The thing we love about Nequette Architecture & Design is their ability to stake out a timeless middle ground in their design projects. They eschew the starkly modern but refuse to be constrained by the past. And as they renovate their own two buildings on Second Avenue North, we asked owner Louis Nequette to tell us about their downtown design process.
We worked with Nequette to acquire the two former Harold’s furniture buildings, which are more or less across the street from his current rented space. It’ll be a classic loft district mixed-use project — ground-floor retail topped with loft living — with a twist: the firm will be the building’s penthouse resident.
“Our plan was not to put that floor on there until we climbed up on the roof and got a load of the 360-degree amazing views,” Nequette said. “After seeing that we were inspired and wanted to create a place where we could do what we do every day with as much inspiration as possible.”
The building’s thick industrial walls have enough heft to support an addition, and the one the firm has planned should be stunning. “There’ll be a lot of glass,” Nequette said, to optimize the views.
The building dates from 1889, according to documents Nequette found, which adds a layer of history to the design consideration. Still, Nequette said the process isn’t far off from any kind of major renovation: “It’s about walking through and finding the redeeming qualities of, ‘Where’s the magic? What’s special about the existing building?’
“Sometimes there’s nothing, and it gets demolished completely. Sometimes there’s so much that it really warrants it being a historical preservation kind of project. And then most cases it’s kind of in the middle, and that’s how this one was,” he said.
Residential units were a natural next step, since the minimal interior framing of a warehouse “makes for a great loft kind of situation.” As for the penthouse addition, Nequette bucked the trend of adding “a modern box on a traditional building.” (He says it’s often a good approach, though, that “creates a lot of interest to clash those two styles together.”)
The deciding factor was the addition’s footprint. “We felt because we wanted to pull the top floor up to the front elevation, that that would look more strange and out of place and not in keeping with the character of 2nd Avenue,” he said. “As opposed to doing what we’re doing, which is take a much more traditionally-inspired approach to that design.
“We’ve done both at different times, but in this case, it calls for trying to keep the whole building in character.”
What does that character look like? Neatly-framed windows that emerge naturally from the building’s existing roofline, with a bay window bumping out over the second building. A hint of modern tension in its asymmetry, but nothing that would give you pause.
Looking at the drawings, we were struck by how natural the addition seemed. Which is how we feel about most Nequette Architecture & Design projects. That middle ground we mentioned? It’s a way of designing that feels like it’s always been there, and a result we always love.