Photographs by Norman McGrath
In 1968, architect Dennis Holloway and his wife, Bess, found themselves in Brooklyn after a stint in the UK, where Holloway, supported by a Fulbright, had been researching housing systems. Holloway landed a gig as an intern at the Manhattan firm Conklin & Rossant, and the couple moved into a parlor-floor one-bedroom on Amity Street, in Cobble Hill.
“Before thinking about how to furnish the apartment,” says Holloway, “I painted the place white, sanded the floor, and, in the center of the cornice ceiling, painted a faux sky in a kind of Pop-Renaissance technique.” These decorative gestures tempered the living room’s grandeur, providing a modern counterpoint to the ornate moldings, high ceilings, and carved marble fireplace.
Filling the apartment was another matter. “Purchasing the standard Breuer, Mies, or Le Corbusier furniture was not in our budget,” says Holloway. “One day, I realized I had to design and build my own. After all, most modern architects were also known for their furniture designs.” Drawing on his academic work on systems, Holloway created what he called Superstairs, a multipurpose modular solution. He was especially influenced by Christopher Alexander’s Notes on the Synthesis of Form. “The small apartment needed a room that could function for sitting, for music-listening, as a guest bedroom for visiting family and friends and a place to make love and get high,” says Holloway. “As well as a precomputer work space, an art gallery, and some hidden storage.”
Superstairs is, essentially, three plywood boxes: Each has three steps, two of which open to reveal storage. Holloway spent around $200 completing the project. “I discovered about 36 different arrangements for the stepped boxes,” he says, “so they were always changing as we lived with them. The room became a kinetic sculptural happening that was never boring.”
“The ’60s were Mellow Yellow and Yellow Submarine, ” says Holloway. The bright finish was complemented by orange cushions. “The faux sky gave the space infinite height, and a reference to nature and the cosmos,” says Holloway. Lithographs by the artist Paul Laffoley were hung from the parlor’s original picture moldings. Photo: Norman McGrath
Superstairs is, essentially, three plywood boxes: Each has three steps, two of which open to reveal storage. Photo: Norman McGrath
“I discovered about 36 different arrangements for the stepped boxes,” he says, “so they were always changing as we lived with them. The room became a kinetic sculptural happening that was never boring.” Photo: Norman McGrath
Keith Powell (left) Avenue L and East 92nd Street, Canarsie. On August 20, 2006, Powell was on his way to visit a brother when he was struck by a drag-racing car. Witnesses said the driver ditched the stolen car and fled. Jian-Lan Zhang Allen and Hester Streets. Zhang, a 55-year-old Chinatown resident, was struck and killed by a delivery truck on April 16, 2008.