Dominic Bradbury, Journalist & Writer


Creating a different take on the raw, beautiful and familiar loft spaces of lower Manhattan is not an easy task. It has taken outsiders to offer a completely fresh approach to New York loft living, within an apartment that manages to feel open and light, while at the same time offering more intimate retreats and escapes. New Zealand architects Tim Hay and Jeff Fearon have found a middle way between those empty warehouse floors, with a bed in one corner and a cooker in the other, and those space dividing solutions to loft conversion where the glories of open plan living have been lost within a mass of compartments. Fearon Hay have invented with a third way, offering plenty of choices and flexibility to their clients and their young children.

'The apartment takes up most of one floor of the building and has glazing to three sides so you almost have views of Manhattan in the round,' says Tim Hay, whose practice is based in Auckland, where they first met their clients. 'The character of the empty lofty volume was something that we didn't want to lose. Maintaining that openness around the edges of the apartment was critical to us, so that you could still walk around the edges and appreciate the views without being cut off by divisions or smaller chambers.

Carefully preserving the walkways and dramatic sight lines around the perimeter of the loft, Fearon Hay gently pushed the living spaces inwards and where more intimate, private retreats were needed - they created pavilions and pods, like miniature buildings sitting within the overall outline of the apartment. Most striking of all is a steel and glass pavilion sometimes likened to a jewellery box or a glass display case containing three bedrooms for children and guests. Glazing allows the pavilion and its three compartments to be a quiet zone within the loft, while systems of blinds and curtains allow for maximum control over the flow of natural light.

'The loft had enough volume to it so that you could insert these components into it,' says Fearon of the former textile warehouse. 'The sleeping areas required an intimacy that was really inconsistent with just dividing off part of the loft. The pavilion is like a piece of furniture that sits in the apartment with some delicacy.'

A service spine of bathrooms and utility zones sits behind the pavilion, taking the form of a line of enclosed pods running through the heart of the apartment. Yet every other area of the loft beyond these neat shelters is essentially open plan. The master bedroom is positioned in one corner, the dining area in another and the living area in yet another, all without the need for solid divisions. These spaces are arranged around a large and open central entrance area and hallway, which doubles as a gallery space for displaying elements of the clients' art collection, such as a dual video work by Bill Viola displayed to one side.

'A large amount of space is devoted to nothing, in a way,' says Fearon. 'The entrance feeds into that gallery that runs through the apartment and connects with the views out across Manhattan. We wanted to make sure that this sense of openness was the first thing that you encountered when you enter the loft. Artworks were then introduced into the open space but there is not actually a large amount of space devoted to the art itself.

'Integrating the art collection was a large part of the brief right from the beginning and there were some very specific discussions about how that would work. The client provided us with some great challenges that helped us to develop our approach and find some special solutions.'

The idea of flexibility and choice also runs through the design of the loft. Tracked curtains can be used to lightly divide spaces where necessary. Storage spaces such as the dressing room by the master bedroom or the pantry in the kitchen can easily be hidden away behind sliding doors. This is combined with the highly bespoke and crafted nature of the home, with so many elements specially designed for the space.

Fearon Hay worked with New Zealand glass artist Katie Brown to develop the distinctive lighting for the apartment, while the monolithic basalt baths and sinks in the bathrooms are another bespoke element. The architects worked closely with New York furniture makers BDDW on many other custom pieces, such as the walnut dining table and chairs, while Christian Liaigre also provided a selection of bespoke furniture designs. The timber floors are in a reclaimed oak, full of character, that was crafted and polished to create a particular soft sheen.

'Almost every element in the loft was custom built,' Fearon says, 'and the level of detailing just wouldn't have been possible without the artisans involved. It took a lot of time, but the ambitions of the client to achieve those kinds of high standards were the driver for all of these things.'

The sense of light and the various textures of the apartment all add to the intrinsic sense of escapist calm. As a middle way between open prairie loft living and train-like compartments, this Tribeca apartments suggests the rewards of an imaginative, sensitive approach to space, sunlight and the enticing vistas of the city outside.

'This is a retreat,' says Fearon, whose practice is now looking at other projects in the States, as well as setting up an additional office in Australia. 'It's about having a space where the owners can be as a young family and have a place away from the intensity of the city. There was a lot of emphasis on calmness.'

Fearon Hay – - + 64 9 309 0128

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