Project sheet: Come full circle

With a design inspired by a tale of accidental art theft, this pre-war New York City apartment is dramatic in all the right ways. Words by Pilar Mitchell.

Redesigning the 16th floor residence of a 1930s Park Avenue building in New York began with an art theft. Too large to fit in the lift, twin paintings that were part of artist Kalina WintersLollypop series had been stored downstairs by the superintendent. They were framed, wrapped and labelled, but a new staff member mistook them for rubbish and put them out on the curb for collection. The canvases were cut from their frames by an opportunistic passer-by and taken. 

With this story in mind, architect Lilian H Weinreich oversaw the redesign project. “The layout was typical of pre-war apartments: a labyrinth of little rooms for servants and spaces so narrow you can reach out and touch opposite walls,” she tells Art Edit. “We had to overhaul the layout and make it look like the new rooms had always been there.”

The private spaces are modern, in line with Weinreich’s aesthetic. The bedrooms are restrained and restful, the relocated galley kitchen with its striking marble benchtops and backsplash takes advantage of natural light. With a clever reworking of the layout, a new guest bedroom and powder room were added to the floor plan. 

But Weinreich didn’t have carte blanche. “The clients wanted to retain select pre-war details in the public reception rooms,” she says. “I’m a die-hard modernist, and I had to find a way to resolve their request and still live with myself.”

The solution lay partly in the architraves surrounding three enlarged portals and the front door. Weinreich used the portals to visually connect the rooms. The custom rounded trims are intentionally over-scaled, using negative space to generate shadows. The doors create a linear path, drawing the eye from entry to living room to dining room. Each portal also frames an artwork in the next room. 

The 250-square-metre apartment is an exquisite backdrop for the owners’ extensive art collection, much of which was selected by their son, industrial designer Cole Jorissen. Jorissen was not only the collection’s curator, but also a contributor: his steel web coffee table is the sculptural centrepiece of the living room.

Anna Bonesteel’s haunting painting of strange proportions, titled Upside Down Man, hangs in the bedroom hall. Almost two metres high, the work reflects in an adjacent mirror, echoing the reflection in the painting itself. 

Two of Brittni Ann Harvey’s mixed media paintings hang in the second bedroom. Above the bed, Sun Faded Beneath a Stop Sign has a restrained palette with deep red ochre brushstrokes, black embroidery and a black painted cross on natural hessian.

Doorways and halls are used as opportunities to frame art, such as the inky black portrait that leads out of the kitchen. Against a minimal colour palette on the walls, each work gets its own spotlight. “The space is restrained, but not conservative, and then you have these really edgy, huge paintings. It’s the most wonderful space for artworks. They each get their own moment.”

Perhaps the most dramatic moment is in the living room, the intended home of the lost Lollypop paintings. Sentimental because they were the first paintings Jorissen ever purchased for his parents, the works were never recovered. He recommissioned the artist, and now Winters’ oversized Blue and Green Heads and Yellow Head flank the marble fireplace in the living room – superb replacements for their predecessors. 

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