Architect John Pawson’s seductive Manhattan duplex for antique dealer Jill Dienst is all about the poetry of sun and shadow.
Somewhere in Manhattan, just steps from the Hudson River is one of British architect John Pawson’s most intimate works. It is a family home, suffused with his signature vocabulary of shifting light and exquisite proportions, an ecstatic language that eschews commonplace distractions. There are no baseboards; there are no cornices. The troweled plaster walls are as soft as suede, and the raw wood floors as plainspoken as those in a farmhouse.
In Pawson’s interiors for the new premises of London’s Design Museum, sunlight is as much a material as terrazzo, marble, and fir. That same alchemy is witnessed every day at that Hudson-facing duplex, where Jill Dienst, proprietor of the Scandinavian-antiques mecca Dienst + Dotter Antikviteter, and her husband, Dan.
“We design places around the way that people want to live,” Pawson says of his firm, “and what was nice is that Jill was always going to populate the apartment with beautiful things.” That extends to the small stone-floored laundry room, which is centered on a circa-1750 Swedish table, the object that Jill says influenced the whole home.
The culmination of five years of planning, construction, and refining, the duplex began as raw space, an utterly blank slate. What intrigued Pawson about the commission was the pink-gold western light that glints off the Hudson River and the opportunity, given the structure, to conjure up double-height rooms. Thus, the main level’s biggest space is a multipurpose area that stretches the full length of the apartment.
At the west end is a single-height sitting room that features a long, low slash of the fireplace. Dead center is a gathering area that rises to 18 feet. The east end of the spatial sequence is a dining space, also single height and where the far wall is surfaced with Douglas-fir boards.
Enormous windows, cloaked by filmy white curtains, face south, while at cocktail hour sunset pours through a single undressed window that is set like a medieval jewel within a deeply angled reveal.