My present interior design office and residence is in a designated landmark building that, in 1910, had the distinction of being the largest office structure in New York City.
The southernmost tip of Manhattan is not really a neighborhood in the conventional sense, yet I share with others who live here a feeling of loyalty to the area after the Twin Towers were destroyed. For me, the decision to live on the harbor has been a good one and I now consider it my home. This time, the starting point for the interior design of the space was not only drawn from paintings, but also from photographs and movies of the film noir genre.
Photography’s influence has been responsible for a major shift in my way of seeing the world. Its acceptance as art, in my mind, goes back to one of my first commissions in the early 1970s. While working for a client in a New York apartment, primarily painting the rooms as backgrounds for the extensive collection of furniture, folk art, and nineteenth-century American paintings, I learned of his admiration for photography. Casually one day I was shown a concealed world inside of his walk-in closet. The clothing was replaced with shelves, top to bottom. Here were stacks of photographs by Berenice Abbott, Brassai, Walker Evans, Raoul Hausmann, Man Ray, and Dorothea Lange, as well as many other notables of Europe and America. Together we edited them down to about sixty images that were then diversely framed using burled wood, silver leaf, lacquer, or pine according to the period of the work. My suggestion of hanging this portion of the collection in the same syncopated rhythm as the pattern in Mondrian’s Broadway Boogie Woogie was approved with enthusiasm. Having worked intimately with the pictures and the printing quality, endless range of blacks, and the abrupt cropping has stayed with me always. Thirty years on, while visiting the International Center of Photography, I noticed a sign indicating that my client had bequeathed his collection to the center.
In my office, as in the camera’s eye, it’s all about the light. Everything in this environment is either black, white, or gray. Some of the structural elements near the windows are painted ebony or deep gray, resulting in an effect similar to that of a backlit subject in a picture. A study in contrast, even the most severe sunlight is soaked up by many of the surfaces, including the black upholstered furniture, gray mirror tabletops, and black Plexiglas doors. The Carrara marble cabinet tops, white structural beams, and sheets of fax paper appear to leap forward. Geometric shapes wash over the carpet bringing to mind André Kertész and so many of the innovative photographers and 1940s cinematographers who were playing with abstraction.
The other major factor in the lack of true chroma has to do with the fantastic views: the ever-changing water, sky, cloud formations, and light on the architecture outside in a myriad of colors and tones. This would be impossible to compete with indoors. When working in natural light on design projects, reviewing fabric swatches, paint chips, carpet tufts, and reference material, the monochromatic room helps us to focus and make a clear choice.
After the move from a large loft with loads of stuff, paring down and eliminating felt very freeing. The possessions that would not be edited were the books. For these we designed a series of modular iron open bookcases to be fabricated by one of the last of the local metal workshops. Although somewhat impractical without a stepladder, the books run floor to ceiling, adding an architectural element as well as a reference library. Items that pertain to the function of the office as well as an archive of shelter magazines, public relations materials, DVDs, CDs, and vinyl records are all housed in labeled black boxes.The view of the east side is primarily made up of buildings that range in style from Neoclassical and Beaux Arts to Modern glass towers. The multiplicity of windows in various shapes and sizes has a psychedelic effect, particularly when the sunlight is hitting them. Optical stimulation is played up with painted grids of rectangles in various neutral tones on the support beams, similar in idea to the paintings of Bridget Riley and Josef Albers.
Although a very generic renovation, the apartments in the building have high ceilings and odd-shaped structural beams and support columns, butting up against each other, looking like Dutch De Stijl configurations. These elements were emphasized and trompe l’oeil versions were done in paint where extra substance and tension was needed.
With the organization and order came an elegance and a serenity that is accentuated by the boats gliding along on the harbor water that appears to be at the same level as the windowsills. Figurative sculptures that once sat on every other surface in the past have been reduced in number. I now have the ultimate statue and world icon visible, Lady Liberty.
Note: The above is taken from a chapter of Richard Gillette’s award-winning book, Richard Gillette: The Art of the Interior, Rizzoli, 2011.