The Skyhouseproject, a 6,600-square-foot penthouse in lower Manhattan, might be the only apartment on the East Coast housing an 80 ft slide. Slide aside, the four year long, four floored project spearheaded by architect David Hotson and designer Ghislaine Viñas is a wondrous sight to behold.
The space was originally designed to be the headquarters of the American Tract Society (a religious literature publisher).
Completed in 1896, the building remains one of the earliest surviving skyscrapers in New York City. When approached with the project, Hotson, who was introduced to the clients by Viñas, felt with absolute certainty that this represented an extraordinary architectural opportunity. Actually, he was quite dumfounded that so many architects had not chosen to seize the potential of this project. Inspiration for his design was found in the “four-story-tall tapering volume of space enclosed under the enormous sheltering hipped roof, which provided the feeling of a archetypal house or mansion suspended in the vertical cityscape of Manhattan” he says. “The idea was to suspend the visitor in an immersive spatial experience, to draw the awareness of the visitor out of the distractions of mental space and into the immediate present of experience.”
And so, in the first year, David set about creating his masterpiece. Viñas joined the team in the second year and played a major role in selecting the architectural finishes. Dead set on having the entire space cloaked in white, it’s clear, she got her way. “The wood floors softened the look of the white and the bold colors pulled things together” the designer noted. During the design process, no rocks went unturned so to speak. “One of the pleasures of the project” Hotson says, “is that the expectations for perfection, and the budget which supported them, meant that nothing was left unconsidered. Every room is an invention. Every volume of space is very deliberately modeled and its intersection with every other volume precisely negotiated.”
Given that every literal inch was carefully planned, in an act of balance, it was crucial that the same amount of detail be paid to the art and furniture. Due to the long periods of construction, the design process “just kept on evolving” says Viñas. “Sometimes we would think we had designed a room and then I would see something else that totally inspired me and I would go back to the clients and make changes. Most of the rooms had various looks at different times of the process.” One of the very first pieces was the light installation that hangs over the green table at the kitchen, the What Watt chandelier by Tim Fish Lock. “The client found the piece online and we always knew we would include it somewhere but only near the end of the project did we decide on a location.” The clients, avid collectors of art, played a hands on role, and supplied most of the works throughout the apartment. Many items were either sourced online or from NYC showrooms, while custom colored wallpapers from Flavorpaper and a Jason Rogenes light installation over the dining table were commissioned.
Viñas, due to the modernity of the space and the carefully planned details, had to work a little bit extra at trying to make the house feel more casual and comfortable. “The architecture is very strong and I did not want the clients to feel like they were living in a museum so I had to really focus on making the home livable and a bit more relaxed.” But Viñas attributes a lot of the project’s success to the team dynamic. Hotson, along with both the clients and Vinas’ team member Vané Broussard, contributed greatly to the design. “The collaboration was the key reason the space looks the way it does” she says. “It really reflects what all of us feel is a lovely interior to live in. I think it’s a really happy home.”
Though both Viñas and Hotson have [surprisingly] worked on larger townhouse projects, in terms of the sheer dimensions of the tallest spaces and the opportunities for dizzying vertiginous volumes extending through multiple floors of living space, the drama and scale of this project was truly unique. Viñas’ favorite feature of the house? “I really love the green table and plate installation we did over the table. The green Saarinen chairs around the table – it’s just a super happy spot for me.”
The idea was to suspend the visitor in an immersive spatial experience, to draw the awareness of the visitor out of the distractions of mental space and into the immediate present of experience. – David Hotson