Northern Exposure

A New York City architect opens up his apartment to take advantage of natural light.

Joel Sanders’s newly renovated apartment, on Horatio Street in Manhattan’s West Village, would probably qualify as a masculine space according to conventional spatial codes. It’s almost all white, with metallic blue curtains and very little ornamentation. But in Stud: Architectures of Masculinity, a 1996 book of essays on architecture and identity that he edited, Sanders tried to complicate the easy attribution of masculine virtues to Modernism and the derision of decorative surfaces. All buildings are essentially decorated inside and out, he argued, despite whatever structural materials were allowed to poke through their minimalist skirts.

Lately Sanders has been performing a similar critique of the division between private and public space—converting his 750-square-foot midcentury apartment to accommodate the fluid boundaries of contemporary use. The issue with his Horatio Street apartment was that the individual rooms were segmenting his life into a postwar program, imposing a distinct separation between activities. But perhaps even more troubling, the walls were blocking the abundant sunlight that shines through curved picture windows in his bedroom from reaching the living room, kitchen, and dining area. “There was never any sense of continuity between the spaces,” he says. “Basically the curved windows are the main thing that’s nice about this apartment.”

Sanders’s solution was to knock down a wall in the middle and replace it with a set of floor-to-ceiling louvers that can be closed for privacy or left open to bring daylight into the entire apartment. “The idea was to create this one frame that wraps around the space and to create a louvered screen between the areas,” he says. “Originally there was going to be a door, but it was just so nice open that I decided to continue it that way.”

The “frame” is composed of a lowered ceiling at the entrance that creates a vestibule, custom cabinets, a dresser, closets, and recessed lighting. Along with the louvers, it unifies the apartment aesthetically, as well as allowing for a flow between spaces and a mix of uses. In the bathroom Sanders cut through another wall to bring light from the bedroom into the kitchen, but there’s a sanded-glass shade in the shower to keep everyone honest. “You can close it,” he says, “if you’re bashful.”

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