Part 2 – Chelsea Renovation, New York

  • MichaelG

    Hi Chris, greatings from Tokyo. I suppose my comment will be posted very early in the morning for you…
    Firstly, thanks for agreeing to contribute to this discussion, and great work on the apartment. I’m sure the clients are really happy with it.

    I have a question on the kitchen. I like how that long passthrough into the main space of the apartment now has a purpose. Very efficient. But one of the guys loves cooking, so presumably spends a lot of time there. Are there any issues when the other wants to come in to or go out of the apartment? Was this a concern of theirs when you brainstormed it with them? How was that concern mitigated or resolved?
    I’m also interested if they entertain, how they manage the presentation of the kitchen while its actually in use, i.e. the first impressions the guests get as they walk in the door. There were no images in John’s video of the front entrance looking into the apartment, so I’m quite curious about that.

    By the way, I really love the shower. Not sure if it would be feasible in a family home, but for a couple or a single, its fantastic. Especially for a couple.

  • Michael John

    To answer MichaelG: yes, the clients are happy with the ingenuity and integrity of the design. As you enter the front vestibule, you can’t really see any of the kitchen appliances, so you don’t feel like you’re entering the apartment into the kitchen. The designer also tucked a washer/dryer into it’s own closet before you reach the kitchen with a pantry closet opposite.

    And there’s so much built-in storage you really can’t see in the photos — the high ceilings permitted sizeable areas above the bathroom, above the closets in the bedroom (for out-of-season clothes and bedding), and storage cabinet in the front vestibule (which house all of my xmas ornaments and other collections very nicely).

    Well-done, Chris!
    Michael John, (the collector).

  • James Scott

    Thank you John Brown, Chris and Michael for sharing this with us. I remember my first apartment in Toronto, alas this is what it should have been, alive & sexy!

    In the kitchen between sets of two ceiling lights there is another dome, could you explain what that is?

    I also like the colour of the kitchen cabinets. We’ve seen in other projects on the Slow Home site where bold colours are evident. Could you explain how colour factored into the design and execution of the project?

    Thanks again.

  • John Y

    I’m very impressed with this solution. I really like how Chris was able to reverse the kitchen and bathroom locations without requiring a massive amount of plumbing reconfiguration. My kitchen has a similar layout of appiances/counter space, and while it looks as though it might be awkward at first glance, it works very well. I also imagine that if guests are over for, say, a dinner party, passing through the kitchen could provide a tantalizing hint as to what they’ll be eating later.

    The hallway/circulation area along the windows is a great solution to privacy concerns while not wasting the light available from the windows. The bedroom is small, but that’s okay — bedrooms are for sleeping. Are there any issues with closet access while one person is still in bed, anything like that?

    All in all, this looks like a great space.

    I don’t know how deeply Chris wants to go into this sort of thing, but I’d like to hear about issues encountered or false starts along the way to this solution.

  • Christopher at

    Good morning James,
    The “dome” between the two kitchen lights is actually a built-in speaker, though the wide-format photography gives it more presence than it actually has in person.
    The translucent glass shower, with its blue and green casts, was always central to the design. The kitchen colors use this as a point of departure, with the bold blue cabinetry and a green accent wall which wraps around to the living room. We felt that these colors would give a certain “punch,” in counterpoint to the relatively neutral concrete floors and glass.

  • Christopher at

    Hello John Y,

    Thank you for your questions. Plumbing issues are always tricky in multi-story buildings, but there are are often more options than first appearances would suggest. Generally speaking, as long as you preserve the common plumbing “riser” wall between the kitchen and bathroom, you can move most of the individual fixtures that plug into it, sometimes with the exception of the toilet. If you can draw an unbroken line between a fixture and the wall that does not cross circulation, it is probably possible. As this was an industrial building with a thick, wafer-like concrete floor, we were able to channel the floor for more ease in relocating the toilet.

    Also a word about building codes: A post yesterday suggested creating a step up to the bathroom for purposes of reconfiguration. This is very difficult in New York because a ramp would have to be installed for wheelchair access. The provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act are a significant driver in projects where Kitchens and Baths are being reconfigured.

    Regarding the closet/bedroom configuration; in an ideal circumstance I would have a separate dressing room so that one person can get dressed without fear of waking the other up. New York prices have a way of making these sort of compromises acceptable, though.

    With regard to the open window wall: I often deploy this strategy of keeping the walls as far away as possible from the windows, especially in situations in which there is only one exposure. By having the light come in across a wide expanse, there is less glare and it approaches the ideal of the glowing, even light of a room with two exposures.

  • Brad W

    A couple of comments –

    Michael John – I like the way the apartment is finished. I especially like the teak sideboard in the kitchen. And bravo for sharing the apartment here.

    Christopher – A very creative solution. I especially like the way the hall to the bedroom opens up the view from the living space. Another thing that surprised me was how connected the kitchen actually feels to the living space. I had proposed the raised floor solution yesterday but I am not surprised building codes would make life difficult. Regardless, I like your plan better…it is a good thing I have a day job!

  • John Brown

    Good morning Christopher,

    Thanks for sharing this project with us. I look forward to the conversation over the day.

    Welcome Michael John,
    This is an unexpected treat! I really appreciate you taking the time to share your experiences with the group. Also, congratulations on your beautiful home.

  • Doug Roberts

    Hi Christopher and Michael John — The completed project has a wonderful look and feel. I particularly like how you opened up the northeast wall of windows, yet at the same time made the bedroom and bathroom more private than before. It looks like the window coverings are Silhouette-type blinds, which are a great way to gain privacy without blocking out too much natural light. Although we did not get to see a picture of the new entry space, I am sure that it has a much more welcoming feel to it than before — moving the closet behind the door was a great idea. Housing the kitchen in what before was an oversized and underutilized hallway space was also a great idea. Although the kitchen is tucked in the back away from the windows, it still seems to receive a fair amount of natural light, thanks in part to light passing through the frosted shower. I also love the boxed-in beams in the ceiling in the living/dining area and in the bedroom — do these enclose existing structural beams or are they purely a design element to add visual interest to the ceiling?

    I was also wondering if you could briefly describe the process that you went through to arrive at this final design, and in particular when the idea of the frosted shower arose. For example, did you start with the idea of opening up the northeast wall of windows, which led to the idea of relocating the kitchen to the back of the space, which led to thinking about ways to increase the amount of natural light reaching the kitchen, which led to the idea of replacing the northeast and southwest walls of the shower with frosted glass to allow light to pass through to the kitchen, which led to the idea of also replacing the northwest wall of the shower with frosted glass to further increase the amount of light passing through and make it a focal point of the living space? Am I close, or did your design process follow a completely different path?

  • Christopher at

    Hello Doug,

    Thank you for your compliments and your questions.
    With regard to the Foyer, yes, it is an inviting space but difficult to photograph, hence its omission.
    The clients (two great guys, both named Michael) initially approached me with a sketch by a friend which basically had the kitchen in its original location, just opened up to the living room. It was possible to make a pretty nice kitchen this way, but the other shortcomings of the space, like the tiny bathroom, were not resolved by this approach.
    So I suggested that we first do some demolition to see what the space offered to us. Given the budget and what appeared to be a potentially airy space, my impulse was to design by “subtraction” rather than addition. The ceilings had been lowered and the floors were covered with linoleum. Demolition revealed the robust cruciform-shaped beams you see in the space and concrete floors scored into a grid.
    All of the design considerations that you mention in your question were considered, though perhaps in a less linear fashion than you lay out. It’s more like manipulating a Rubix cube or a game of chess, where moves happen in sequence but at the same time you have to be thinking three moves ahead.
    The notion of translucency appealed to me as a means of maximizing diffused light and offering SOME but not total privacy. We didn’t want total privacy. The clients are very fit, good-looking guys, and the centralized steam shower is part of a flirtatious undercurrent that I happily allowed to influence the design. Mesh-covered shades on the windows created the feeling of a translucent box containing yet another translucent box. Taken together with the “peeling away” of old layers of construction that, I named this project the “Glass Onion” Loft (with credit to the Beatles) on my web site.
    Just a note about details. I really liked the the cruciform beams, which were asymmetrically located on the ceiling. Then there was the grid of the scored concrete floors. So the steam shower also has an asymmetrical cruciform division in the glass. This has a functional and a compositional purpose. The vertical channel joins two pieces of glass, but its exact placement is aligned with a score in the concrete floor. The horizontal mullion aligns with the countertop, visually linking the living room with the rest of the space. You can see what I am talking about by looking at the following link, It is this sort of detail, which does not have to be expensive, which weaves a series of features into a coherent architectural landscape.

  • Paul C

    Christopher and Michael John,
    Thank you very much for sharing with us your beautiful home. Where some may be hesitant to utilize the kitchen as a main corridor I think it demonstrates well the classic approach, especially for smaller homes, of “doubling up” on how a space is used to the benefit of others. Fine solution. I as well would liked to have seen images of the entry. I suspect it is quite nice and creates that “pause”, before one enters the heart of the home.

    A few minutia questions if you don’t mind: what is the actual width of the corridor leading to the bedroom? Hard to tell exactly but it appears (in plan) to be slightly narrower than a typical 36”-42” corridor width. Mind you, I think the large windows make that area feel open. Well done. Secondly, John Brown had mentioned yesterday privacy issues, was this essentially dealt with through window coverings? And lastly, is there an outdoor space provided for this home/building, for there does not appear to be a direct connection from the unit?

    Thanks again.

  • Michael John

    My husband (also named Michael) just watched your segments with me, and we thank you for presenting our home, and Chris’ work here. And thanks also to all who offered their insightful and thoughtful comments on this project.

    By walking us through myriad decisions — large and small — Chris continually challenged and elevated our expectations. His truly unique and forward thinking design, which was so well suited to our needs, could only be the result of a successful collaboration between designer and client.

  • Christopher at

    Hello Paul,

    The corridor to the bedroom is 32.5″ wide, which just clears the code requirement of 32″. However, this is mitigated by the fact that the low windows are set back 9.5″ from the beginning of the sill, so the perception is of walking down a 41.5″ wide corridor. Every inch had to be utilized!

    And yes, privacy issues to the outside are essentially dealt with via the blinds. For noise and light control, my clients also added a layer of insulated blackout shades in the bedroom.

    There is no outdoor space connected with this unit. Michael may know the specifics of this better than I, but it is an “up-and-coming” building that will probably add a swanky roof deck one of these days.

  • Jim Argeropoulos

    I like how the unit makes execellent use of the day lighting.
    I also like how you opened up some long views which make the unit feel larger.
    The subtle ties of the glass sizing aren’t usually immediately obvious to the casual consumer, but it is what makes for a successful design.
    Nicely done.

  • Belle

    When John walked through the floor plan and explained some of the elements today, my initial reaction was “too bad you have to walk through the kitchen”. However after seeing the photos my reaction is “WOW”. The look of the kitchen is very appealing with the vivid blue cupboards and the orangy colour of the teak sideboard combined with the warm colour of the polished concrete floor. The shower is quite spectacular and as has already been said, not for everyone (families) but for a couple it does make the apartment very special. Just shows you what an architect can do with a space. Congratulations.

  • Terri

    Thank you for sharing your design insights with us today. This apartment looks so much more different than I’d expected. The polished concrete floors, large windows and the cruciform beams give this space a masculinity than is nicely counterbalanced by the glass-walled steam shower, front and centre. I had decided that walking through the kitchen was probably the way to go, but I hadn’t imagined such a bold design. The white counters and lighting make this a dazzling “hall.”
    Michael John,
    Thanks for your insight as the homeowner. Your (and Michael’s)collaboration with Christopher has culminated in a unique and edgy space.

  • Scotty

    Good evening to all. I wanted to add that I was particularly taken out of my boxed-in doldrums when I saw the solution to replanning this newly opened up space. At first glance I saw the shower in plan and thought, no way is that open to the living room…and then there it is for all to see: fascinating and not tucked into a corner, but adding light and presence and character to the space! A functioning bold element placed deftly in the space makes this soluton exceptional. And I see from the comments the owners and the architects are pleased–me too and I don’t even live there. Well done to each of you! Thanks to John Brown, also, for taking us to meet you.

  • Cat

    It is a beautiful apartment. My first thought when I saw it was, Did the design brief really say these clients had privacy issues with the windows? And they now have a shower in their living/dining room???? The walk-thru kitchen is something I would never have thought of, but I really think that it works. Isn’t that where everyone goes anyway when they first enter a home? And the kitchen is still remarkably open to the rest of the living space. I would have loved to have seen the bedroom from the opposite direction, with the windows. I still have a horrible time imagining what things look like in 3d from a floor plan. And I am definitely envious of all of the storage!

  • Christopher at

    My thanks go to John for sharing this project with a wider audience, to all of the discussion participants, and of course to my adventurous clients who made this such a fun project. You can see some of our other projects at Goodnight.

  • John Brown

    Thank you for your enthusiasm today. Your comments were well appreciated.

    Michael and Michael,
    Thank you as well for contributing your thoughts. It is always a real treat to have clients add in their side of the story.

    I think that it is important to share these kinds of experiences on a public stage as they may hopefully reduce the hesitancy that many people have about working with an architect or designer and trying something outside of the box. Clearly, in your situation, the results are well worth it.