written by:
photos by:
February 24, 2011
Originally published in We Love New York
as
Take Five

The Miner and a Major is an experiment in communal living and fantastical form. A New York story of creativity born from hardscrabble circumstance, the project grew out of the joint imagination of three architects with a limited budget.

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  The Miner and Major is an experiment in communal living and fantastical form.
    The Miner and Major is an experiment in communal living and fantastical form.
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  Designers Serban Ionescu, Jim Dreitlein, and Justin Smith built The Miner and A Major over the course of five months. The process was iterative. Ideas were sketched out and developed as time and budget allowed. “It was an organic process,” recalls Ionescu. “When we were building it was a strange ritual. We had mattresses laid out in the main room side-by-side and it was like we were camping.”
    Designers Serban Ionescu, Jim Dreitlein, and Justin Smith built The Miner and A Major over the course of five months. The process was iterative. Ideas were sketched out and developed as time and budget allowed. “It was an organic process,” recalls Ionescu. “When we were building it was a strange ritual. We had mattresses laid out in the main room side-by-side and it was like we were camping.”
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  Many of The Miner and A Major’s doors and windows face south, towards the loft’s existing industrial windows. This allows sunlight to reach inside the sleeping quarters. A wedge-shaped gap also helps bring air, light and views into the deepest recesses of the sculptural construct.
    Many of The Miner and A Major’s doors and windows face south, towards the loft’s existing industrial windows. This allows sunlight to reach inside the sleeping quarters. A wedge-shaped gap also helps bring air, light and views into the deepest recesses of the sculptural construct.
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  The five roommates share the common space in their high-ceiling loft. There’s a large library and a studio. The large worktable gives Dreitlein and Ionescu, who together have a small art/architecture practice called The Objectionists, space to paint and make models.
    The five roommates share the common space in their high-ceiling loft. There’s a large library and a studio. The large worktable gives Dreitlein and Ionescu, who together have a small art/architecture practice called The Objectionists, space to paint and make models.
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  Justin Smith’s cell-like quarters are packed full of books and art. “Each room gets the bare minimum: a sleeping area, a desk, and storage,” explains Ionescu. The designers carefully laid out the space so that the beds in each room are as far apart from each other in plan as possible, in order to get as much privacy as possible.
    Justin Smith’s cell-like quarters are packed full of books and art. “Each room gets the bare minimum: a sleeping area, a desk, and storage,” explains Ionescu. The designers carefully laid out the space so that the beds in each room are as far apart from each other in plan as possible, in order to get as much privacy as possible.
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  A “Mohawk” skylight cuts across the ceiling of Dreitlein's room. The interior skylights bring in extra light and help the cell-like rooms feel more spacious.
    A “Mohawk” skylight cuts across the ceiling of Dreitlein's room. The interior skylights bring in extra light and help the cell-like rooms feel more spacious.
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  A jumble of windows framed into the bright yellow oriented strand board (OSB) wall looks out from Ionescu’s room onto the common kitchen area. Although the team worked hard to create privacy, each room has some kind of portal or opening that connects it back to the larger loft space.
    A jumble of windows framed into the bright yellow oriented strand board (OSB) wall looks out from Ionescu’s room onto the common kitchen area. Although the team worked hard to create privacy, each room has some kind of portal or opening that connects it back to the larger loft space.
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  Count Dracula, one of two loft cats, curls up on Ionescu’s bed. An operable window swings open to allow ventilation, natural light, and a view of library.
    Count Dracula, one of two loft cats, curls up on Ionescu’s bed. An operable window swings open to allow ventilation, natural light, and a view of library.
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  Ionescu’s room has built in shelving for his eclectic collections. “We embrace everything—new, old, anything that embraces the truth in architecture,” says Ionescu. “We’ve been compared to the Deconstructivists, but we like things that are decorative or made by hand—16th century objects, Art Nouveau, anything that has an aesthetic truth to it.”
    Ionescu’s room has built in shelving for his eclectic collections. “We embrace everything—new, old, anything that embraces the truth in architecture,” says Ionescu. “We’ve been compared to the Deconstructivists, but we like things that are decorative or made by hand—16th century objects, Art Nouveau, anything that has an aesthetic truth to it.”
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  Every leftover space was put to use. Here, a narrow slot behind the structure allows just enough room for a tight walk-in closet.
    Every leftover space was put to use. Here, a narrow slot behind the structure allows just enough room for a tight walk-in closet.
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  Confining The Miner and A Major to just one side of the loft allowed the roommates to leave the kitchen, dining, and living areas wide open. This makes it great for parties. “We wanted it to be fun, community-oriented, and playful—like the Situtationist’s credo where work is play,” says Ionescu. “It’s an experiment. It works because we are all friends. I don’t think strangers could live in this manner.”
    Confining The Miner and A Major to just one side of the loft allowed the roommates to leave the kitchen, dining, and living areas wide open. This makes it great for parties. “We wanted it to be fun, community-oriented, and playful—like the Situtationist’s credo where work is play,” says Ionescu. “It’s an experiment. It works because we are all friends. I don’t think strangers could live in this manner.”
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  Located at the rear corner of the installation, down a progressively narrowing hallway, and reached by a steep staircase, Eric Juron’s attic-like space is the most remote of the bedrooms. A window over his desk looks down through the gap between the Major and the Minor.
    Located at the rear corner of the installation, down a progressively narrowing hallway, and reached by a steep staircase, Eric Juron’s attic-like space is the most remote of the bedrooms. A window over his desk looks down through the gap between the Major and the Minor.
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  Low-ceilned and darker than the other quarters, it’s not a surprise that the designers call Narek Gevorgian’s room “the cave.” A work in progress, it’s their first attempt to slowly introduce color to the double-insulated interior walls.
    Low-ceilned and darker than the other quarters, it’s not a surprise that the designers call Narek Gevorgian’s room “the cave.” A work in progress, it’s their first attempt to slowly introduce color to the double-insulated interior walls.
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The Miner and Major is an experiment in communal living and fantastical form.
The Miner and Major is an experiment in communal living and fantastical form.

It took just five months and $4,000 for Serban Ionescu, Jim Dreitlein, and Justin Smith to build the warren of five sleeping units inside a Greenpoint, Brooklyn, live/work loft that was selected for being big and affordable. (They slept on mattresses scattered across the floor during construction.) Ionescu and Dreitlein had collaborated before, when they cofounded and designed the now-defunct Gestarc Gallery with three friends, and the loft presented a dream opportunity for architectural experimentation.

Named for the abstract faces the architects found in the front facade, the Miner and a Major’s painted oriented strand board (OSB) exterior conceals five small bedrooms, each outfitted with a desk, bed, and storage space. Idiosyncratic openings and operable skylights offer ventilation and bring illumination from the loft’s large industrial windows into each cell. While the wood-framed walls are thickly insulated for privacy, life in the Miner and a Major is undeniably intimate. “The thing is, it gives us all weird dreams,” says Ionescu. 

 

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