New York City, USA

With a nod to her South Asian roots, New York City–based designer Suchi Reddy and her team at Reddymade Design exploit the potential of a New York City loft, using louvers and light.

Photo © Ball and Albanese

Open and airy, the apartment on Manhattan's East 12th Street was a real find in the late 1980s, when the building it occupies, a former auction house (circa 1889), was developed into condominiums. Its 24-foot-wide by 42-foot-long double-height space—enormous by New York standards—included a mezzanine sleeping loft above the kitchen and foyer. And its eclectic Mediterranean-style decor, with its arched wall niches and rustic tile, was all the rage. But times change, and when the current owner, a California-based model with a young daughter, decided to try bicoastal living, she wanted more privacy than the layout would allow. She also wanted a new look.

The challenge was how to accomplish these things without compromising the openness of the existing volume and its wall of big arched windows, says designer Suchi Reddy, principal of New York–based Reddymade Design. Her approach was straightforward: strip the room of its awkward and dated details, reposition the stair, and extend the sleeping loft along one side of the room to accommodate a second bedroom up top. Initially, she wanted to create a minimalist space, all white and divided by flowing swathes of felt that could be pushed aside like draperies—a nod to her client's fashion sensibility. But as the crew began demolishing the narrow stair and built-out walls, they exposed a raw steel beam. “When I saw the steel, I realized that the bones of this space were so beautiful, we had to make them central to the design,” Reddy recalls.

What evolved is a loft that is at once serene and industrial, with a judicious exposure of structure within the pristine space. “The idea was to leave the elements and let the materials speak for themselves,” says Reddy. So instead of tucking the stair back into a corner, she brought it into the main space, transforming it into a sculptural element, with an assertive steel stringer softened by reclaimed wood treads and a glass balustrade that don't interrupt the room's expanse.

While Reddy renovated the kitchen, she left it in place, then reconfigured the rest of the apartment to improve circulation and functionality. She added a half-bath where the old stair was located and rebuilt the mezzanine, carving a new master bath, storage, and laundry nook around the master bedroom. To avoid stealing from floor space to extend the loft, or blocking daylight, Reddy used a cantilever to create the required second bedroom—a strategy doubly rewarded by carving out an additional study/guest room below.

Discarding the notion of draperies as room dividers, which would have been too informal for a mother and daughter, Reddy recalled the rich woods and shutters of her youth in Chennai, India. Working with her team, she devised a system of operable louvers that provide privacy and filtered light where necessary. Made of sealed reclaimed wood, like the stairs, most of the shutters are fixed in place and have glass panels (some operable) behind them for sound control. The designer even inserted a shutter into the study's ceiling, a lovely detail that allows sunlight from the windows to pass through a glass panel in the wall of the new bedroom upstairs.

Through careful editing and the infusion of elements from other cultures, Reddy presents a fresh perspective on the urban loft—a global one. And why not? she muses. “It is how our world is now.”