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Art-chitecture

Monday, November 18th, 2013

Photos by David Joseph

Art often influences architecture, but at this 4,500-square-foot town house in New York City’s Greenwich Village the connection between the two was literal. “The house features a number of site-specific art installations,” explains Galia Solomonoff, principal of Solomonoff Architecture Studio, which worked with artists like Jim Lambie and Rirkrit Tiravanija to integrate their artwork into the structure during a renovation of the historic home.

The installations are visible from the moment the front door opens, when the owners and their guests are greeted by a colorful Lambie work painted directly on the entry stairs. “We crafted the stairs knowingly, aware of the specific painting technique Jim Lambie uses,” Solomonoff says. “We made the stair attuned to the art, able to both hold in tension and complement the artwork.” To foreground the painting, the team designed minimalist railings that recede into the stairway wall and recessed side lighting that highlights the painted stair treads and risers.

In other areas, the site-specific art was used to solve design challenges. The ground floor, for example, is located on a noisy city street, making it difficult to design a quiet, family-friendly living room space. The answer came in the form of an installation by contemporary artist Rirkrit Tiravanija that features a nearly floor-to-ceiling cube with stainless steel doors that slide open to reveal the family room. Outside the cube, a hanging stainless steel swing serves as an impromptu play area. “We worked with full knowledge of every step the artist would make so that we could ensure the architecture would provide the perfect counterpoint,” Solomonoff says.

While contemporary art forms the backbone of the design, not every element was modern. The gilded mirror in the master bedroom was an existing piece of the owners that Solomonoff repurposed in the new space. “Because of the rich baroque frame of the mirror I recommended a tufted headboard,” she says. “The inspiration for the light blue tufted headboard came from Betty and Don Draper's bed in the TV show Mad Men.”

Finding a place for both family and art was no feat for contracting company Olympic Construction Incorporated. "We created seamless backdrops that could support the outstanding contemporary art, and in other areas we built unique, fun bedrooms for the children," president Voytek Swietek says. However, the antiquity of the home did create some challenges. "The home is around 200 years old, and some floor beams had been previously damaged in a fire. Proper support was crucial to safely proceed and follow through with the project," he says. "This project required our skills for specialty high-end interiors, detail finishing, and millwork." Those skills came into use when the new doors arrived on the project and were too heavy to install. "being able to come up with a weight-saving solution, and being able to actually build this, was one of my favorite design aspects of the projects," he says. 

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