Words by David Sokol
Images: Michael Moran
New does not always equate better. In a 17-storey tower wedged into Manhattan’s Sutton Place neighbourhood, a young entrepreneur turned to architect Rafael Berkowitz to redesign his 15th-floor perch. The result, a close collaboration with interior designer Robert Kaner, not only expressed the homeowner’s desires, but also resolved the building’s drawbacks.
For example, the developer had intended to place a third bedroom against the curtain wall. It never materialised thanks to the design team’s intervention. Kaner notes, “This apartment didn’t want to have three bedrooms. If it were to function as a three-bedroom, the remaining public space would not have been gracious enough to accommodate all those users.”
By eschewing the enclosed bedroom for a living-room vignette, Berkowitz and Kaner reconceived the front of the home into an L-shaped social area. They next rotated the kitchen 90 degrees, converting its L-shaped footprint into a galley kitchen with bar-height seating. The developer’s version, Berkowitz says, “was organised in the direction of the curtain wall, which offered no real views.” Kaner concurs, adding, “This clearly broke the whole section from the rest of the room, and now it integrates with it.” Ensuring the inward orientation of this generous public space, Berkowitz and Kaner suspended a metallic thread-lined curtain along the full expanse of the glass elevation, recessing the tiniest drapery track below a concrete beam.
Berkowitz and Kaner’s decisions took focus away from the uninspired view and from the teal blue panels that punctuated the building facade. Although Berkowitz says that “the strong reading of that frame” is perfectly explicable for branding the building, it also means that all interior occupants will have to subscribe to that identity. Or design it away.
Despite a desire for openness, the designers had no intention of transforming the social area into a long-disproven loft. They found an organising element in another moment of developer sloppiness – because the building’s original architectural team failed to align the drainage of the penthouse terrace just above the social space with a central structural column, Berkowitz and Kaner had to make sense of a wonky ceiling condition. The pair placed the column within rectilinear drywall housing large enough to serve as an exhibition space for the homeowner’s photography collection — facing the kitchen, as a deeply indented bar area — and they dropped a portion of the ceiling to a consistent height to hide the diagonal beam supporting the plumbing.
Berkowitz explains, “We created an island around which the vestibule and the dining, kitchen, work and living spaces rotate. All the relationships are controlled and framed, so they each have their own identity while relating as a single gesture.” Although this is only the second commission for which Berkowitz and Kaner have worked together, the designers have collaborated informally almost constantly since the launches of their respective studios. Kaner says he approaches interior design “in a much broader sense than just aesthetic decoration”, yet he observes, “Rafael brings an intellectual rigour” to the design process. That rigour is not only on display in the reformulation of the social area, but also in the fact that Kaner’s furniture plans and layouts “are completely intertwined with the architectural envelope. The level of coordination is extremely tight”. The dimensions of the Sutton Place living room, for example, were choreographed to accommodate Kaner’s choice of seating as well as built-in cabinetry and the Murphy bed hidden within. In the master bedroom, curtains and sconce dovetail so the homeowner can access a rear balcony seamlessly.