Today I am starting a new series on my blog space - Anatomy of a renovation project. I've been thinking a lot about the various projects I've done over the years - each with it's own requirements, inspirations and challenges. I thought it would be fun to go more into depth into the thought processes behind what happens in the construction project and get into the nitty gritty of what it's like before we get to the TA DA at the end.
First up, one of my favorite projects ever ever ever: 37 W 12th Street in NY, aka Butterfield House. Not only was this a gorgeous apartment in a fab building, in a seriously kick-ass location, but my clients were awesome people, fun to work with and had cool design sense.
We became friendly during the project - the couple lived in NJ and had grown kids and used this apartment as a pied a terre. After I had my first baby, I went down to the apartment to see certain changes that had been made and my lovely client had crocheted baby booties and a blanket for my daughter. I also got to collaborate with my friend Kent Brasslof who I brought in to do other portions of the interiors. AND the project also ended up in New York Spaces Magazine and Designer magazine - which I attribute greatly to the terrific synergy that went on throughout. More about this and a personal story at the bottom of the post.
I worked with this couple to redesign and rebuild 2 bathrooms, the dining room, and the kitchen to bring them up to date and in line with their modernist aesthetic - she in particular LOVED mid-century design which was so much fun.
I'll talk about the bathrooms in another post - entire stories unto themselves and I can see this is going to be a long post already! So here is the kitchen when I went to measure for the first time:
I personally like red, so I wasn't totally averse to the red walls. BUT in this case, poorly done faux lacquer effect and small kitchen opening were really darkening the kitchen and blocking the light from the beautiful south facing terrace (which we also retiled and refaced). Plus the look was a far cry from the clients' more modernist taste and clean aesthetic.
Client requirements: Storage, be part of the conversation while cooking, open up space, make it cleaner and lighter, clean & slightly rounded edges consistent with midcentury design. Pops of color.
NYC building requirements (here's the catch ALWAYS when working in the city):
- Can't move chase for the AC and gas which ran smack through the middle of the wall we wanted to remove.
- Can't remove soffit across kitchen entrance (hint: most NYC soffits are there for a reason)
- can't chop ceilings (typical of NYC concrete construction which means no recessed lights without dropping ceilings)
- no venting out (again usually can't do it - thank goodness for recirculating hoods)
- and no changes to the building exterior, windows and facades (another no in most cases)
Working within these limitations, my plan was to remove as much of the wall as possible above counter level. We also needed that wall for cooking and storage. So - I came up with what was essentially a giant capital letter "I" The middle being the section of wall with the pipe chase in it, the bottom was the backsplash level, and the top was a new soffit that met up with the existing one running across the kitchen entrance.
Does this make sense to you? No? Don't worry you're not alone. And I don't seem to have any of the 10 million sketches I did in addition to my plans to try to explain this to my construction manager who I adored and who was infinitely patient with me.
Since a picture is worth a million words - here is what it looked like when the giant capital letter-I was built: (Lest you think we went straight from red kitchen to this, in between those two steps we did the following: demo, framing, rough pluming, rough electric, walls and cabinets(!). So we're really 2/3 done here.)
Oh wait, why didn't anyone understand what I was talking about? Because it really doesn't look like a capital I. Oh well. Maybe looking straight at it. My poor construction manager - I should really come up with better descriptions.
Here are the actual plans I drew for the project itself before demo started (but after we had made a few holes in the walls to figure out what was in there). At this point we had picked appliances, cabinet style, tile, etc, were ready to order and start demo. And really I need to rescan these. This was a while ago when scanning at home wasn't so great!
Below, stove wall elevation. The glass cabinets are on either side of the chase column so you can see through them into the living room. I used the unavoidable middle space for the back of the hood. My client wanted to sit by the sunny window and read the paper, so I added a tiny seating bar: I also added a smaller soffit below the main one to incorporate two recessed lights over the stove. The main kitchen lighting was a cool squiggly tech lighting thing you'll see in the finished pic below.
Next, main wall elevation - that soffit space was the perfect place to fit the sub zero underneath. Which reminds me of another city building hazard - sub zeros not fitting in the elevator. Luckily we measured the elevator first - the compressor had to be removed before brining it up to the apartment - those babies can't be tipped, did you know that?
View from living area - again glass looking through into the kitchen. The middle section backs onto the center of the I:
And last but not least, a side view elevation:
So once that was all in place here are a few pics from the construction phase:
And a personal story: So I started out this blog talking about how lovely my clients were. I don't usually get so close to people I work for, but I really really enjoyed them. They gave me freedom to do my job, and input so I would know who they were and what they wanted. We were a good team. In the midst of this project, sadly, the wife, was diagnosed with terminal cancer. I was on maternity leave but still visiting the job site as needed. This was when she gave me the baby booties and blanket she had made. By the time the project was complete, she was very ill. The couple was spending most of their time at this apartment now so that she could be near NYC hospitals. The times I saw her after this, she told me how comforted she was to sit in her apartment where light now streamed in from the terrace and was reflected in the glass cabinets and beautiful objects inside. My client passed away soon after. My designer friend Kent and I both attended the funeral and remarked how much this person had touched us in the span of a 10 month project. And in the end, she had a space where her own energy resonated in everything she could see. And this brought her peace.
This is the power of design.
And here is the finished kitchen:
and another view that shows the glass cabinets better: