“The site was as close to a blank slate as one could hope for in the West Village,” says Ghiora Aharoni of the top-floor apartment his client, real-estate developer Lela Goren, hired him to rethink. Her request: Combine the gutted apartment with the vast tar roof overhead to create a seamless duplex that capitalized on the site’s 360-degree vistas of Manhattan.
There were two challenges. First, they had to design a structure that would be a streamlined, modern continuation of the redone apartment below while blending into its rooftop setting. Second, they had to tame the vastness of the roof, to make it comfortable for both intimate and large-scale entertaining. To do this, Aharoni created a series of spaces that constitute a grand outdoor room with distinct living, dining, and kitchen areas. For the architecture itself, the designer’s travels in India inspired his thinking. “From the porches on Portuguese Colonial houses in Goa to the marble pavilions in Rajasthan palaces,” he says, “they have perfected domestic spaces that marry interior and exterior while being sensitive to light and various weather conditions.”
The rooftop pavilion functions as a closed room in winter (complete with a hanging fireplace) and an alfresco room in the summer, with a south-facing wall that opens and completely disappears so the interior and exterior blend together. The rooftop’s openness is exhilarating, but there’s also a sense of privacy and protection; 30-foot-tall river birches define the roof’s east and west boundaries, and the space is enclosed by a wall to the south. “I modified the parapet by punching windows into it,” says Aharoni, “to give a sense of enclosure and intimacy to the roof and frame the views of Manhattan.”
The reclaimed Philippine mahogany, used as the flooring and for the brise-soleil, establishes a rich palette of earth tones that change with the light throughout the day. One can imagine living happily ever after up here inside the pavilion — but the duplex begins downstairs in the sun-filled space that houses an open kitchen, a living-dining room, bedrooms, a powder room, and two baths. “We wanted to create a more open, contemporary space that respected the historic bones of the building,” Aharoni says.
The apartment is luxurious, but without a whiff of opulence or any gratuitous design flourishes. Aharoni credits the close collaboration with his client, who was also developing the building, as a key element in the project’s success. Goren concurs.
“There was a wonderful fluidity in our collaboration,” Goren says. “Even when challenges came up in the project, as they often do, the way in which Ghiora resolved them ultimately took the design to another level. I felt fully immersed in the process with him, and through the process, Ghiora elevated my understanding of design, architecture, and art.”
Aharoni is a master of mixing humble and haute materials. “We decided on a simple palette that would create a frame for the art and the interior furnishings: white Sheetrock and whitewashed brick walls,” he says. These are layered with wood (the paneling, the floors, the kitchen cabinetry, the bookshelves) and touches of travertine, marble, blackened and stainless steels, Corian, and custom upholstery for the furnishings, most of which are Aharoni’s designs. “I read somewhere about an architect who used the term ‘quiet design,’” Aharoni says. “I relate to that.”
*This article appears in the Winter 2015 issue of New York Design Hunting.
Aharoni designed the four-piece sectional; when the bed is in use, the pieces can be separated to create two seating areas. The suspended hearth is the Fireorb by Doug Garofalo. The mid-century chairs are vintage. There’s a custom Murphy bed in the wall.
Aharoni designed the outdoor furniture to be as flexible as possible. The tables fit together, and the couches can be reconfigured. He also designed the motif on the upholstery, which was hand-embroidered in India. A 19th-century American marble bust is affixed to the parapet.
“I clad the roof in reclaimed Philippine mahogany to give it warmth,” says Aharoni. “The brise-soleil, designed from the same wood, tempers the light entering the interior space.”
The rain shower is by Grohe; the tub is by Produits Neptune. The three Buddha figures are vintage. A Boffi sink is set into a console made from two 1920s workbenches.
A vintage replica of a relief from Jean Goujon’s Fontaine des Innocents is mounted overhead. The glass, walnut, and steel staircase leads to the roof. The sculpture beneath the stairs is Aharoni’s Genesis Series #4.
“The two skylights, which I added, have a dual function: They bring light into the eighth floor, but a view as well — from the living room and the kitchen you can see the river birches and sky overhead,” says Aharoni. The walnut-and-Corian island is Aharoni’s design. It contains seating as well as a wine refrigerator and oven.
The dining table was designed by Aharoni and Hisao Hanafusa. It’s a 14-foot slab of American black walnut. The chairs are by George Nakashima.