Loft Imitates Art

Photographs by Jessica Antola

He can’t really stop himself,” Kate Werble says of her boyfriend, Christopher Chiappa, who spent nine months impulsively fabricating furniture, plaster-coating columns, and remaking air vents into portals to another dimension as part of a soup-to-nuts renovation of their one-bedroom loft in Long Island City. Chiappa, an artist and exhibition designer, moved into the former Eagle Electric factory in 2007, attracted by the postindustrial setting and the loft’s wall-to-wall windows (Werble, who owns West Soho’s Kate Werble Gallery, joined him there a year later). But the standard vents and lack of architectural detail were enough to drive the installation maven, who’s “roadied” shows for design stars like the Campana brothers, Hella Jongerius, and Ingo Maurer, a little bit nuts. So he took it upon himself to create a sculptural, idiosyncratic backdrop for a mix of art pieces (his own and others’), designer furniture, and family heirlooms. “Everything Chris does is rooted in self-portraiture,” Werble says. “Those dipped lights in the bedroom are based on the candles he used to make as a kid.” And while Chiappa brought a childlike zeal to designing pieces, like the bed—which he painted over and over until it looked like it’d been dipped in foam—not everything in the home was forged from scratch. The living room and bedroom are graced by a chaise, armchair, and teapot that Werble inherited from her grandmother, adding just a smidgen of antiquity to the couple’s mostly handmade world.

The Niche Chiappa hand-carved the pine console table and painted it with white-pigmented shellac. He also did all the wall moldings and the two-toned paint-and-plaster job. The hanging chain sculpture framing the table is by Sarah E. Wood, and the teapot is an heirloom from Werble’s grandmother. Photo: Jessica Antola

Facing the Bed The armchair, still upholstered with its original pink-fringed fabric, is from Kate’s grandmother. It sits beneath a wall sculpture by Nathan Carter. The mirrored side table is by Chiappa, and the Ivory Snow art box is by Jason Rhoades. Photo: Jessica Antola

The Dining Nook The otherworldly black hole above the dining-room table is actually an air vent, which Chiappa molded with Styrofoam and plaster. It corresponds to the vent in the bedroom (next slide), which is angled inward instead of outward. Chiappa rigged the white clay Maarten Baas chair with tennis-ball feet himself; he also designed the light fixtures here and in the bedroom. Photo: Jessica Antola

The Bedroom Chiappa designed the walnut bed and then painted it several dozen times before dipping the feet in black enamel paint. The wood side table to the left of the bed is nineteenth-century Art Nouveau, a gift from Werble’s parents. The matching one on the other side was carved out of pine by Chiappa in five hours one Sunday afternoon. The mask above is by Brock Enright. Photo: Jessica Antola

The Closet The black-enamel-painted walnut closets were designed by Chiappa to hold Werble’s clothes. “It’s her J.Lo moment,” he says. He made all the solid-brass handles himself. Photo: Jessica Antola

The Plastered Column Originally, this side of the bedroom was dominated by a walk-in closet that concealed a skinny column. Chiappa demolished the closet, then began plastering the column dozens of times over a five-month period until it took on a fattened, organic-looking shape that pleased him. The stool against the wall is an old library stepladder. Photo: Jessica Antola

More Places to Sit The black folding Kasese chair is by Hella Jongerius, and the chaise is from Werble’s grandmother. Chiappa is responsible for the coffee table with the beer-can feet. The black plant sculpture is by Sarah E. Woods. The orange blob sculpture is by Roxy Paine. Photo: Jessica Antola

Loft Imitates Art