You’ll Want to Take the Stairs

Photographs by Albert Vecerka/Esto

When architect Andrew Franz signed on to revamp a newly purchased Soho penthouse for a Parisian filmmaker, his mandate was clear: The pied-à-terre should feel distinctly American, harking back to the postwar optimism and experimentation of designers like Charles and Ray Eames. “If this had been a rural project, it would have been a new Case Study house,” says Franz, referring to the efficient modernist dwellings that sprang up after World War II, built by architects such as Richard Neutra and Craig Ellwood. Their work, like that of the Eameses, was streamlined and unfussy and pioneered the use of new materials in domestic architecture. For this undertaking, Franz gutted the entire 900-square-foot space (the fifth floor of a historical-landmark walk-up in Soho) and crafted a new floor plan, relocating the kitchen from the back of the layout to its center. He decided on a palette of primary colors, highlighted by a fire-engine-red Smeg refrigerator; white oak for the floors; cabinets built from North American fir and covered with sliding panels; and Corian countertops. (“Corian, in this case, taking on the role of what Bakelite or melamine might have been in the fifties,” says Franz.) The apartment’s most notable feature, however, is its light-flooded stairwell, an airy addition lined with solid fir shelves and designed to look as though it leads to an upstairs network of rooms. In reality, it just leads to the roof, an area re­imagined by Franz with an ipe-wood deck, lead-coated copper trim, and roll-down shutters for security. The final iteration—a sun-drenched patio with 360-degree views of the city—makes climbing that last flight well worth the trip.

The Roof
The shelving units lining the sky-bound stairwell are made of solid fir and outfitted with sliding Plexiglas panels. A wall of Marvin windows lets in generous light”a key objective of Franz’s redesign. Photo: Albert Vecerka

The Bathroom
The floor is covered with locally made ceramic mosaic; the wall tiles were handmade in France”an exception to Franz’s otherwise made-in-America M.O. Photo: Albert Vecerka

The Stairwell
“Many stairs to roofs are narrow and unwelcoming,” says Franz. “We felt that even in a small apartment, it was worth sacrificing some real estate to make the stair a statement.” Photo: Albert Vecerka

You’ll Want to Take the Stairs