Fine Dine-ing

Fine Dine-ing

By Mimi Zeiger
Interior and furniture designer Nick Dine—son of pop artist Jim Dine—has a love-hate relationship with his 2,000-square-foot Hudson Square condo loft. A long rectangle, it was born a stable. The floor slants from east to west, and natural light flows in only at the extreme ends. Yet it’s still home for Dine, his wife, Vanessa, and daughters Violet, 11, and Josephine, 10. With help from Think Construction, Dine reworked the space in 2002. By embracing the loft’s quirks, he has transformed what was once a wreck into a source of inspiration. He gives us the nickel tour.

A SoHo side street is home to the second-floor loft. Once a horse stable, then a hardware store, the building dates back to the 19th century, a relic from the neighborhood’s less chic past.

The girls’ narrow bedroom gets natural light from a single window. White paint and furniture (accented with Marimekko print linens) keep the space feeling bright.

Twin storage towers may draw inspiration from minimalist artists like Donald Judd, but they are the perfect foil for clutter.

We moved to Hastings, New York, three weeks before 9/11. It was kind of fortuitous timing, and yet it really made us feel like we needed to move back to New York City. My wife, Vanessa, is a very hard-core New Yorker, born and raised. We were experiencing this event that was so personal to us, but we were removed. So we moved back in 2002. And we got hit with what I call the "stupid tax." It costs nothing to move out of New York, but it costs a million dollars to move back.
We inherited the layout of our place from the previous resident, and we decided not to renovate. Unfortunately, the bedrooms are at the light, front part of the house and the living area is in the dark, back part of the house, with the kitchen in between. But at that point we had two little kids, so Vanessa and I looked at each other and said, "Let’s just move in, and we’ll deal with it."

The building used to be a stable. A big elevator would bring horses and grain to the upper floors. That’s why the floors slope, so that the pee and manure would roll to one side. There’s a four-inch difference between the east and west walls, but I hardly notice it anymore. I could make this place look like a proverbial spaceship–-controlled and pristine–—and it wouldn’t make me any happier. It is a funky place, but we are comfortable here as a family.

The girls share a room in the front with lots of light and a playroom with big windows and bright-green cabinets in the back, but that’s about to be converted into a home office. Light is perhaps the least interesting thing about my place. Not having a lot of natural light is a constant reminder of why I made the spaces brightly colored. It’s why I take vitamin D. But, as a designer, I love a challenge. The house is lit with a combination of recessed fixtures tucked between the joists and track. And there’s the Philippe Starck gun lamp in the living room.

Our one big investment was the Bulthaup kitchen, where we spend most of our time. I like to equate the loft to a hot rod: It looks like a really crappy car, but it’s got a really expensive motor under the hood. The kitchen isn’t near any windows or light or air, but it is the central space where we live as a family. The big globe pendant lamp above the island is by Artemide.

My design approach here was totally different from what I do at work, which is methodical, controlled, and organized. This was a random, intuitive, fly-by-wire experience. We put in floors that we like, Marmoleum, but I didn’t level them. We painted, hung wallpaper, and I thought, It’s never going to be perfect, so let’s just spend the money on art and furniture that we like.

I had planned to keep the whole house open, but I found I needed to create light, though solid, divisions between the living, dining, and play rooms. I took cabinets that used to be mounted on the wall and stacked them into two towers and painted them white. On one side they’re storage, and on the other, facing the kitchen, they are solid monoliths.

When you come in, they block your view a bit, but it’s nice not to reveal everything all at once, since the space is simple. The storage towers look like Donald Judd pieces and have other references, but I think the design
allusion is very 9/11. It was an unconscious detail. When the kids were little, they used to climb up the shelves and hide little things. Now, on the shelves is a lot of stuff that the kids made and stuff I collect: Kidrobot figurines, vintage tin toys, random things. But I’m mostly into the stuff the kids make.

I want this apartment to be an inspirational place. It’s very stimulating for the children to have all of this visual material to look at–—like an original Sex Pistols poster. It’s not a piece of art, but I treat it like art or a design object. I don’t listen to the Sex Pistols every day, but it’s a memory, a moment, a time: New York in 1977. It is very evocative. The kids ask me about it, and they totally understand what it is all about. The best thing I learned from that era of music is that you can definitely succeed by being different.

A Dine family portrait in front of the loft clubhouse Nick and Vanessa built for their daughters. As the girls get older, the playroom will transform into a family office.

The loft is full of pieces by Dine’s father, pop and neo-expressionist artist Jim Dine. Skulls are a recurring motif in his artworks.

From the front, the cabinets are like Joseph Cornell boxes, housing favorite knickknacks. Viewed from the back (or seated at the classic Knoll dining table by Eero Saarinen), they are strong sculptural forms.

A photo from Jeffrey Milstein’s Aircraft series hovers behind the Alcove sofa (which is terrier Leica’s favorite place to sit) by Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec for Vitra.

The kitchen was the only room to get a full renovation, so Dine invested in a sleek Bulthaup b3 kitchen system designed by Chris Tosdevin of Bulthaup’s Santa Monica, California, showroom. The stainless-steel workspace and slate-gray laminate countertop and cabinets jibe with the house’s minimalist aesthetic while affording a nice contrast with the overriding whiteness. Perhaps more importantly, though, the hardworking dark surfaces hide dirt and wear far better than lighter hues.

The partial renovation gave Dine a few opportunities to experiment with future designs, like his custom radiator covers. Installed throughout the apartment to mask the old pipes, they’re made from simple medium-density fiberboard panels (white in the living room and red under the wallpaper) that were CNC-milled with a dot pattern. Like the two storage towers in the living room, the covers consist of basic construction materials that Dine punched up with a coat of paint and a graphic detail.

Dine painted all the walls, the ceiling, and the ceiling joists white to maximize the feeling of lightness in the apartment. In addition to encouraging a general glow, the bright white walls make the green cabinets and the one wall clad in Clarence House wallpaper appear all the more dramatic. The Vitsœ shelving system designed by Dieter Rams, which separates the playroom/office from the living room, holds a rainbow of books but is open enough to let natural light filter through.

Dine installed Marmoleum from Aronson’s Floor Covering throughout the loft in an easy-to-clean neutral gray. Because it’s made primarily of linseed oil, rosins, and wood flour, it doesn’t off-gas like ordinary vinyl.

Artist Peter Dayton’s glossy panels recall surfboards and reveal references to color-field masters like Kenneth Noland. Dine shows Dayton’s work at the MaD Wainscott gallery he co-owns with business partner Scott Murphy.

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