March 7, 2015

Architect and designer Corvin Matei Renovates an Apartment on Park Avenue

In a Park Avenue classic, Corvin Matei updates pre-war elegance to great effect.

by Karen Lehrman Bloch photographer Joshua McHugh architecture Matei LLC Studio for Architecture and Design


It's probably safe to say that 41-year-old Corvin Matei is one of the few architects and designers to present hand-drawn sketches to clients. "As they say, the pencil is the extension of the mind," says Matei.

In 2011, under Matei's guidance, a 70-something philanthropist from the Midwest bought a three-bedroom apartment in a 1917 J. E. R. Carpenter building on Park Avenue and 62nd Street. "Given the time-saving qualities of hand drawings, we came up with the plans very quickly, before my client even closed on the property," says Matei, whose Studio for Architecture and Design opened in 2000.

Hand drawings were also appropriate given that the client has an enviable collection of photography, sculpture, and paintings, most from mid-to-late 20th century, and a profound appreciation of architecture and art. "Discussing the hand drawings with my client was like talking art with her. It was a conversation about pure unadulterated ideas and less about the glossiness of the drawing."

The plan: unclutter the existing spaces and update the 3,500-square-foot apartment to the needs of today's living while being respectful of the singular design and character of the building. (They studied old Carpenter drawings in search of the original details.) Step one: the architecture. Matei eliminated the congested maid quarters, reconfigured the kitchen into a large, open flex-space, and created passageways in walls to bring natural light deep into the apartment's heart. "In all, we created more open spaces and organized them around natural light and views to the city," says Matei. "The new layout is more lofty yet works with the original spirit of the building."

In the breakfast nook, a Leora Laor photograph presides over a custom Calacatta marble top on a black Saarinen Tulip base and a banquette in Maharam fabric.

Step two: the design. "It was important that there would be no distinction between the architecture and interior design, and that the spaces read as one coherent and seamless construct," says Matei. What that did not mean was filling the apartment with neoclassical elements. Rather, Matei and his client carefully curated a montage of styles and periods to suit each space. In the living room, for example, a curved couch and glass coffee table by Vladimir Kagan, two Finn Juhl 45 chairs, and a walnut bench by George Nakashima complement contemporary art by Beth Lipman, Joel Shapiro, and Ben Zadok.

The finished apartment is a testament to not only the benefit of hand sketches but also the timelessness of understated chic: elegantly designed pieces from every period harmonize-both with each other and with the elegant architecture. As Matei puts it, "The place feels humble yet sophisticated at the same time."