The owner of this Upper West Side apartment isn’t afraid to try new things. Though a California native, she’s long admired New York City’s vibrant performing arts scene. “I went to school in New York. It’s always been my goal to have a place here,” she says. So after retiring early from a career that began in art, shifted to medicine then biotech, and most recently, pivoted to fashion design, she bit the bullet—or rather, the Big Apple—and purchased a Manhattan pied-à-terre.
The condo’s location appealed with its views of the Hudson River and Central Park, and a convenient bridgeway connecting directly to Lincoln Center, but the floor plan needed updating. The client knew she wanted to make a few key changes, including expanding the kitchen and removing a wall or two. She called upon general contractor Bill Cooper, who had renovated numerous units in the building, who then suggested she connect with architect Joseph McGuier.
“When we first spoke, she had in mind a smaller project. But after we met and I observed her personal style and listened to how she was speaking about the apartment, I knew I could show her something much more interesting,” says McGuier, whose multidisciplinary firm also handled the interior design. “I could tell from the beginning that she was receptive to unconventional ideas.” His bold suggestion: sacrificing one bedroom to make a larger living area, and removing all walls, save one for privacy in the main bedroom and bath. “She took a leap with us,” he says.
After taking out “everything that wasn’t bolted down,” McGuier began imagining how to redefine separation of space by layering in architectural volumes of varied heights, shapes and materials. Cooper oversaw all construction, or deconstruction, as the case may be. “The building’s all-glass façade combined with the elimination of walls allows for an unbelievable amount of natural light,” says Cooper, to which McGuier adds, “the incredible view hits you when you walk in the door.”
A graceful curve to the foyer wall leads the eye into the living space, where two standing crystal sculptures punctuate the sight line. This streamlined flow reflects the client’s love of simplicity and minimalism—influences from her Japanese heritage. “Because she lives alone and has grown children, we could make the space be all for her. We didn’t need to satisfy some of the practical concerns that families have,” says McGuier. “This is very pure to the way she lives.”
Still, there were puzzles to solve, like how to delineate work space from living space, and how to incorporate columns, pipes and utilities that couldn’t be moved. At every turn, McGuier turned obstacles into art: columns were embellished with a plaster finish for added interest, and on an elevated terrazzo plinth in the living area, the client’s desk is tucked behind hand-painted Japanese-style screens along walnut veneer millwork—the backside of which doubles as her closet. When dangling telephone wires bisected the main bedroom space, McGuier hid them within a swivel mirror atop a custom white oak fluted dresser that, as a freestanding piece, takes on sculptural qualities. Meanwhile in the kitchen, an unmovable gas pipe was wrapped in blackened steel to echo other metal accents, including hand-rubbed bronze upper cabinets and a custom metal dining table designed to enfold another large column. “If you can’t hide it, might as well celebrate it,” says the architect, who worked with team members Kristine Keenan, Austin Woodruff and Asha Llewellyn on the project.
“Joe pushed me to incorporate art as part of the design process. We chose works of art, like the plaster wall sculpture over the bed, as if we were choosing pieces of furniture,” says the homeowner. As a former knitwear designer, she also gave particular care to textile selections. “I’ve sewn all my life; fabrics are second nature to me,” she says. Drawn to sumptuous fibers and intriguing details—like the yellow leather cuff on the dining room chairs—she confesses, however, that she never envisioned purchasing swivel chairs of fuzzy shearling leather.
The condo was a true collaboration, one that evolved organically throughout the two-year process. “We really had a blank canvas. I loved working with Joe and helping design as we went along,” says the home owner, who ended up being so pleased with the outcome that her intended pied-à-terre has become her primary residence. Adds McGuier: “Our success was in large part due to how open-minded and adventurous our client is. She gave us lots of freedom, but her hand is evident in so much of this.”