The Manhattan Transformation

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By Marc Kristal / Published by Dwell
As head of retail development and legal counsel leasing for American Apparel, Michael Pozner spends a lot of time sorting out the details when a new venue is chosen for the brand’s purposes. But, he admits, “I’m not a big architectural design guy.” So when he decided to reinvent the diminutive Manhattan studio in which he lives and works, Pozner tapped Darrick Borowski of Jordan Parnass Digital Architecture with whom he’d collaborated on multiple American Apparel stores. Pozner explains what happened when, architecturally speaking, he took his work home with him.

I’ve been living in this apartment since early 1999. When I first got to New York, I had a bunch of jobs, usually in business development or as legal counsel. Then, in 2002, I said, "Enough; I’m going to consult," and started working at home full-time. The apartment is just under 500 square feet, but I didn’t think it was going to be too small. Years ago I was an Outward Bound instructor and lived out of a van, and I loved it. And I love working at home—the peace and quiet, being able to do things on my own time. I also work from my BlackBerry, so if I have to run errands or take trips, I still keep up. It allows me to work on creative projects, like my "list art"—lists that are silkscreened onto canvas.

I renovated a few years ago. I was tired of the place looking crappy. The bathroom had a low ceiling, the  kitchen was very closed off, there was a loft bedroom with rickety stairs, and no storage. There’s a picture of me: I’m sitting at my desk, everything’s lying all over, papers all over the floor. It was like a dorm room. Darrick’s main ideas were to clad all of the "home" parts in the same wood, a "green" white oak flooring, and to build out a storage wall in the "work" part.

We found a lot of space doing exploratory demolition. In the bathroom, we bumped the ceiling height way up—nothing was there, it was just crawl space. Now it feels more spacious—I’m six feet two—and the architects added high cabinets. They reversed the locations of the sink and toilet too, so the first thing you see when you open the bathroom door isn’t the toilet.

The kitchen had a small doorway I didn’t need—I used to have a chin-up bar there—and they took it out and made a cleaner, more open area. And they built a lot of storage for me; kitchen cooking items used to sit in the old stove. Thanks to the exploratory demo, we found room for a washer-dryer, which is a true luxury, and a real fridge—I used to have what’s called a "New York apartment fridge."

The loft was just drywall, paint, and wood floor. On the hallway side, there was a sliding door and inside, a hanging bar, a wall, and a crawl space that you entered from under the loft stairs. The architects turned the whole thing into a walk-in closet. They created space by getting rid of my box spring in the loft, building in a box spring that raises the ceiling height in the closet, and throwing my mattress on top of that, which I thought was genius.

We also enclosed the area at what’s now the foot of the bed, at the end of the loft. I used to sleep facing out, and I had the TV there, so when I was downstairs I could see the back of it. Now it’s my goddaughter’s bedroom—she sleeps there, on that broad-but-cozy shelf, when she visits. The bedroom is designed for two people: Both sides of the bed have reading lights and plugs for cell phones and computer chargers. The hall light can be turned on and off from switches in both the hall and loft—if I get up in the middle of the night, I’m not stumbling downstairs in the dark. The clothing drawers in the stairs, by the way, were my idea.

For the office area, the architects built out one wall with lacquered cabinetry. At one point, we were going to put cabinets along the opposite wall as well, but I thought it would feel too enclosed. I’ve got more space than I need now—I haven’t even come close to filling it up. They also built a custom desk that works for my needs—we thought about the printer I wanted and made room for it and put in sliding trays so I could keep my calendar and my papers separate.

I have meetings here from time to time; I just tell people it’s a home office. They tell me they like the apartment, especially the wood, when they first walk in. I don’t even have to do anything special. I could live here until the end and just move the bed down because I wouldn’t want to tackle the loft stairs. That’s the plan—when I’m in my 70s, I get a handrail. When I’m in my 80s, the bed comes down.

The Manhattan Transformation - Photo 3 of 12 - Of the seven steps in Michael Pozner’s not-quite-500-square-foot aerie in Greenwich Village, five contain drawers. His small set of table and chairs is from CB2.

Of the seven steps in Michael Pozner’s not-quite-500-square-foot aerie in Greenwich Village, five contain drawers. His small set of table and chairs is from CB2.