Architects delight in constraints. A sheer cliff, an enormous boulder, some mature trees—
every challenge is an opportunity, every obstacle a eureka moment. (Just ask John Lautner, Oscar Niemeyer, and Lina Bo Bardi.) Where others might see cumbersome red tape in the form of setback requirements and height restrictions, architects see puzzling frameworks in which to work their creative magic.
Enlisted by a creative couple to update their Manhattan town house, AD100 talent Giancarlo Valle found no such conditions to navigate. Recently constructed and lacking in character, the five-story downtown dwelling was just box rooms, white walls, and soulless developer details—an aesthetic vacuum, for all intents and purposes. And so, deprived of any natural jumping-off points, Valle created his own. “A project like this, it’s a blank canvas,” he reflects. “You almost have to create the game.”
The result is a tapestry of tantalizing rooms that unfolds to dynamic and delightful effect—moment to moment, mood to mood. In some cases, the starting point was the palette, whether the dining room’s allover aubergine or the primary bedroom’s enveloping navy. “The clients had strong opinions about color,” Valle notes. “Together we pushed it even further, building a story around these elemental bursts.” In other instances, a piece of furniture became the driving force. The living room, for example, began with a J-shaped sofa in custom-dyed blue mohair whose gigantic form had to be brought in piece by piece. Valle mixed it with a Franz West chain-link floor lamp, a Philip and Kelvin LaVerne cocktail table, and a pair of lounge chairs commissioned from Green River Project and Bode. Says Valle: “Every room and every detail had to be solved on its own.”
That case-by-case strategy could, in less experienced hands, have yielded a patchwork of dissonant vibes, more fun house than dream house. But Valle deftly stitched the spaces together, using handcrafted details and custom creations as exquisite common thread. Everywhere the mark of the artisan is present. For the living room, Valle enlisted the Brooklyn-based decorative finishers Kamp Studios to texture the walls with fine plaster. Jordan McDonald, a Philadelphia ceramic artist, collaborated on the richly patinated pulls that appear on closet doors and bathroom vanities. Traditional Moroccan zellige tile forms its own through line, wrapping hearths in the living and dining rooms and sinks in powder rooms. Layers upon layers of sculpted cement, meanwhile, transformed what had been a blah staircase into a breathtaking centerpiece.