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How much can one architect change his client’s taste?

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Client: Adam Pollina
Architect: Joe Serrins
Location: East Village
Space: 450 square fet

Comic-book illustrator and music-video director Adam Pollina and his architect, Joe Serrins, went to art school together at RISD but hadn’t seen much of each other since. They didn’t have much in common. The pumped-up, long-haired Pollina, 34, comes across as a liberated ex-nerd, with all of his adolescent enthusiasms intact. (Which could explain why he drew the X-Men for a few years.) Serrins, 33, has more of a cleaned-up seventies-thrift-store style; he loves his dog and hiking in the woods upstate. But when the rights to one of Pollina’s comic books were bought for a TV series, it was Serrins he called to redo the basement of his eleven-foot-wide East Village tenement triplex.

What the Client Wanted: The look of a VIP room in a swank club. “Originally, he wanted something a lot more ornate,” says Serrins. “Like leopard print. Lots of pelts.”

What the Architect Saw: “A little less Playboy Mansion, something closer to the sets from The Ice Storm.”

Client’s Motive: “Whenever I had people over, we sat at the kitchen table or we watched TV sitting on my bed upstairs,” says Pollina. So he needed a dining area, a TV lounge, and maybe a bar. He also wanted to add a shower to the half-bath so guests could stay down there.

The Budget: Pollina proposed spending $50,000. Serrins talked him up to $70,000. The final cost: a bit over $76,000, including $10,000 in audio-visual equipment.

The Conflict: It’s not easy for an art-school graduate to let go. “I’ve been a visual person my entire life,” Pollina says. “And it’s just refreshing—or infuriating—to know that I have my own area of expertise but I’m not this Renaissance man. You want superheroes, you come to me. You want a nice-looking house, you go to Joe.”

The Architect’s Agenda: “My aesthetic foundation was laid working with my folks, renovating houses in semi-rural New York when I was young,” says Serrins. That involved lots of knotted pine and weathered boards. Now he’s interested in bringing nature to the city. So the table is a slice of redwood from a rare-wood dealer upstate. The stone wall is the building’s crumbly shale foundation, coated with matte polyurethane. Serrins also had the idea of putting a computer-abstracted photo-wallpaper forest along one wall, visually extending the space.

The Client’s Resistance: “He’s like, ‘A mural of the woods? Isn’t that something you’d find in a dentist’s office?’ ” says Serrins. And, because it was printed on silk, it would cost $3,300.

Who Won: The architect. “Like, I never in a million years would’ve thought to do the wallpaper,” says Pollina. “But the more we talked, I realized that I was willing to sacrifice something else I wanted”—namely, a $3,000 orange enameled bar—“to get that.”

Is the Client Happy? “You bring a girl home and I don’t care who she is, she could be Milla Jovovich or she could be some hooker from FlashDancers,” says Pollina. “You go downstaaaaaairs and you know one button on the button fly is opened. Ultimately, it’s up to me and my skills. But it’s conducive.”

Hence His Next Move: The new basement has Pollina thinking of redoing his bedroom. His inspiration? “You know the film Gladiator? The tent of Marcus Aurelius was nothing but skins and fur and marble. And candelabras. That was hot!” Serrins looks at his client patiently. He hasn’t seen the movie.

Take the Basement Tour >>>

An Architect’s Education

Starting Out: When Joe Serrins set out on his own three years ago, he used his teeny studio apartment as an office. Subcontractors had to sit on his bed to look at the plans taped to the wall. He’s since moved to an office.

Big Break: A circular high-rise apartment in Miami. “The client was shockingly trusting given how I hadn’t really designed anything of this size,” he says. “I curated the art, did the furniture, even bought his silverware.”

Lesson Learned: Serrins assumed that—with the concierge downstairs and the fact that it was the only apartment on the floor—a doorbell wasn’t necessary. The client threatened to move out until it was installed. Serrins put in two.

Next Up: A Beirut apartment. Serrins got into a fight with the contractor who thought his materials (terrazzo floors, not marble) were culturally out of touch with the Lebanese elite.


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