During each of over 20 trips to the Big Apple, I would comment on how much I would like to live there. So, my parents, Jim & Lorraine Watson who passed away in 2002 and 2003, have given me a wonderful gift of inheritance to buy an apartment in New York City.
The focus of the apartment is the balcony and the view of the Hudson River, Ellis Island, and the New Jersey shore. All of the apartment's late-80s-era decoration, built-in shelves, mirrors, and multiple ceiling moldings, was removed; the walls were stripped of paint, wallpaper, and faux finishes; refinished; and painted pure white. The minimal furniture and accessories provide a respite and haven from the bustle and busyness of the city.
The angled grid
The furniture in the living room and bedroom is on an angled grid providing slight tension to the grid of the walls and the building (larger floor plan at bottom of this page). The angle orients the furniture to the river view and is similar to the overlapping grids of lower Manhattan. The city grew with different neighborhood grids. It wasn't until 1811 that the city superimposed the straight grid for the rest of the island.
Small space, big style
The HGTV show that aired in October of 2006 emphasized the challenges inherent when working with small spaces - how to make them feel larger. I addressed this in the apartment several ways - furniture on wheels, not placing furniture up against the walls, and a table that adapts to multiple uses; but the two main design solutions that help to perceptually enlarge the space are the wall color and the overlapping grids. What makes an apartment feel small is the walls encroaching on the space. Since I couldn't get rid of the walls (the nabers would complain) I strove to make them less apparent. I had them painted pure white - partly to allow the visitor to feel like in a gallery, a space that we are conditioned to we perceive as large. Also, white makes no statement concerning warm, cool, soft, hard, etc. It is a very neutral color. I also placed artwork on the walls that further enhanced the feeling of a gallery. Method 2 is the grid that defies the walls. The red rectangle in the carpet and the placement of the furniture are on a grid alignment that is at an angle to the walls. This further demotes the importance and presence of the walls. The combination of the gallery-white walls and the defiant grid help the visitor to ignore the space-limiting walls.
Video of the HGTV Small Space, Big Style show segment.
The logo identity
The verticality of the condensed geometric letterforms for FIVE represent the skyscrapers of Lower Manhattan. The organic curves of the S represent the Hudson River and Hudson Bay. The overlapping and varying shades of grey convey the somewhat chaotic nature of Manhattan and the layered complexity of experiencing New York City.
The letterforms that spell out Jim Watson Apartment Downtown Manhattan are also condensed for verticality. The lines of type represent the grid of city streets that is common to Manhattan above downtown. Sketches from 2005:
Accolades from the web
I entered a contest online called Small Cool Apartment. I posted pictures and descriptions of the interior of the apartment. Following are some of the comments posted to the site. It was the exposure from this contest that led to the invitation for the apartment to be featured on HGTV.
The carts with their long-necked lamps just amuse me so much.
Love it. Very creative, loosens up the mind - great energy. Lots of conversation pieces, too. Love this: "Minimal furniture provides a respite from the busy-ness of the city."
This apartment is fascinating because I've never seen anything quite like it. I like the freaky little mechanical toys all over the place. The Nelson bed is beautiful - I think its one of the best beds out there. The tentacle style lamps are cool because they're a little disturbing. Angling the furniture to create a second grid within the outer grid is a great idea and creates a lot of visual interest (the floor plan looks like a Russian Constructivist poster). Thanks for a look at your thoughtfully put-together space!
I love the originality of this apartment, especially that tower of Metrocards.
One thing I love about this apartment is the contrast between the skewed line of the carts and the long straight photograph on the wall behind it - really drives home the angularity of the arrangement.
I love the creativity and courage it takes to live in a truly unique space.
The angling of the Flor tiles is a great way to create space within the space.
I like carts although I would never be brave enough to position them away from the wall like that. I like it - it works in some strange way.
I love it - it looks like an inspired space with all its quirkiness. You can tell that the person who lives here has an interesting character. Its far better than the typical apartment trying desperately to imitate the slick magazine photographs.
I think the warmth comes from the red rug, and I really like his determination to create a new set of rules and to follow them, and to think outside the box - or the grid.
Your place is great. I am currently living in a triangle and really struggling with a layout - your place has given me a lot of confidence to damn the walls and do what I want. I love the lamps/rolling carts and the whimsy of the Metrocard columns. It looks like fun.
Sly, ironic, and devious with more to it than first meets the eye. There's nothing safe here and much that's question-provoking and even vaguely unsettling - edges not often found in a living space. This is an elevator ride with William Burroughs.
Tour of the apartment and its contents (artwork is italicized)
• Pocket shelves On the wall by the front door are 5 small shelves to hold the stuff taken out of pockets upon arrival in the apartment. Once displayed on the shelves, the items become pieces of art, taking on a new life.
• Greetings from New York City On the door is an enlargement of an old postcard in the typical 'Greetings from . . ' style. Facing one on the way out, it provides a bit of color and whimsy as one steps out into the city.
• Karim vase and dog bowl In the summer, a dog bowl, raised for better eating habits, is in a Karim Rashid vase.
Living room furniture and art
• Eames Plywood Lounge Chair Experimenting in the 1940s with thin sheets of wood veneer formed under heat and pressure, Ray and Charles Eames put their design genius to work for the war effort making splints, stretchers, and glider shells. After the war, they adapted the technology to furniture making. With a seat and back sculpted to fit the contours of the human body, Time magazine named it the Best Design of the 20th Century.
• Pavilion Chair This black chair was designed by Mies van der Rohe for the 1929 International Exhibition in Barcelona, Spain. The design is based on the classic scissors-shaped chairs that symbolized power in ancient cultures.
• Laccio Table This is one of a set of nesting tables designed by Marcel Breuer of the Bauhaus in 1925. It reflects the experimentation the Bauhaus designers did with bent and chromed steel.
• Finlandia vase (on the Breuer table) Alvar Aalto integrated the natural contours of the Finnish landscape into his freeform vase series. This vase, mouth-blown of lead-free crystal, was introduced at the Paris World's Fair of 1936. At that time, its meandering form and elegant beauty were highly revolutionary - a culture shock. It is now called the world's most famous vase and an icon of 20th century modern design. Inside the vase is a bunch of sticks broken from a bamboo curtain bought at the Pearl River Chinese Market.
• Quovis Tables There are 2 satin-finish stainless steel units along the long wall. They hold the souvenir kitsch and a 3D model of Manhattan and DVDs and a printer. Another table sits opposite and contains a television. A large work table faces the window view and doubles as a dining table when necessary.
• Vignelli/Heller set On the large Quovis table is a setting of durable plastic dishes designed by Massimo Vignelli in 1970 and produced by Heller. They are used here to organize office supplies.
• Caper Chairs (at the Quovis large table) Winner of a 1999 NeoCon Gold Award for task/workstation seating, this Herman Miller chair was designed by Jeff Weber and Bill Stumpf (designers of the famed Aeron Chair). The seat and back use 100% recyclable materials and promote ergonomic flexibility and durability.
• James the Doorman (by the balcony door) From black+blum, an English-Swiss partnership based in London, this is evidence of their philosophy to design products that are fun and affordable.
• Asterisk Clock On the living room wall is one of a series of clocks designed by George Nelson and produced in the 1950s.
• Library Along one wall are slanted and lipped shelves holding a variety of books about New York City and brochures of things to see. The brackets are intended for shoe shelves but I installed the shelves so that they were at a more acute angle to expose the books more and take up less space in the passageway. The books and brochure covers become works of art to be viewed in a different context.
• Flor The entire apartment floor is covered with carpet tiles from Flor. They are touted for their ease of installation, are easy to replace, and can be washed in the sink. Carpet tiles have been used for years in office situations - they are now available for home use. The red rectangle under the furniture transcends the two rooms and the balcony to unify the spaces into one open plan.
• iPod setup The iPod sits in a self-contained unit on the kitchen counter. It has great sound and allows me to control it from the bedroom with a radio-frequency remote control.
• New York Kitsch On a Quovis table is a collection of souvenir geegaws and kitsch that grows with each guest visit to the apartment. A photo of Jim's parents, in recognition and gratitude for the apartment.
• 3D New York New York skyline model On the unit in the corner is a large 3D puzzle model of the New York City skyline, pre 9/11. From Wrebbit, Canadian maker of foam puzzles since 1991, it took weeks to put together - over 3,000 pieces. It is quite detailed, but, unfortunately the puzzle was designed and produced before the Cove Club condominium (where apartment 5S is) was finished.
• Balcony chairs These two chairs are rustic wood post construction like those found in the National Parks of the west. With the print of Monument Valley, these reflect the wide open relaxed nature of western US parks. The green plastic table with organic pedestal base complements and contrasts the rustic chairs.
• Rashid Ego & ID vase Mounted above the kitchen pass-thru counter is a vase by Karim Rashid, Ego & ID. The profile of the vase is in the form of a human face. The vase/bowl was produced and hand made by mglass. It is probably derived from Renato Bertelli's 1933 sculpture of Benito Mussolini.
• MetroCard columns Three vertical sculptural columns are made of 735 recycled MetroCards collected over a period of several months. The cards take on a new life - from utilitarian access to aesthetic repetition.
• 5x5 by NY In the living room is a grid of 25 gray framed black & white 3" square photos of classic New York City icons. The images were cut from a book of postcards.
• Monument Valley The wide photo of Monument Valley in southern Utah serves as the antithesis to the bustle and crowded environment of the city. It is another of Watson's favorite places. The towers of rock match the towers of rock in the Manhattan skyscrapers.
• Serenity vase A simple glass vase with sticks and twigs rising up as a reminder to slow down, calmify, and center on nature.
• Super FlipOut This 2003 toy is by Chuck Hoberman. Hoberman Designs combines creative design with precision engineering to create products that delight the eye, stimulate the mind, and introduce the unexpected. Super FlipOut changes colors and shape when you throw it in the air.
The living room and bedroom are lit by 5 Papiro Lamps. Designed by Sergio Calatroni, these are 9 feet tall stems that can be bent to any configuration. There is one between each of the Quovis units and two in the bedroom, aimed to light reading material while lying in bed. The organic line they form provides a counterpoint to the rigid geometry of the stainless steel units.
The bathroom is lit by 6 spiral energy efficient fluorescent fixtures.
• Sink and fixtures Watson replaced the typical sink faucet with a brushed aluminum style bar faucet. This allows easier filling of large vessels in the sink and sleekifies the counter. The faucet fixtures are set asymmetrically to the sink - the faucet and the valve handle are easier to get to and operate. The opposite counter has a coffee maker and industrial-strength blender.
• Recycling cart The cart for recycling is assembled of elements from Elfa. It has two deep storage bins, easy access, and is on casters to roll to the recycle room. New Yorkers take recycling very seriously. There are receptacles for the separated materials in the trash closet on each floor of the building.
• Subway Map Large version of the 2004 map of the New York City subway lines. It is functional art. It is hung with brushed aluminum slip-on hangers designed by Jergen Moller in 1982 and made in Denmark.
• Case Study Bed The bed was designed by George Nelson as part of the Case Study House program of 1949 sponsored by Art and Architecture magazine. This model is cherry wood with a solid foam mattress. It is oriented in the room to take advantage of the view and to show off the graceful biomorphic brackets that support the headboard.
The burgundy bedspread is a copy of the 1933 Bed Cover designed by Lilly Reich (working out of the Berlin office of Mies van der Rohe) for the E 52nd St apartment of architect and MoMA curator, Philip Johnson.
• Bubu stool Another Philippe Starck design - this one from France, 1991 - a dressing stool of orange polypropylene commands the space between the headboard and the closet.
• Book Shelves Designed and built by Jim Watson in the summer of 2006, these are shelves of books supported by steel rods protruding from the wall and hidden inside the books themselves. More info.
• Family fotos Jim's dogs - Dallas, Austin, Vegas, Manhattan, and Brooklyn.
• Eames cards column Large interlocking cards with images and graphics by Ray & Charles Eames.
• Ode to New York (above right: assembly line gluing) In the bedroom are 96 miniature Statues of Liberty and 96 miniature Empire State Buildings - two of the most recognizable New York icons. The 192 models are arranged in a grid in the footprint plan of the World Trade Center towers. The statues face the door, welcoming guests (emigrants) into the space, the buildings are oriented as they are in Manhattan. Beneath each piece is a 'white shadow' symbolizing purity and a void or loss - something missing. The two icons - vital tourist attractions - represent liberty and now the tallest building in New York City, standing strong. The photos, top row right, show how light and shadows play on the art during the day - creating ever-changing points of interest.
Wall clock Inspired by the kitsch clock in the Oklahoma house, I designed a clock in NY that embraced the wall at the end of the bedroom. The OK clock allowed me to realize that the face of a clock can be made of just about anything - including the wall the mechanism is mounted on. I explored sketches of cubes and numbers that could be mounted on the walls, ceiling, and the ac unit. But, when I bought the clock mechanism, it came with the 4" sans serif numbers shown above. Great. Sometimes, serendipity works well. I simply applied the numbers to the wall. Each number is located in its correct path but at varying lengths from the clock. The numbers wrap around corners, some are flat, others vertical and the '9' is on the mini-blinds, barely noticeable during the day, but more apparent when the blinds are shut for the evening. The seemingly random chaos of the number placement offsets the structured grid of the statues and buildings on the wall to the left of the clock.
• Dyson Air Multiplier This new unconventional fan, from the inventor of the Dyson vacuum cleaner, draws in air and amplifies it - 15 times greater. With no blades or grille, its safer and easier to clean and it produces an uninterrupted stream of smooth air, with no unpleasant buffeting.
• Vignelli's New York City Subway Diagram 2008 Massimo Vignelli designed a stylized schematic Beck-style map/diagram for the New York City subway system in 1972. He had designed all the graphics and signage for the system in 1966. I got a free map in 1977, now mounted in the apartment bathroom - see below. In 2008, Men's Vogue magazine commissioned Vignelli to revise and update his 1972 map. They offered a limited edition for sale but those sold out within 2 hours. This one in the bedroom was a gift from Massimo and his assistant Beatriz after we visited with them in Massimo's apartment/office for 2.5 hours in May, 2008.
• More Than Ever poster Milton Glaser, a founder of the trend-setting PushPin Studios in the 1950s, designed the original 'I heart New York' mark in 1977. It has since become a graphic icon, mimicked all over the world. After 9/11, Glaser expressed his feelings by redesigning the classic mark by adding 'More Than Ever' and a slight bruise on the heart. He sent his new version to a friend at the New York Post who, unknown to Glaser, had it run on the full back page the next day. It was a hit. People posted them all over town and they were much in demand. Then the poster version was printed and distributed. This is one of those original posters, signed by Milton Glaser in 2006 (I took it by his office and left it for him to autograph).
• The Gates, Central Park, New York City, Christo and Jeanne-Claude The black-framed piece is a print of sketches by Christo of their first site-specific work in their hometown of New York City. This temporary work, mounted for 2 weeks in Febuary 2005, consisted of 7,500 orange gate frames with hanging orange fabric spaced throughout 23 miles of Central Park walkways. The print is signed by Christo. More info.
Autograph signed pieces
Milton Glaser, Massimo Vignelli, and Christo
• Shower curtain Grey typographical curtain of miscellaneous water-related words. Hung on rings and chains to allow the curtain rod to be high up on the wall (so I don't have to duck under it).
• Vignelli subway map This framed map is from Watson's personal collection - I got it free as a tourist in 1977 and saved it, not knowing its history as a classic icon of graphic design. During spring 2008, I visited Massimo in his home/office and he signed the map.
The Flor tiles
The entire apartment floor is covered with carpet tiles from Flor. They are touted for their ease of installation, are easy to replace, and can be washed in the sink. Carpet tiles have been used for years in office situations - they are now available for home use.
The furniture in the living room and bedroom is on an angled grid providing slight tension to the grid of the walls and the building. The red rectangle under the furniture transcends the two rooms and the balcony to unify the spaces into one open plan.
In April 2010, after 6 years of no television and no Internet connection (I had been stealing WiFi from some anonymous nabers in the building), I decided to remedy that cultural faux pas. I canceled the OK cable and applied that money to the NY cable, which is $10 cheaper than in OK. How exciting to connect to the world again - morning shows, game shows, Modern Family, and NBC Thursday nite.In July 2013, after some Time-Warner billing overcharges, I cancelled the services and went back to watching TV and using the WiFi in the building club room.
The great purge of 2010
After I retired in spring of 2009 and decided to no longer teach studio courses (I continue to teach a history lecture course), I conducted a major purge of stuff in both Oklahoma and New York. In the NY apartment, I sold some items through the condo digital network and donated bags of items to Goodwill. I rearranged the furniture in the living room (before and after photos and floor plans below).
Items removed in January 2010
• Bar stools Two brushed steel grid structured stools.
• Vase of grasses The organic glass vase on the balcony terrace held a lawn of grasses to provide a touch of backyard sight and smell.
• Chorus line of batters A collection of unused trophies rearranged and mounted in a straight line. I discovered the trophies in a box outside the apartment building. They had been unclaimed from a just-completed kid's baseball tournament and the man holding the box was about to throw them all away. I asked and received the whole boxload.
• Quovis Table The satin-finish stainless steel units along the long wall held pictures, books, magazines, maps, television, iPod music system speakers, and a printer.
• Mag table Designed by Eric Pfeiffer in 1999, a continuous sheet of contoured birch plywood performed double duty - it nested the floor pillows and formed a table surface for meals while watching TV.
• iPod setup The iPod sat in a dock on one of the Quovis tables. To hide the connections and the controls, I hollowed out a book and cut channels for the cords. All the unsightly stuff fit inside the book and out of sight.
• Door text Lettering on the balcony door instructed the guest on how to lock/unlock the door and which way to push/pull the door: Pull for fresh air, to hear sounds of the city, and watch the sunset. Push to do great things, back inside. Grey vinyl letters applied directly to the glass allowed them to take on new life as text art.
• Digit Message Tape Wrapping around the column between the foyer and the kitchen was a favorite quote written on tape designed by SuckUK in London. The tape is printed with digital readouts - the user then blacks out segments so the remaining segments form letters. The quote is from a 1975 poster produced by the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom: It will be a great day in America when the schools have all the money they need and the military has to hold a bake sale.
• Tool cart
• Do Frame Tape From Droog, the design collective in the netherlands, this Rococo patterned tape, designed by Marti Guixe, framed a mirror on the mirror.
• Sucker A collection of designers and practitioners from Holland, Droog produces a variety of innovative, functional, and witty objects. This is a knob/holder that sticks by suction in its soft plastic, designed by Leon Ramakers & Jan Hoekstra, 2005.
Apartment 5-S specs
March 2004 - June 2016: 12 years, 3 months
Location: Battery Park City, Manhattan
Square feet: 630 inside, 89 balcony
Date of building construction: 1989
Date of condo purchase: January 15, 2004
Date of closing: March 15, 2004
Move-in and furniture setup: March 15-19, 2004
Interior design: Jim Watson
Demolition, wall prep, and painting: March 23-April 14 2004
Initial art installations: April 17-20, 2004
Flor carpet installation: October 21-22 & November 19-20, 2004; April 2006
HGTV filming: May 18, 2006
HGTV airing: October 8, 2006
Purge stuff: Summer-Fall 2009
Interior rearrangement: January 2010
Add television and Internet: April 2010
Remove cable and Internet: July 2013
Commit to sell apt: March 23, 2016
Remove wall art installations: April 19, 2016
Clean and rearrange, pack clothes and kotchkes: April 22, 2016
Pack, move furniture to OK: June 22, 2016
Number of trips
Flites, pre-apt: 18
Flites, apt: 51
Drives: 12 trips; Vegas: 4, Vegas & Manhattan: 3, Manhattan: 3, Manhattan & Brooklyn: 2
Total: 64? trips to the apartment (March 2004 - June 2016)
Before & after photos or Bephore & aphter photos
The images below show the boxes of furniture delivered on the first morning in the apartment, the built-in shelves that covered one wall in the living room and one wall in the bedroom, the original wood parquet floor, and the wall texture.
The 5 long boxes in the back left held the 9' Papiro lamps, the wood crate held the large table, the boxes on the right held 4 chairs and the 4 smaller steel table carts. All of these boxes were delivered by Design Within Reach on Tuesday, the day after closing on the apartment.
Built-in shelves and floor-to-ceiling mirrors covered the entire wall on the left.
The wall had been textured to look like adobe.
There were 3 strips of 1" half-round crown molding around the entire apartment.
There were built-in shelves along the bedroom also.
A few photos (or a phew fotos) by Beau Wade
Taken prior to the Great Purge and furniture rearrangement of spring 2010.
Photos of details