On New York’s Upper West Side, architects Jane Siris and Peter Coombs combined two penthouses apartments into a single residence. Jason Bell did the interior design. ABOVE and RIGHT: In the living/dining area, the architects replaced a large column with a bookshelf unit and installed French doors. “The windows were sort of arguing with what we were trying to do spatially, “ says Siris. Bergamo fabric on armchairs. Hope’s windows and French Doors throughout.
The exterior walls of the old apartment were felled to make way for luminous American Déco-style steel casement doors and windows.
Although not celebrated in song- unlike their downstairs neighbors the sidewalks of New York- Manhattan’s rooftops are in no way lacking in vernacular charm. Residents of the Upper West Side see panoramic cityscapes composed of the often massive ornamental architectural details of vintage apartment buildings, mixed with the city’s omnipresent wooden water tanks, as something of illimitable poetic beauty. That beauty might well escape the notice of visitors who stick to the sidewalks, but it has long fascinated Jane Siris and Peter Coombs, of Siris/Coombs Architects, a firm more than 30 years old that is noted for its Modernist penthouse designs.
The allure of rooftop architecture springs from a number of advantages, Peter Coombs explains. “All the decoration of the older Upper West Side buildings occurs at the top, at the line of the parapets and copings, and these older buildings were structured so that two- or even three- story additions can be built on top of them. This can be, as in the case of our most recent penthouse renovation, a stand alone dwelling,” he says, “one that creates a unique way to live in New York- a very light and open place where life unfolds gracefully, where you watch the weather change in your own cityscape.”
The architecture combined two penthouse apartments that were in a neglected state but had a lot of natural light and panoramic Hudson River views.
“Given the buildable square footage,” Siris explains, “we were constrained to design within a long and narrow space.” They placed the entrance hall in the middle to bridge the two apartments; a vaulted oculus contributes visual height. “The corridor connecting the foyer to the living spaces to the west, which orients to Hudson River views,” she notes, “is modulated by a sequence of ceiling vaults, casement windows, interiors doors and a floor patterned in concentric squares to create a rhythm with the new windows and ceiling coffers.” The corridor to the east of the entrance hall leads to the bedrooms.
The exterior walls of the old apartments were quickly felled to make way for the luminous procession of American Deco-style steel casement doors and windows that surrounds the new penthouse.
Seasoned New York designer Jason Bell undertook the interior design. “At first,” he remembers, “there was no clear direction.” The clients were living in a traditional Upper West Side apartment with lots of antiques, an antique-blue palette and a baby grand piano in the living room- but that had hired a resolutely modern architectural firm. The apartment they were building clearly didn’t allow for their solidly traditional tastes. “My position,” he says, “was to make them understand a cleaner look with less detail, to lead them down simple lines to a calm, pared-down interior where they could enjoy the beauty of the architecture and the views. Rather than doing camelback or scroll-arm furnishings, we kept it very stream-lined.
“One thing the lady of the house was determined to retain from the old apartment was her favorite blue,” says Bell. The hues chosen for the new interiors were all based on moderating that traditional blue.
OPPOSITE ABOVE and OPPOSITE: Siris and Coombs (top right) added a window on the northern wall of the dining area, which adjoins the living space. They assembled “a large enough space for the living area/dining area/kitchen,” says Siris, “so they could all be together.” The painting is by Louise Fishman. John Boone dining and end tables. Drapery sheer, Rogers & Goffigon.