One often hears that a home has “good bones”. The term isn’t usually applied to an entire neighborhood, but that’s exactly how architect and historian Christopher Rawlins describes Manhattan’s Inwood, which, along with trains, parks, and a lively immigrant presence, has one of the highest concentrations of Art Deco buildings in the United States States, and he has lived here since 1999 when the area was also attractive for its affordability. “Up here you could practically reach into your pocket and pay cash for an apartment,” recalls Rawlins, who at the time worked for Alexander Gorlin Architects a few years after graduating and occasionally took on teaching or independent assignments. Today he is known for the work of the architect Horace Gifford from the 20-designed house in Fire Island Pines. Moving to town, Rawlins says, would allow him to reshape his life. “I realized that I don’t have to be a cool kid in the Village and that when I work from home, I can be in charge professionally,” he says. And so he and his then partner, artist Tad Mike, bought two units in the same cream-colored brick cooperative from 1935 – a 700-square-foot one-bedroom and a 1,050-square-foot two-bedroom two floors down to use for their studios benefit – and Rawlins started his own practice.
However, after Rawlins performed a “very faithful, very surgical Art Deco renovation” on the smaller unit, the apartment next to the one where the couple’s studios were located was vacated in 2007 and bought the adjoining space. Rawlins then began a second renovation, this one for a year and one chance, he decided not to ignore the history of the building, but rather to act less according to the book. For example, the unit had an outdated floor plan with the kitchen and living room on opposite ends. His most important “playmaker” in the room layout was to swap the kitchen and bedroom. He also installed a central air, hid the ducts by adding a series of ceilings that sloped towards each threshold in a nod to emphasizing the curved lines of Art Deco, and soundproofed the room by filling the ceilings and floors with ceilings and floors Vinyl filled and acoustic wadding and adding rubber isolation channels between the sheetrock and the joists. Finally, he connected the two formerly separate units with a small anteroom with doors at both ends.
As daring or transformative as they are, these are the types of solutions one can expect from an architect. The interior design was where Rawlins really gave himself a lot of leeway. Since 2008, he has worked with his brother, interior designer John Rawlins, on a number of projects, including several Nancy Gonzalez boutiques and the Women’s Shoe Salon at Bergdorf Goodman, experiences that made him realize how much architects miss. It’s no wonder that “many of the rooms I have designed and furnished by architects let them get a little cold,” he says. Rawlins first discovered Gifford’s work in 2001 when he was wandering the promenades of Fire Island and was puzzled by many of the surrounding homes, which he described as “both humble and performative, tiny sculptures made of cedar and glass with towering rooflines, wind tunnels and floating platforms. ”They were also sustainable long before sustainability was fashionable. He had never met them in architecture school, knocked on doors and found that these houses, which had attracted him primarily for their combination of “calm intelligence and hedonistic sensuality”, were almost all designed by Gifford. Surely Rawlins always tried to strike a similar balance in his work – “I imagined I was walking with this guy,” he says – and his apartment is no exception.
Upon entering the front door of the unit, a visitor finds himself in a light-filled foyer, which is a somewhat formal element that has never been in danger, as Rawlins views a foyer as a crucial element of a successful New York apartment – “a threshold between the chaos of the City and the tranquility of a successful home. ”“ Very often they don’t show up in modernist spaces, and they lack a grace that is lacking in contemporary spaces that are so tightly drawn to maximize profits for developers, ”he adds . He laid his floor with a fresh but decoration-friendly pattern that alternates staggered boards made of zebrano wood and maple. More than any design period, the foyer walls are covered in bespoke ombré-green wallpaper and hung with a pair of large abstract paintings by Mike with walnut stains (the couple split in 2013, after which Rawlins bought Mike’s stake in the property). , pay tribute to the neighborhood itself and, in particular, to Inwood’s “continuous chain of parks,” Rawlins says.
In fact, they reflect the views of Inwood Hill Park that can be enjoyed from the sunken living room, which is straight ahead and features two reproductions of a curved armchair from the 1950s designed by Marco Zanuso (“but slightly filtered” for modern human Proportions ”) and a two-story coffee table made of mahogany, black lacquer and brass, which is ascribed to Gio Ponti (“ but I cannot prove it ”) and whose edges slope upwards like wings. Rawlins appreciates the international Art Deco style called Streamline Moderne, in which, as he puts it, “everything is aerodynamic, even if it doesn’t have to go through a wind tunnel”. These pieces act as foils for a box-shaped powder green Edward Wormley tweed sofa from the 1950s. “I love to picture the grande dame of the Upper East Side who kept her wrapped in plastic,” says Rawlins. Across the room is a maple sideboard and a hexagonal marble-topped dining table, both manufactured by the Turkish company Marbleous, as well as a sculptural lamp that Rawlins received from the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation and placed on a matching cherry wood base had made for the piece. All of that sits up an anthracite-white carpet with a square pattern by David Hicks.
It’s the kind of superimposition of periods and influences that could go very wrong in less able hands, but this just feels wonderfully surprising. “I’ve decided that John isn’t going to help me this time, and luckily it’s not bad,” admits Rawlins. He modeled the checkerboard cabinets in the master bedroom after those he had seen in the Katsura Imperial Villa on a trip to Kyoto, Japan, and designed the room’s maple dresser with flat drawers and wide tops that doubles as handles. He also took the opportunity to win back family items he grew up with: In the foyer there is a footed mahogany and cedar box that his grandmother, who lived in the Philippines for a while, commissioned in 1938, and in a corner In the living room, Rawlins has set up a folding table that once held his grandparents’ guest book.
He also likes to chat and, since most of his friends live downtown, tries to take a trip to Inwood. “The wine flows freely into Negronis and I often combine it with Middle Eastern dishes that I picked up from Tad, a Lebanese American,” says Rawlins. So it’s no wonder that his favorite room is the kitchen, in which the extra-deep sink can keep dirty dishes out of sight for up to 10 place settings. He also installed a wet zone with a continuous surface made of white Corian that extends from the ceiling via the zebra wood veneer countertop to the floor – “It’s a waterfall effect with steroids,” says Rawlins – and, because Corian melts, a hot zone with an island covered with green granite that looks more like marble.
But he spends a lot more time either at the mid-century rosewood desk in the middle of his office or at the white wraparound desk – seven 20-year-old Ikea modules with steel legs that he has painted white. The area feels different to the rest of the apartment – in part because, as Rawlins puts it, most of what is in it, including the brown leather-backed Knoll chairs and the silk and wool carpeting, were “unearthed” by Jobs where he cleaned customers – but it also overlooks the park. “It’s hilly, so it’s a popular spot for hawks in winter,” says Rawlins, “and it’s very dense in summer – a green wall.” And although his room now has a lot of modern elements, it’s comforting to know that this aspect of the outlook has probably remained relatively unchanged over the decades since the first residents moved in.