Selldorf's Paved Paradise

East
Thursday, October 28, 2010
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A living room at 200 Eleventh Avenue.

My antipathy toward 200 Eleventh Avenue was partly on principle. The 250-foot condo with a garage off every unit—“just like a house in the suburbs,” chimed a spokesperson—seemed a flagrant abuse of the New Yorker code of honor to use public transportation, even if it’s an idling town car. And the stainless steel east-facing facade that houses the vertical parking lot presents a largely blank and uncommunicative face to the city. But a tour with architect Annabelle Selldorf made a quick convert of me, and an entire group of design journalists, as we traipsed through some nearly completed rooms in this 61,000-square-foot condo made for 16 duplex apartments (95% sold).

Above the base, the building's facade undulates to suggest balconies.

It wasn’t just the river views that are as spectacular as one would expect from an 11th Avenue luxury effort. It’s how Selldorf has framed those views with bold-mullioned floor to double-height-ceiling windows that echo the industrial buildings nearby and, as Selldorf said, provide “a layered vista that steps slightly back from the edge and the undulating facade to provide some sense of privacy.”  It’s a sophisticated response to the relentless glass fishbowl phenomenon that mars so many glass-box condos. The massive French doors that open not to a balcony but a glass and metal balustrade capture the best part of having a balcony—the chance to throw open doors and let the moonlight flood in.

This may well be luxury beyond the average person’s pale but Selldorf has not lost sight of intelligent planning. In fact, there’s a fine appreciation for rational design and even a sense of modesty in the size of the bedroom suites recalling such residential icons as Corbu’s Villa Savoye and Mies’ Tugendhut House where a bedroom is after all just a bedroom not a private caliphate of earthly delights. There are no gilded swan faucets here, even if the generously swooping tub is custom made from a rare lava paste-based ceramic. (We’ve heard that the penthouses—that’s the top four floors of the building—have been sold to one person, a fashionista.)

Teak kitchen cabinetry, and a folding breakfast table.

The main living space is the eye-popping feature with its 23-foot ceilings and an open floor plan where kitchen cabinetry, island, table and a folding door that hides the working bits, are all in teak. The sculpturally-placed staircase is also made of solid teak planks. And so, finally, after it is explained that the building’s small (at 5,400 square feet) footprint and other constraints did not allow for the requisite below-grade parking, the car elevator may still be an energy outrage but at least it is one offset by sensitive good design.

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