Manhattan’s Downtown Athletic Club hides this super-customized, space-savvy apartment

Shifty Business

Manhattan’s Downtown Athletic Club hides this super-customized, space-savvy apartment

Philip Parker had the chance to do what most designers only dream about: create a totally designed living space. The dwelling in question, a 520-square-foot one-bedroom apartment—originally finished in typical developer style, with pedestrian wood floors and plasterboard walls—sits at the top of Manhattan’s Downtown Athletic Club, a 1930 landmark art deco building by architects Starrett & Van Vleck. The building was converted into condominiums proffering spectacular views of New York Harbor and the Statue of Liberty in 2005.

Though the client, a global business traveler who logs close to a million miles per year, wasn’t happy with the interiors, he wanted only a few things out of the space, including an office and a conference room that could seat six, furnished with screen, projector, and whiteboard. “It was going to be fun,” Parker said, who thinks a lot about tight spaces and how to connect things. The owner’s brother recommended the architect; Parker had recently completed a loft for him that he described as “a bit like a boat in its woodwork.”

The project, begun sometime in 2007, wasn’t finished until 2015 because so much custom work was involved. (Although two years into the project, the space was livable.) Parker had all the walls torn out and completely reorganized the space. While the south- and west-facing windows provide gobsmacking vistas, they also are flooded with sun—sometimes too much. To solve the problem, Parker devised a louver system constructed out of milled white Corian slats meticulously glued together. The louvers block and focus the light in multiple directions thanks to their three variable edges, which add another level of control. “It’s like a brise-soleil,” he explained. Parker added blackout shades to transform daytime into night for the traveler whose journeys often take him across several time zones.

Nothing in the apartment was left untouched. “I did everything, including the copper pipe from the roof,” Parker said. He explained that every surface has something behind it, with panels concealing either storage or machines.

The floor is now stone. “We debated about whether it should be matte or glossy,” said the architect, who added that it wound up being a bit shinier than he would have liked. He was happy to compromise, however, because “I had an incredibly agreeable, fantastic client. He was engaged but not meddlesome.”

All the wall surfaces—clad in rich walnut—fold, pivot, and slide, revealing complete perimeter storage. The double bed, which folds down via gas spring pistons, and the desk, which folds up, can’t be open at the same time, a conscious decision of the architect. “You need lots of breathing room. In the smallest apartment you need to make some element as large as possible,” he says. The desk is a triumph of engineering and took years of trial and error to complete. In fact, it was the last piece of the intricate puzzle to be finished. It is made completely of carbon fiber and contains no structural foam, which was accomplished by corrugating the table’s underside to provide the needed strength. It’s also extremely lightweight—8.5 pounds (less than a gallon of water)—making it possible for a child or an elderly person to lift it without effort.

The conference table, another Parker design, has a steel base with six interlocking legs. Its top is marble and is surrounded by six Rollingframe conference chairs chosen by the client.

The requested projection screen is on the wall behind the table. Parker placed the bathroom (in which he managed to fit a 68-inch-long bathtub) and commodious galley kitchen along the north wall of the apartment, creating simple, functional spaces in a strict minimalist style. Mirrors in the bathroom artfully reflect the amazing views. Small halogen spots from Tech Lighting provide the illumination throughout the entire space.

The architect titled the project “Communicating Surfaces.” From the look of the finished space, the client and his colleagues must be having good conversations.