As its name suggests, the New York-based architecture and interiors practice Emporium Design is best known for a number of the city’s hottest bars, restaurant, and storefronts such as Mister Paradise, Drexler’s, and Paper Daisy. But a recent project, the meticulous gut-renovation of a West Village loft, shows that the firm, co-founded by Robert Stansell and Timothy Welsh, is equally adept at residential work. Credit goes to Shake Shack CMO Jay Livingston, the loft’s owner, for recognizing that the duo’s proven skills in the commercial arena would translate successfully into the renovation of the home. We asked them about the project.
ASPIRE DESIGN AND HOME – What was the genesis of the project?
Jay Livingston – I purchased a full-floor apartment in a small co-op in the West Village with the intention of doing a gut renovation. The building had once been an encyclopedia warehouse in the early 1900s. The apartment had been divided up into small rooms with drop ceilings and sheetrock-covered brick walls.
ASPIRE – How did you choose Emporium Design as your architects?
Jay – I was walking around in Soho and happened to walk into a (now closed) clothing store and immediately thought the style of design would work well for my project. I asked the owner for the name of the architects who designed the space and met with Emporium Design a week later. I wanted someone who would bring my vision for the space to life and be fully collaborative on the design and construction process.
ASPIRE – What was your brief to the architects?
Jay – I wanted to revive the original loft while still being able to close off rooms and create intimate spaces. I also wanted to expose the brick walls and beamed ceilings and lean into the rustic-industrial feel of what the building had originally been.
ASPIRE – Did you collaborate more closely with Jay as a residential client than you would with a typical commercial client?
Emporium Design – Absolutely. Jay was very hands-on throughout the entire design process and construction. We touched every inch of the space and Jay would often call saying that he found a little empty nook and could we carve some additional storage space into the area? For example, we found space in the master closet that was repurposed as a built-in custom dresser.
ASPIRE – What were the major determinants in devising a new floor plan for the loft?
Emporium – The previous layout had bedrooms located on the southern, windowless side of the unit with the corridor along the exterior of the building. We chose to flip the bedrooms to the northern exterior side of the building to capture the natural light. This created a central hall that aligns with the center of the open kitchen island and frames your view as you walk through the space.
ASPIRE – How did you go about balancing the industrial aesthetic with the demands of modern living?
Emporium – The goal was to bring back the authentic downtown loft-like feel which typically has high ceilings, worn wood floors, exposed floor joists and raw brick walls with the conveniences of modern living. By stripping away layers upon layers of sheetrock we were able to expose the walls, insulate the ceiling to mitigate those pesky dog noises from above and conceal new mechanical ducting, Lutron smart home components and recessed lighting, something you’re not typically able to do in most loft spaces. By introducing repurposed Douglas Fir ceiling joists, salvaged bricks and whitewashed pine paneling we were able to conceal these components while keeping the raw loft aesthetic.
ASPIRE – Describe how you arrived at your major design strategies and material choices
Emporium – The most important design strategy was to make the space flexible and open with the ability to separate spaces when guests were visiting. Sliding doors with overhead transom windows connect the dining area with the second bedroom/office and another set lead to the master bedroom. A similar set of sliding doors leads into the master bathroom from the central corridor. Since these doors would most always be open, we saw an opportunity with full-height book-matched Calacatta gold slabs to become a piece of art as you passed the master bathroom heading toward the open living space. The floors throughout were wire- brushed with an oil finish to evoke that warmth and worn feel of an authentic loft.
ASPIRE – Do you have a favorite part of the residence?
Jay – I love the way the apartment flows and the way light moves through the space. You can see the history in the walls, but it has every modern convenience, which is so rare in an old West Village place. Also, the vault light we found in the basement and installed in the floor in front of the elevator entrance is very special.
ASPIRE – How does the space work for entertaining?
Jay – The space is so flexible that it works great for entertaining. Friends love to
crowd around the fireplace and open kitchen.
ASPIRE – Is there anything that you would have done differently?
Jay – I had some sticker shock on a few things like the light fixtures we selected or had made, but honestly, after living with them, I’m glad we splurged.
Emporium – We love how this apartment came out and wouldn’t change a thing. The vault light Jay found in the basement was so fantastic that we wish we could have done more of these at the entrance.
ASPIRE – How have you personalized the space?
Jay – I am filling the space with art and pieces of my past. I’ve saved the tickets from every event I’ve attended since I was twelve years old, and I commissioned an artist to put 600 of them in huge frames lining the hallway. People love to look through the tickets.
Photography by Brendan Burke.
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