Tour an Artist’s Studio With a Camper on the Ceiling

Polumbo found this 10,000-pound Dodge Travco on eBay and placed it atop a salvaged truck lift. Photo: Costas Picadas

Randy Polumbo set up his studio immediately after he bought this 4,000-square-foot Gowanus warehouse 18 months ago. Never mind that there was no heating or cooling system in the 1930s-era building, or that a lone porta-potty was the only amenity. Or, for that matter, that “when I got here, there was a humongous cylindrical lift for picking up boats — this thing was left there seething ancient grease and Lord knows what else.” But there’s little that fazes this artist and high-end builder, whose day job involves working for clients like Rafael Viñoly, Maya Lin, Thomas O’Brien, Santiago Calatrava, and Lee Mindel (for whom he built Sting’s duplex at 15 CPW and Laurie Tisch’s apartment on Fifth Avenue).

As polished as his professional projects are, Polumbo’s personal environments convey a Mad Max–meets–Tony Duquette sensibility. He divides his time between a late-18th-century building near the South Street Seaport (where he has fashioned a fireplace out of an old locker) and a house in Joshua Tree (which has a bathroom window fabricated with tequila bottles). When it came to creating his studio, he likens the process “to seeing what materials washed up on the shore each night. It pickled slowly, like kimchee, or grew like a fungus.” That’s not to say there wasn’t actual labor involved. “Getting the 10,000-pound camper up by the top of the 20-foot-tall ceiling was not that easy,” he says. “Nor was hauling the ancient cupola up on the roof that now functions as a chicken coop.” But, he says, “For my clients, we’ve hoisted way worse stuff — like a two-story-tall curved glass terrace addition on Fifth Avenue — and we always make it happen.”

*This article appears in the September 19, 2016, issue of New York Magazine.