GRT Architects renew a modest Manhattan lobby with a confetti of yellow, green, and red marble

Devil in the Details

The “devil in the details” here is really the entrance of this Lower East Side apartment building itself, a 750-square-foot lobby in a red brick mid-rise. According to Brooklyn-based partner Rustam-Marc Mehta of GRT Architects, it had to be overhauled “quickly and not look rushed or generic.” The brief from the client, an expert in architecture himself, was to modify “‘stock items and work with local craftspeople who could build with a myriad of materials.” It was a tall order. In essence, the layout of the scheme incorporates a vestibule with mailboxes, an entry desk, a seating area, and the path the elevators and stairs. Each area is tied together by the meticulously thought out placement of marble tiles, arranged exactly how it was conceived in the original floorplan. Arranged in a checkerboard of large and small trapezoids that nest in each other, contrasting white and gray stones are sprinkled with a confetti of yellow, green, and red marble.

Wherever possible, Mehta introduced what he calls “zig-zags” to break up and align the various functions of the space, both structurally and decoratively. The custom made entry desk has the same triangle-shaped apex as the cantilevered stone bench. He also chose furniture specifically to echo these geometries—the Fort Standard patina mirrors, for example, emulate the on-the-bias cut tiles. So too does the half-moon-shaped chandelier by Alex Allen Studio, whose negative space seems like it could fit directly in the arm of the Papa Bear chair reproductions below.

Jagged Fort Standard patina mirrors mimic the cubist-like arangement of marble tiles, along with the cantilevered marble bench. (Nicole Franzen)

The seating area feature Papa Bear Chair reproductions by Modernica, a chandelier by Alex Allen Studios, and a wooden round table. (Nicole Franzen)

The floor extends all the way into the vestibule which we redesigned in solid sapele, including custom surrounds for off-the-shelf mailboxes. (Nicole Franzen)

Mehta teamed up with Brooklyn fabricator Max Wang Studio to create the entry desk and bench, which “echo the chevron motif at a larger scale and further explore the material palette.” Clad in solid rounds, the desk was inlaid with asymmetrical brass beams. Meanwhile, the top and base are swatched in Rosso Verona, a material that also makes the body of the sweeping, cantilevered bench supported by wide-flange steel beams relieved into the wall cladding. This pairing of disparate materials combined with a tight schedule provided a loose set of constraints that turned into a “beautifully executed intersection of stone, steel, and wood.”

Of course, even Mehta couldn’t claim to have created the most non-generic lobby in such a modest space, but there is a definite originality to it—a hint of the local craftsmanship and materials—in his carefully selected furnishings, lighting, colors, and patterns.

The floor plan is telling of the carefully thought-out geometries of the tile work, the alignment of the vestibule and seating area, and the shape resemblance of the cantilevered bench and the entry desk. (Courtesy GRT Architects)

Header image: The entryway desk was CNC-milled with four gold metal inserts by Brooklyn fabricator Max Wang Studio. (Nicole Franzen)