When your anthropologist client’s notion of home is shaped both by a single-room hut in a West African village and the tiny New York City apartment she has inhabited since 1980, you’d better get very comfortable with working in cramped quarters.
Such was the case when Brooklyn architect Tim Seggerman was tapped to renovate a moldering brownstone studio on Manhattan’s Upper West Side for a college professor.
The apartment, a 240-square-foot shoebox with a sleeping loft over the kitchen, was in dismal shape, without a true line or flush surface. "You couldn’t imagine a place that was more messed up," says Seggerman, a man of serene bearing who might easily be confused with the actor Tom Skerritt. His solution was to insert what he calls a "crafted jewel box" into the undersize space, creating an enveloping cabin of blond woods.
Seggerman’s architectural inspiration was not so much African village as mid-century modernism, specifically the work of legendary furniture designer George Nakashima. Both the architect and his client spent adolescent years in Bucks County, Pennsylvania—where Nakashima had his home—and share an affinity for the master’s precision joinery. Seggerman works in the same tradition, crafting the components of his architectural projects by hand in his home studio.
Visiting the apartment is like sitting inside one of Nakashima’s cabinets, a metaphor realized most fully in an ingenious "library"—really just a glorified cubby with a banded maple ceiling, conjured from a free space adjacent to the loft bed.
The entire apartment is a master class in finish carpentry: There are cabinets of cypress and bamboo; a gently chamfered ash-and-beech staircase; flooring of quartered white oak; a desk of red birch slats that slips out into the living space. The lighting in the loft, much of it recessed behind panels of papyrus, lends the space a subtlety that doubles the sense of warmth. "It’s basically a piece of woodwork," says Seggerman. "I’m very proud of that."