How Do People Live? Ask an Architect who Does Interiors

Event: Designs For Living: New Directions in Design of the Home
Location: Trespa Showroom, 10.21.08
Speakers: Lee Mindel, FAIA — Principal, Shelton/Mindel Architects; Annabelle Selldorf, AIA — Principal, Selldorf Architects; Alan Wanzenberg, AIA — Principal, Alan Wanzenberg Architect
Moderator: Abby Suckle, FAIA, LEED AP — AIANY Interiors Committee & AIANY Secretary
Sponsors: Trespa; WB Wood NY

Neue Galerie.


Most architects in NYC do a lot of single-family residential work. Virtually all architects undertake interior design from the beginning of their practices, and for many it punctuates their careers. A panel composed of architects with expertise in all scales of residential design, from furniture to multi-family residences, were enthusiastic about designing interiors — warts and all — from the client who says he/she doesn’t know much about architecture but knows what he/she likes, to the interior designer who wants to “play architect,” to the decorator who wants to cover over the architecture.

All of the panelists expressed enjoyment in working with and getting to know their clients and their particular lifestyles — even when they themselves were the client. Alan Wanzenberg, AIA, of Alan Wanzenberg Architect, whose reputation is in designing for celebrities, has three homes on which to “experiment.” His primary residence for the past 30 years, an apartment in the city, “is not an easy space, and I’m always changing it and moving things around.” He uses his beach house on Long Island to play with furniture and his cabin upstate to work with light and color in a modest space.

Lee Mindel, FAIA, principal of Shelton/Mindel Architects, has designed a variety of interior types — an ocean liner, a Gulfstream airplane, Ralph Lauren’s headquarters with rooms that appear to be dipped in chocolate, vanilla, and caramel, as well as lighting and plumbing fixtures, textiles, and furniture. The North Sea Pool House on Long Island, which won an AIANY 2008 Design Award for Interiors, was formerly a garage/mechanical building. The two-story space is integrated with a pool, sculpture garden, and a creek. Sculptures that look like “pool toys” blur the lines between sculpture and furniture.

A 2006 AIANY Design Award project, a residence in one of Richard Meier Architect’s Perry Street towers, is an exercise in playful geometries — the street grid and the flow of the Hudson River are intended to give a feeling that the building’s core extends into space. The terrazzo floor was inspired by the Hudson when frozen.

For Annabelle Selldorf, AIA, of Selldorf Architects, working on interiors allows her to learn about the client and how they live. She usually agrees not to foist something on a client, and vice versa. “Taste,” she says, “is nothing to argue about. Either you have it, or you don’t; but there is room for discussion.” Selldorf also designs furniture, and feels that understanding its making helps her understand its usage. Selldorf completely renovated the interior of a Carrère and Hastings-designed Neue Galerie to exhibit early 20th-century German and Austrian artworks. Recently, she designed the interiors for Philip Johnson’s final residential project — the 12-story glass-and-steel Urban Glass House. What defines designing for a single client/resident, according to Selldorf, is to conjecture who might the residents be and what is it that people do nowadays.