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.
An active freelancer, Zeiger's writing on art, architecture and design is found in variety of publications including articles for Architect, Azure and Metropolis magazines. She has taught at the California College of the Arts (CCA) and at the Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCI-Arc.) Her cross-disciplinary seminars explore the relationships between architecture, art, urban space, and popular culture. She holds a Master of Architecture degree from SCI-Arc and a Bachelor of Architecture degree from Cornell University.