01 Mar When The Desk in Your Lobby is a Work of Art
Luxury-apartment developers like Harry Macklowe differentiate their projects by replacing front desks with sculptural pieces inspired by rappers and classical paintings.
Interviews with real estate developers don’t usually involve cavemen and the origins of civilization. But most aren’t Harry Macklowe, the 81-year-old builder whose storied ups and downs are the stuff of New York real estate legend.
On a recent autumn morning, a tweed-clad Mr. Macklowe was showing off the lobby “desk” at his under-construction condominium at 200 East 59th Street. More akin to a tricycle than a piece of furniture, the three-wheeled contraption glides across the white terrazzo floor, allowing the doorman to move while greeting residents.
As New York City developers vie to differentiate their projects amid a market slowdown, the standard lobby desk is being replaced with eye-catching, sculptural pieces. Most developers outsource the work to an interior designer or architect; Mr. Macklowe, by contrast, obsessively designed the desk himself.
“The tires were very important,” Mr. Macklowe said while nudging the delicate structure back and forth. He said he wanted to evoke a bicycle, “an ordinary object that we all know from our childhood, something that’s universally accepted, something that made us different from the caveman. The wheel, the primary form of civilization, is here and adapted to an everyday use.”
His initial inspiration for the glass-and-steel podium-on-wheels came from a newspaper photograph of Liberian rapper Lyrical D performing in his wheelchair. “The wheel of the wheelchair, it caught my eye,” he said. An art collector, Mr. Macklowe said the photo also reminded him of the sculpture “Chariot” by Alberto Giacometti. “Those thoughts came to mind, and I started to sketch,” he said. He surmises he drew about six versions before arriving at the final desk, which was custom-fabricated in Brooklyn from low-iron glass and stainless steel polished to a high sheen.
111 Murray Street, Tribeca
It took roughly a year to fabricate 111 Murray’s lobby desk: a 14-foot-long piece of wood carved from a tree trunk. Greg Keffer of lobby designer Rockwell Group said it was no easy task locating the right tree: a solid poplar (chosen for its light color) with the appropriate dimensions was ultimately found in Maryland. Once it was cut, it had to dry for months before it could begin life as a desk. “We see it as a piece of sculpture,” Mr. Keffer said. “It’s the focal point of the entire lobby.”
Cost: Approximately $60,000
19 Dutch, Financial District
At this new downtown rental building, interior designer Colum McCartan drew from the area’s history as part of New Amsterdam. The 12-foot-long lobby desk was inspired by Dutch Delft pottery. Mr. McCartan found an etching of the waterfront from the 1600s, enlarged it and had it printed in blue and white on porcelain tile.
Cost: Approximately $100,000
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