As a marketer, you have to have good instincts about what will be coming next,” says Bob Weinstein, whose company, Concrete Brand Imaging Group, develops and extends brand identities for major lifestyle and fashion companies. “Because what you create today has to have some sort of validity in the future.”
The same might be said of creating a home—and, indeed, Weinstein faced a comparable challenge when developing 5,600 square feet of ultra-raw space in Manhattan’s Chelsea district into that trickiest of typologies, the live/work environment. The goal was consolidation: Weinstein and life partner Eric Hensley had lived in one loft, his business was located in another (“a space I didn’t own, on which I’d spent a good deal of money, in a building whose elevators took 20 minutes to arrive”), and his printmaking studio (he was a fine arts major at Harvard) was in the couple’s weekend retreat. “I wanted to find a way to have all the pieces of my life come together in a space that was flexible enough to accommodate change and, because it’s used for all these different aspects, becomes affordable,” he says with a laugh, “whatever ‘affordable’ means.”
Weinstein’s interior acreage—the entire second floor of an L-shaped former mercantile building—offered a good start. “When we walked in, we were awestruck,” recalls architect Brian Messana, who with partner Toby O’Rorke was hired to configure the interior. A 50-by-100-foot rectangle with a long, narrow leg, the loft boasted entrances on two different streets, patinated concrete floors, and 18 windows, three of them arched and nearly the full height of the 12-foot ceiling.
Yet this embarrassment of riches raised as many questions as it answered. “We were all struggling to understand the relationship between work presentation and life experience,” Messana says of the design process. (Weinstein himself drew more than 30 floor plans.) “Weinstein works with all these big companies—how do you capture that audience? Is this a showcase? Or do you want to be modest? How does that dictate the carving up of all this real estate?”
The plan was ultimately determined by Weinstein’s desire to preserve the eastern wall, with its three outsize windows, for the residence’s public rooms, and the architects’ insistence that two of these windows remain on an unobstructed axis with two others on the western wall, 100 feet away. The result is two elegantly interlocking Ls within the larger L of the footprint: The living and family rooms are in front, with the kitchen, bedroom, and bath tucked beside the office, which occupies the rear of the space and connects to the long, narrow printmaking studio. As the two front-to-back axes pass from the business through the vestibule into the living room, the architects made them the point of connection between home and work, with a pair of ten-and-a-half-foot-high, frosted Plexiglas pocket doors installed on the office side of the vestibule. Closed, the doors permit light to enter the workspace while providing residential privacy; open, they expose the full, stunning span of the space.
Interestingly, the vestibule, which is entered from the elevator, was originally conceived as a flexible zone, with Plexiglas sliders on three sides instead of one. This would have enabled Weinstein to use the area as a client entry, or even to open up his living room as a meeting space or reception area while still concealing the private rooms. The additional doors unfortunately had to be eliminated in a mid-project budget cut, but, as it happens, Weinstein probably would not have used them anyway: “I had several client meetings in the living room, but it just felt too far removed from all the activity and creativity in the design studio.” Also too intrusive: Both clients and staff now take the fire stairs, so they can enter directly into the office.
To a degree, Messana’s concerns regarding presentation and perception were resolved by economics. The exposed ductwork, simple material palette, and raw finishes, dictated in part by the tight budget, evoke an industrial legacy in the office and an artist’s-loft aesthetic in the residence. But a playful layer of meaning has been added by Weinstein’s Charles Foster Kane–sized collection of mid-century furniture, pottery, and glass, studded with pieces by such famous names as Knoll, Saarinen, and Risom. Deployed throughout the loft, these modern icons at once unify and separate work and life. Like the architecture, they can be read two ways: as recognizably typical office furniture or as prized home-design collectibles.
What remains unambiguous is Weinstein’s complete and unceasing satisfaction with the result. “I’ve done the whole corporate thing,” he says. “And the difference between that and being able to be here, where I can have lunch with Eric and with a staff that’s like family, is enormous. I think this is just a wonderful, organic way of combining life and work and creativity. Anything other people might find intrusive just isn’t the case for me.”
New York contributing editor Marc Kristal found himself overwhelmed not only by the urbanistic pleasures of Bordeaux, France- which dueled for his attention with the city's historic architectural legacy- but by what architect Olivier Brochet described as the region's special appreciation of l'art de vivre. Back home, Kristal is working with the Alliance for Downtown New York, documenting a six-month planning study of the Greenwich South district, just below the World Trade Center site.
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