard as well as a width-through view, thanks to a facing window on the front elevation. Ten skylights placed throughout the house and an angled ceiling sector in the living-dining area together wash the interior with daylight and animate the upper plane. To provide privacy without completely enclosing the kitchen, a pantry-partition stops short of the ceiling. The sum total of all these parts is a house perceived as considerably larger than its 3,800 square feet.
Making the house modern was relatively easy. Making it inviting and livable posed a greater challenge. S+D deployed layering to enrich the basic modern environment. Subtle shifts in background hues and surface textures–from cream to taupe, drywall to tinted plaster–instill the requisite warmth. Pervasive maple flooring and cabinetry and furniture clusters, suggesting zones of intimacy, help also. A grouping of Barcelona recliner chairs, matching ottoman, sleeper sofas, bean bags, and Saarinen tables invites lingering at the fireplace, the interior’s stellar element. It’s a freestanding double-sided construction of sandblasted glass with solid steel members, perforated steel side panels, and integrated lighting for an ethereal glow at night.
Interior Design Style
Similarly uncorporate, says Thomas Hut are the “layering of spaces and use of translucency, bringing daylight into the interior.” A wall of etched bronze glass, for instance, separates east-facing windows from the corridor angling inward to the sanctum of the library and conference room. Unlike the plastics that Hut Sachs used in a similar context at MTV Networks, the etched bronze glass at Barnes & Noble acts as a visual thermometer that registers both changes of position and balances of natural and artificial light–fluctuating between oblique, steely blue-gray and a brighter, backlit luminosity. Additional lighting, cleverly concealed in ceiling soffits, contributes to the overall effect of cool geometry and contemplative serenity.
All in the service of art. Riggio’s interests lay very much in creating a space around the work. In the reception area, a black-and-white Ellsworth Kelly painting sets the tone for the play of architectural and pictorial forms. Elsewhere, major pieces by Andy Warhol, Dan Flavin, On Kawara, Donald Judd, and Alighiero Boetti speak to Riggio’s longstanding passion as well as his firmly held belief in art’s equal footing with literature and graphics. (The task wasn’t always easy. A Nam June Paik television assemblage intended for the lobby proved too large, so a quietly allegorical video projection by Jeremy Blake now greets visitors instead.)
Creating a space around the work
Interestingly, in matching Riggio’s design brief, Hut and partner Jane Sachs found that much of their architectural input was in not attracting attention to itself. “Throughout the project, we faced the challenge of making sure the design wasn’t turned up too high,” says Sachs. Partition walls tend toward simple, clean surfaces that, rich in materials, nonetheless defer to the defining aspect of the art. Even a surface usually as inhospitable as glass is modified with a reinvented picture rail, allowing a series of portraits to punctuate an otherwise blank expanse.
A similar balancing act takes place with furniture. “Like the architecture, it plays second fiddle to the art, supporting it and enhancing it but never out-stating it,” says Sachs. Contemporary versions of a Jean-Michel Frank chair, recliners, sleeper sofas sofa beds attend the conference room’s centerpiece, a 16-foot-long table. Finding a good conference table is notoriously difficult. Sachs and Riggio had been fretting about it when the latter recalled having seen something that met the requirements at Delorenzo 1950, a store on Lafayette Street. The only problem being that five years had passed since then. Taking a chance, Sachs and Riggio went back. They discovered that the table, designed by T.H. Robsjohn-Gibbings for Conrad Hilton in 1937, was still there but that someone else had expressed interest in it. Riggio was undeterred. As Sachs recalls with a laugh, “I’ve never spent so much money at such short notice.”
The perfect domestic counterpoint to the industrial reiterations of the Judd wall sculptures dominating the conference room are the organic repetitions of the library’s impressive table, made from hundreds of milled sections of end grain by NewYork furniture fabricators BDDW. The wall dividing the space from the hallway is clad in soft burnished bronze, and natural illumination from a skylight makes walnut wall panels and marble counters glow.
Riggio’s preferred location for lunch and meetings, the library is where art, literature, and design become almost indistinguishable. Here, he is doubly indebted to the Dia Center for the Arts, where he chairs the board of trustees. Not only did the late Jay Chiat, a friend and fellow board member, introduce Riggio to Hut Sachs Studio–which had designed the boldly graphic office of Chiat’s Internet content provider, ScreamingMedia, and his beach house on Long Island–but it was also through Dia that Riggio became familiar with Jorge Pardo, whose colorful tiles transformed Dia’s ground floor two years ago.
Pardo’s work defies categorization, and the orange-and-yellow PVC forms of his pendant fixtures, hanging above the library table at Barnes & Noble, add warmth and quirkiness to a traditionally austere setting. “If there’s one defining moment for me, it would be the Pardo lamps,” says Riggio. “Without them, this would be a very different kind of space.”
Owner-designer Ruspoli and his team of artisans proceeded to turn the Maison Arabe into the first boutique hotel in Marrakech, relying on traditional Moroccan building techniques. Walls were covered with tadelakt, a pigmented lime plaster applied with a trowel and smoothed with an agate stone. Floors were laid with small blond bricks called bejmat. Ruspoli oversaw the installation of cedar ceilings, chiseled plaster ornaments, lacy wood and wrought-iron moucharabie screens, and fabrics handwoven on ancient looms. Guest rooms were individually decorated with Moroccan and European furniture, antiques, and both orientalist and contemporary paintings. The hotel opened in 1998.
Ruspoli’s next big move was to add a pool, not in the close quarters of the medina but a 15-minute shuttle-bus ride away, in a 2 1/2-acre walled paradise straight out of a tale by Sheherazade. First comes a kitchen garden–tomatoes, eggplant, zucchini, artichokes, herbs and spices–bounded by cypress trees. A rose garden and an olive orchard follow, then a 60-foot-long pool lined with sky-blue tiles and surrounded by palm and fig trees, yuccas, bamboo, and bougainvillea. Alongside the pool, a Berber chieftain’s tent, made of heavy off-white canvas with a grid motif and an interior draped with green and red fabric, provides a cool retreat for sipping a coffee or a mint tea from an antique silver service or relaxing with a book or a game of chess. Special dinners and receptions also take place here, lanterns aglitter with a thousand and one lights. “The tent’s red and green colors are very traditional, but now I think I’m going to change them,” says Ruspoli.
Inside House Design
In the meantime, the newest addition to the swimming-pool garden is the Casbah, which Ruspoli also calls the annex or, laughingly, “my chateau.” The word Casbah originally signified a North African fortress, and, although small, this one has two towers and two floors. Construction is modern, but the facade is finished in a traditional earthen treatment.
Industrial Material for Architectural Design
Perceiving the basic metal structure as an empty tent, an envelope, a sheltering roof–all open to interpretation–is at the core of this kind of design. “The twist is to both control the space and make it beautiful to look at,” says Ceglic. The idea, Satoh adds, was to “work with traditional configurations but make them our own.” Choosing an industrial material for its functionality and durability, he and Ceglic looked at the multitude of barns, sheds, and storage buildings dotting the surrounding countryside and conducted research on manufacturers of prefab corrugated metal.
A tall central tower, buttressed by lower, shedlike structures, appeared the most inexpensive way to proceed. Besides, Ceglic explains, “The volumes look good when clustered.” Having noted that the tallest shapes can cast shadows to create depth and dimension, Ceglic and Satoh spent considerable time thinking about angles, constructing a model to study how light would play off the different segments of the building.
With Furniture and Interior Design
Windows and doors were also ordered off-the-shelf–but from unlikely sources for a residential application. For example, the windows at either end of Dean’s soaring main living area came from a retail supplier. Ceglic and Satoh placed these and other windows so that they not only bathe the interior in dramatic light but frame the views as well. “We’ll think about where the bed is placed and what you’ll see,” says Ceglic.
The designers bought stock elements as a way to simplify and speed up the construction process. “We could have modified the elements but decided to work within the systems. Otherwise there would have been too many variables,” says Satoh. That might mean taking advantage of a system of trusses that span 65 feet–and being excited by the prospect. “Air and space have so much to offer for a feeling of luxury,” says Ceglic. “Every designer wants to live in a big barn or an airport hangar.”
Because Rudolph’s executors demanded that the buyer agree to a program of meticulous preservation, the Boyds found themselves in the position of conservators, cleaning and brightening the famous interiors while stripping away partially delaminated mirrored Formica and other latecoming modifications that had aged poorly. A strict attitude toward conservation of materials extended even to Rudolph’s white plastic-laminate kitchen shelves.
Having shown such restraint in returning the architecture to its original condition, the Boyds determined not to treat the building like a Rudolph time capsule. Instead, they began installing their museum-quality functionalist furniture. Note that Functionalism, as an artistic style broke into not only in architecture but also significantly in design of applied art, furniture and interior accessories. Functionalist designers would consider the interaction of the design with its user and how any of the features, such as shape, color, and size, would conform to the human posture. The collection included pieces by Gerrit Rietveld, Marcel Breuer, Richard Neutra, Donald Judd, and Frank Gehry, each in pristine condition.
In the three lower apartments, the task was most straightforward. Rudolph had habitually adjusted them to accommodate various tenants, and knowing this was liberating. The Boyds installed chairs on white pedestals in a two-story unit christened the “gallery duplex” and outfitted an apartment with particularly high ceilings as a groovy recording studio. In a playroom on the fourth level, the couple placed a molded-fiberglass Eames rocker alongside four functionalist pieces designed by Breuer for a 1938 dormitory at Bryn Mawr College. A double-height unit with floor-to-ceiling shelving became the “library duplex,” filled to the brim with the Boyds’ exceptionally large haul of books.
Converting the studio into an office
Deservedly not shy about extolling his own talents, Tusa says that he also acted as general contractor in converting the studio into an office for his firm.
He first removed a divider wall near the entry, formerly a darkroom, and uncovered three boarded-up windows. Then he inserted a kitchenette, using excess square footage to gain room for an additional workstation.
In the departed photographer’s dressing room for fashion models, Tusa installed his private office. Other interventions involved repositioning a sink and new air-conditioning units.
The architect’s forte–it borders on obsession–is what might be called productive rehabilitation
He loves to take old things and recast them in fresh guises, to take apart and reconfigure all kinds of furnishing components. He’ll reuse goods brought along from former studios as well. At his new aerie, he was in his kaleidoscopic element. Furnishings were bought at retail and second-hand sources or found on-site and recycled to serve new purposes.
While settling in, for instance, Tusa discovered a shoji-type folding screen. He peeled off the rice paper, pressed the grid against another found object–a makeup mirror–and recessed the double-layered piece into Sheetrock. The objective was effect. Who needs pricey art?
Among other leftovers, panels of brushed metal laminated to wood are now used as work surfaces and countertops. A reclaimed painter’s easel acts as a pinup board or mobile partition.
And three pedestals originally for photography props now support such building models as a dandy likeness of Grand Central Terminal. (No, Tusa didn’t compete for the renovation job. It Was a prospective racquetball facility under the terminal’s roof that he solicited and won.)
Art Studio Artist Home Office Remodel
The Open Studio
An early “forensic visit” confirmed his instincts by revealing a long-span wood truss system that would facilitate the creation of an open environment to support the practice’s established studio culture. “I always like to be in large volumes where people feel they’re working together,” Ehrlich says. “No low ceilings, no cubby holes for this office.”
Renovation centered on “honoring the spirit of the building without being a slave to its preservation,” the architect continues. Thus, the footprint, with its distinctive bowed front, was retained, as were roof lines and raised maple flooring dating to the dance hall era. Everything else was completely stripped down to the shell.
The “new” structure, essentially a container for the open studio, is dominated by fenestration systems addressing light and ventilation needs. An aluminum, thin-line sash configuration, recalling steel window systems of the early 20th century, covers much of the building’s front face, where the “formal” entry is marked by a steel-framed door, steel and glass canopy, and the architect’s one nod toward extravagance: $850 Bauhaus hardware. A second system at the east elevation fuses the interior and exterior to make the all-important Southern California connection. Here, one progresses from the parking lot through sculptor Guy Dill’s concrete portal to an enclosed courtyard built around an 85-year-old rubber tree. Entry to the studio proper occurs through a roll-up garage door, left open more often than not. There is a third distinctive facade treatment and it consists of raw steel panels. The naturally rusted metal clads the built-up front curve and pierces the building’s boundary to continue as a reception wall.
Normally, Walz relates, the selection by jury is an arduous process, fraught with debate, and decisions can take up to a month to finalize. In his case, the jury announced its unanimous verdict after mere hours. The designer was told that it was a first in the Academy’s (then) 99-year history.
So Walz, with daughters Jersey (now 17) and Addie (now 14), went to Italy for a year as a Rome Prize Fellow in 1994. “When I went to Rome, it was to start a new life,” he says. “I left all of my design tools at home. I brought only art materials and created artwork for a whole year.” Walz, whose formal training was in fine art, is an accomplished painter as well as a distinguished designer and member of the Interior Design Magazine Hall of Fame.
Why the Designer stays in Rome?
As the fellowship drew to a close, he was hesitant to leave Rome. “I pulled out a piece of paper to list reasons why I should go to New York and why I should stay in Rome,” he recalls. “The New York side was blank. So I stayed.” Nevertheless, he had no definite plans for the next stage of his life.
By now, Walz realized he couldn’t negate 20 years of experience and commitment to design. He also knew that it was incumbent upon him to earn a living for his family. Fate intervened just as he was contemplating reentry to the design world. Licensing contacts he had made before leaving New York began to call, and he was soon in business with Baldinger, DesignTex, and Tufenkian. Then, a fortuitous reunion brought Walz into filmmaking. The designer’s friend Rob Cohen, a film director, arrived in Italy to shoot Daylight with Sylvester Stallone at the famed Cinecitta studios. The story centered on an explosion within the Holland Tunnel, but not one of the movie’s 200 crew members had ever lived in New York. Walz was hired as a visual consultant.
Soon after, Amy Napoleone called to introduce herself. An American businesswoman with ties to Italy, she had followed Walz’s work through the press for years and had contacts with cork suppliers in Sardinia. She wondered if Walz would be interested in exploring the material’s potential. KorQinc, the company they founded, now distributes Walz’s growing collection of cork furniture, which is available in the U.S. through Dennis Miller. Walz was back in business.
And the design business called for a bona fide studio.