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Exhibition piece

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The decor in this apartment reflects its opulent heritage and provides a foil for the owners' eclectic art collection

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For an avid collector, procurement — finding the perfect piece and bringing it home — is the fun, and relatively simple, part of the process. Successfully incorporating those acquisitions into a living space is not as easy.

The challenge in designing the interior of this 370m2 apartment was to balance the clean, neutral space required to display the owners' artcollection with the Art Decostyling of the building.

The apartment's original layout included two parallel corridors leading from the foyer and private elevator entrance; one for use by the owners, the other for the servants. A key element of the design brief was to open up the floor space. Peter Tow of Tow Studios Architecture says the aim of this alteration was threefold.

"The desired effect was to create a gallery-esque environment, let in more natural light and make the most of the views over a nearby park from the den, dining and living room windows."

To achieve this, Tow knocked the two corridors into one, and replaced the hinged living and dining room doors with floor-to-ceiling sliding pocket doors.

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This created a long, flowing space, unusual in apartments of this era, but ideal for entertaining and exhibiting artwork.

Tow further developed the gallery look by replacing the original ornate ceiling mouldings with a plainer substitute. The apartment's marble fireplaces, another Art Deco flourish, were felt to be integral to its period character and were retained.

Given the eclectic nature of the art collection, Tow opted for a plain colour scheme, choosing white paint with a slight grey hue for the foyer, dining room and living room.

"The homeowners selected the sculptures and paintings on the basis of the artistic integrity of each object and not as a cohesive series. It is important to present them as individual pieces, and this is best achieved using a neutral background that does not distract the eye or complement one piece more than another," says Tow.

The discreet colour scheme extends to the new furnishings and the neutral woollen drapes. Tow admits the drapes would look out of place in a gallery, but says they are a necessary concession to everyday living.

The homeowners acquired much of the furniture on their travels, each piece chosen to reflect the era in which the apartment was built. Other furnishings were custom made to 1930s designs. The black lacquer stools in the living room and den are by Viennese designer Joseff Hoffman and date from the 1930s, while the sofas and armchairs are American made, but also date from the apartment's halcyon days. The four ebony tables were specially made as companion pieces to the period furniture.

In the living room, the horse-hair sofas were fabricated to a 1930s design by French designer Jean Michel Frank, while the extendable coffee table is Swedish and a 1930s original.

Perhaps as you would expect in a household which employs an art consultant, the floor coverings are themselves originals and worthy of aesthetic contemplation. The rugs are antique and of Middle Eastern origin, with the exception of the blue Imperial Chinese carpet in the living room. The carpets sectionalise the apartment into distinct areas and provide a splash of colour where it does not detract from the artwork. The original dark walnut flooring throws their intricate designs into sharp relief.

Tow's interior includes an array of features to enhance the display of artwork. An Arakawa picture-hanging system allows the position of the paintings to be adjusted laterally and vertically and dispenses with the need for nails.

Lighting the art was a paramount consideration. Each room has a bank of multi-directional, recessed lights, which can be adjusted to alter mood and focus.

In the dining room, a light fixture above the extendable table is new, but similar to a vintage Art Deco design.

The original kitchen was designed for use by servants, and was functional with scant regard paid to the design. The current owners entertain frequently and needed a practical kitchen that would meet their aesthetic expectations.

"The kitchen gets a lot of use. It needed a clean, modern and luxurious look, which has been achieved using teak veneer cabinetry with sleek Art Deco lines," says Tow.

Floor tiles were replaced with dark wood planking for the sake of comfort, and to re-establish a visual flow with the rest of the apartment.

The walls of the master bedroom are upholstered with fabric, which softens the light and helps to dampen noise from the street below.

Two bathrooms serve the master bedroom, one clad in brown marble, the other in white Calacutta marble. In the latter, the marble slabs have been cut and composed so its grey and gold veining forms an abstract landscape that flows across the walls and the front of the bath.

A frameless shower was installed to avoid obscuring the stonework, while the other fittings are plain white to blend with the subtle palette.

This bathroom showcases its own piece of pre-Colombian sculpture for perusal at leisure from the sanctuary of the bath.

First published date: 14 May 2007

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Credit List

Architect Peter Tow, AIA, Tow Studios Architecture (New York)
Main contractor Custom Cas
Art consultant Rick Kinsel
Windows Skyline Windows
Flooring Herringbone oak
Wallcoverings Palazzo from Carnegie Fabric (bedroom and library); Benjamin Moore paint (other rooms)
Lighting Lightolier
Furniture French Deco Antiques; Pucci; Jean Michel Frank sofas
Drapes Vesta; Holly Hunt Wool Sheer
Oven Wolf
Kitchen cabinets Engineered teak veneer
Benchtops and splashback Autumn white granite
Rangehood Best
Bathtub and basin Kohler
Taps Dornbracht Tara
Surfaces Calacutta marble by Stone Source
Toilet Toto Carolina