A Living Wall Reinvigorates An Aging Art Deco Lobby in Chelsea

The lobby hadn't been updated since the 1980s

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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. 

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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 rbairdremba@commercialobserver.com.