Prior to the construction of this condominium building our clients secured two adjacent units as grey shells, one two-story unit with its upper level attached to a single story unit. Tennen Studio worked within the confines of the shell of the units and utility stacks of the building to reimagine the space as a peaceful home for our clients and a backdrop for their art collection. Unlike the original design of the units, which were a series of small defined rooms, we wanted to open up the space along the wall of north-facing windows, pushing the private rooms and utility- bathrooms, laundry, pantry- to the interior side of the long double unit. The challenge in this came from bringing light into the interior rooms, and working with the utility stacks for new placements of bathrooms, kitchen and laundry all within a relatively low floor to ceiling given dimension. We brought the natural light into the unit by subtly sloping ceilings to meet the top of the exterior glazing, allowing for mechanical runs without soffits and using interior glazing purposely placed to draw the light across light planes of plaster into the bathrooms and closets. The neutral palette of plaster, ash, light painted millwork and marble slabs provide a warm, sensual, tactile experience. Painting the dark frames of the exterior glazing to match the lightness of the plaster interior blurred the line between exterior and interior. Our clients’ love of art led us to push the architectural boundaries with the design of the sculptural staircase of steel, brass and concrete and the custom brass door hardware.
The staircase was designed to connect the upper living spaces to a lower art studio. The footprint of the stair, as well as the impact of the head clearance from below needed to be small because of the limited square footage in the art studio. Although a classic circular stair would work for minimal space impact, it would not work for the ease of moving up and down with artwork or for a welcoming transition from living spaces above. Additionally, the staircase design was an opportunity to create a sculptural architectural object within the apartment. The layout of the stair transitions from a wide graceful entrance above, swinging to the outer wall of the building, curving down to land in a corner of the art room at an angle positioned to enter right into the open space. The complex curve of the steel structure was fabricated and the brass handrail was bent at a warehouse in Los Angeles, pre assembled to confirm that it fit and coordinated with the steel plates of the treads. The templates of the steel treads were sent to Arkansas for a coordinated fabrication of the thin custom concrete stair treads. The brass pickets were fabricated in Phoenix and hand finished in our studio. Compression fittings were used to secure the brass pickets to the steel structure, eliminating the need for exposed screws. The curved brass handrail was fit on site to the delicate pickets. The lowest point of the staircase does not come down to land on the floor below- rather it comes down and hovers just above the concrete floor of the art studio, creating a sense of lightness. The curves of this bottom detail, the curve of the plaster ceiling rolling up to meet the underside of the staircase, and the subtle curve detail of the pickets play off of the sinuous layout of the staircase.