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Less is More
By Stephanie Smith | Photo: Chris Little | April 22, 2015
Two floors of raw space in Buckhead are transformed into a premier penthouse for a New York couple who flew south.
Giorgio Armani says, “To create something exceptional, your mindset must be relentlessly focused on the smallest detail.” Armani might as well have been talking about the first project interior designer Wendy Blount and architect Howard Kuo of Kuo Diedrich Architects worked on together—a multilevel Buckhead penthouse shell so rough-hewn, it didn’t have electrical or plumbing when they began. Purchased by well-traveled art- and wine-collecting native New Yorkers, the concrete residence would be home to the pair who had moved to Atlanta.
For Blount, the amount of intricate detail that went into the two-plus-year project was like nothing she had ever seen before in her 13-year career. “Every single point was considered, including the curtain material and how it would interact with the floor, carpet and view when opened and closed,” she recalls. “We made certain not one light switch fell at a joint on a tile in any bathroom; each piece of trim on the rise of each stair is ideal; the color of the glass on the stairs was agonized over; and the rug around the sofa is placed with exactly 6 inches showing all the way around.”
The thoughtfulness drilled down further: Will the clients want their electric toothbrushes standing up or lying down? The answer determined whether Blount would design the dual bathroom vanities with an outlet inside the drawer or not. What do the clients keep on their bedside table? How far would they have to reach for a book or to hit a switch? “I enjoyed thinking through the entire user experience the client would have inside the space,” says Blount.
The particulars of interiors and architecture were so intertwined that Kuo found the home’s oddball floor plan both as much of a challenge and a thrill as Blount did. “If it was just a basic box, options can be limiting,” says Kuo about the long and curvy layout. “We were able to build in personality and create interesting design opportunities because of the unusual geometry.”
The coup de grâce of the penthouse’s intriguing elements is the dazzling glass staircase suspended from the ceiling. There are few glass staircases in Atlanta, and it’s perhaps the only one in a private residence. “Almost everything in the home is custom-built, including this focal point manufactured by a Dallas company that creates Apple store glass staircases,” reveals Kuo. The high-end architect envisioned the space as transparent as possible, which is apparent everywhere from this see-through structure to the lack of walls to the glass railing to the luminous wine cellar. “The penthouse is dramatic on its own. I didn’t want the architecture to get in the way of the views,” says Kuo.
To that effect, Kuo crafted ceilings that are a little higher than normal and incorporate the kind of acoustical wood sound absorption system similar to the Sydney Opera House. In several rooms he created “giant swoops” as he calls them. “In the master bedroom, inspiration rose from Eero Saarinen’s Dulles Airport, and the ceiling resembles the wings of a plane.” The client enjoys international travel and liked the effect of feeling like you’re in the air, especially when you’re so high up.
To complement Kuo’s airy aesthetic, the couple requested that interiors allow the architecture to shine. “Sometimes people feel [that] contemporary and minimalistic means cold. I wanted to demonstrate that you can be contemporary and still make it incredibly warm,” adds Blount.
Since there wasn’t a lot of adornment, material selections became extremely important to Blount’s interiors. “We went through a number of floor finishes to get it just right,” she admits. The floors are unique in that Kuo played with spatial lines and arranged them in an astral pattern where metal insets abutted the wood laid out in opposing directions. This astral arrangement is also echoed in beautiful ivory drywall panels from Modular Arts in the stairwell that resemble crinkled paper; in the alabaster bar in the living room; and also in the curtains, which have little silver astral strikes in them. “It’s wonderful how sometimes during the design process a directive might not be stated, but as you move along and make choices, these patterns and details present themselves,” intimates Blount.
While Armani wasn’t exactly an inspiration for Kuo and Blount’s sky-high masterpiece, his words ring true for the end results. He is known for understated elegance, intense attention to detail and letting the client’s personality stand out in his creations. A similar mantra that less is more has emerged in this fashionable home.
Kuo Diedrich Architects
Wendy Blount Design
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