Renovating an apartment in a pre-war building in New York City is quite a task, and one that architect Hope Dana of Platt Dana Architects takes on regularly. A recent project involved the gut renovation of a 3,000 square foot apartment on the Upper East Side of Manhattan that took 18 months to complete.
Dana explains, "It took us six months of work to come up with that plan. We had to get a building permit, hire a contractor and then it was ten months of construction. The whole place was rebuilt, every wall was taken down, all new electrical was put in, all new wood flooring, all new mouldings, and all new doors."
That was the tough part of the job. The decorative part came a bit easier, as it seems to fall within the formula that Platt Dana applies to many of their projects.
When looking at their portfolio, it's easy to recognize many of the design elements that repeat from one residence to another and that perhaps make up the firm's "signature" style. Color is one of these, or lack thereof in this case.
The architects at Platt Dana tend to rely heavily on a palette of white, and an entire range of shades closely resembling white, including off-whites, ecru, cream, beige, sand and pale grays in shades too numerous to count. The reason is simple: lighter colors add a sense of space to a small room. Manhattan apartments in older buildings are not known for their spaciousness, so the responsibility to make the interior look and feel larger would naturally fall to the architect hired to design the space. Furthermore, the conservative palette may be the most appealing to the firm's upscale Manhattan clientele.
Built-in bookcases are a common design element in Platt Dana's projects. A quick glance at one of their residences shows there is a plain bookcase in at least one or two of the rooms. It's an easy design fix, taking up most if not an entire wall in a room, and it's functional to boot, providing necessary storage space for books and knick-knacks.
Strategically placed rounded-shaped pendant lights are another one of Platt Dana's core design elements. Whether hovering artfully from a living room ceiling or over a kitchen table, these light fixtures add a modern touch to these older spaces and provide a somewhat whimsical accent to a room that otherwise leans toward the plain and traditional. Dana adds, "We look to punctuate our rooms with sculptural elements."
The combination of many shades of not-quite-white, built-in bookcases, simple lines and creative lighting actually comprise a safe set of elements that are applied to many different residences. This helps keep the decorative part of the process simple while Dana can concentrate more heavily on what she deems the more important aspect of the design, which is the space itself.
Dana explains, "We are more interested in the way spaces interact and interrelate to one another, so when we're doing the planning we're very conscious of spatial hierarchies and the flow through houses and apartments."
According to Dana, before the renovation, the Upper East Side apartment was, "old and grungy. Everything is brand new. We replaced everything, bathrooms, kitchen, we took walls down, and we totally reorganized the space. We go for a very clean, simple look with very good layout. Layout is important." And that apparently is the key.
"I think the important thing is to open up rooms and connect them with other rooms. For instance, in the living room there was a little den next door and we changed the den into a dining room and enlarged that opening a lot. There was a front hall so we enlarged that opening to the front hall. We try wherever possible to increase the flow between rooms because that allows for better spatial relationships."
"The kitchen is big and open now. It used to be three maid's rooms. We took over one of the maid's rooms and a big pantry and we expanded the kitchen and brought it much more into the apartment. Sometimes pre-war apartment kitchens are stuck in the back, so we moved it forward so that it was connected to the living room, dining room and family room."
Dana adds, "I think we were really able to keep a pre-war apartment feel and yet modernize it to contemporary living." And that is what they did, clearly resulting in clients who are pleased with their newly designed home. "I think they're really, really happy."
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