A Living Wall Reinvigorates An Aging Art Deco Lobby in Chelsea
The lobby hadn't been updated since the 1980s
It can be hard to make a century-old, narrow Manhattan lobby look modern, but architect Natalie Rebuck managed to strike the right balance at GFP Real Estate’s 322 Eighth Avenue by restoring Art Deco elements like a vaulted, gold-leafed ceiling while adding modern touches such as a living wall.
The lobby hadn’t been updated since the early 1980s, said Rebuck. “It seemed like a very sad space. Lots of components weren’t working at that point,” she added.
It also had an odd, dead space off to one side where tenants would leave umbrellas, which GFP had previously furnished with a sculpture of an elderly man surrounded by potted plants. Rebuck, who runs her own Brooklyn-based firm, Re: Design Architects, decided to turn that area into a self-serve coffee bar with a Keurig machine, cups and a built-in mini fridge stocked with various milks.
The coffee bar and kitchen appliances are outfitted with black marble panels and a matching countertop, and there are two accent walls paneled with antique mirrors. A small couch, four potted plants and two small black tables round out the space.
The main part of the lobby features the original white-and-gold coffered ceiling, a new slate floor, and orange terra-cotta tile along the left wall as one enters. The opposite wall features a living moss wall with oversized brass address numbers — 3-2-2 — bolted to the moss and separated by long brass strips. In front of the moss wall is a large, white marble reception desk with orange veins, meant to match the orange terra-cotta tile. Rounding out the space are new brass turnstiles and restored brass elevator doors. Above the elevators is a semi-circular painting that’s original to the building: a 1920s mural by Thomas Hart Benton depicting a mix of farms, industrial machinery, planes and a steam locomotive.
“The mural and the vaulted ceiling were the inspiration for the space,” said Rebuck. “The fluted tile on the wall mimics that barrel vaulted arch.”
Other Art Deco-inspired details in the lobby include brass sconce lights along the walls, brass railings, and a cylindrical, wedding cake chandelier with brass details in the entry vestibule.
Construction began at the end of 2022 and wrapped last month.
Rebecca Baird-Remba can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.