Paul Aferiat and Peter Stamberg met each other at the opening night of the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum at its current 5th Avenue location on Oct 8, 1976. The Museum launched with a landmark exhibition, Man Transforms/Aspects of Design. Created by chief of exhibitions Dorothy Globus and curated by Paolo Portoghesi, the exhibit reintroduced the public to “the mundane and the ordinary in unexpected and cogent contexts that surprise, charm, amuse, and illuminate,” according to the museum. In fact, this description could also describe the architecture and design work of Stamberg Aferiat since they began their practice in 1989.
In the exhibition, Meier (along with Buckminster Fuller, Arata Isozaki, Ettore Sottsass, and OM Ungers) was given a room to design and Aferiat was working on the installation. Stamberg had recently graduated from the AA in London, where he studied with Charles Jencks, and had opened an office in New York and published a book on self-made furniture: Instant Furniture: Low-Cost, Well-Designed, Easy-To-Assemble Tables, Chairs, Couches, Beds, Desks, and Storage Systems. They met their first client, Lucy Suarez, walking through the Union Square market. She commissioned them to renovate her 1977 Richard Meier apartment, which Aferiat knew from his time working with Meier. They added boldly to the existing residence—and this became a signature of their architecture even today—overlaying a Matisse-inspired color palette on Meier’s pristine white walls. These colors they say, “reflected the animated personalities of the clients.” Like all their projects, however, the approach is based on Newtonian observations on how phenomena are perceived. This concern for color began with a desire to overcome the 1970s modernist debate between the Grays and the Whites and an interest in reception based on phenomenology and semiotics. The architects often base their designs on the “Anti perspective” ideas of their friend David Hockney, but it is color that they introduce into every project. There is certainly no other architecture office practicing today who use such hues and contrasting colors in such a bold manner.
Gemini, one of the foremost print lithographers in the world, asked the architects to create both an exhibition space and offices in a small space. Stamberg and Aferiat utilized, as they do in many of their projects, free-floating partitions. Here they create the two programmatic spaces. Further, a mixture of colorful full-height partitions provides the flexibility for both large and small-scale installations in the 2,500-square-foot gallery.
Selby/Vail House (Barnes House addition and renovation)
Mount Kisco, New York
The firm was asked by new owners to renovate and propose a 6,000 square foot addition to Edward Larrabee Barnes’s personal residence in Mount Kisco, New York. They wanted the house doubled in size without diminishing the strength of the original. The architects designed a large triangular corrugated metal screen wall, inspired by Barnes, that acts as a backdrop to the original design and diminishes the scale of the new addition by subtly reflecting the sky and the surrounding property. “Finally a limited palette of materials and utilized light, view, form, and fine detailing create a variety of intimate and grand spaces suited to the client’s needs,” the architects said.
Shelter Island House
Shelter Island, New York
This house, which the architects designed for themselves, sits in a small clearing above Coecles Harbor on Shelter Island. The island is not known for its modern architecture, though there are several houses by Norman Jaffe, Morris/Sato, and William Pederson. A small, shingled Pomo bungalow designed by William Pederson that is more typical of the suburban landscape of the island sits next door. This house could not be more notable on the island because of its colors. The architects claim that “one of the most difficult decisions of our career was whether to paint the Shelter Island house or not.” Before it was painted it had “an ethereal quality when it was natural aluminum that we really loved and were concerned that paint would take some of the magic from the house. But we also knew that we would never have any credibility with anyone if we didn’t use color on our own house.”
The Saguaro Palm Springs
Palm Springs, California
If ever there was a perfect location for a Stamberg Aferiat building it would be Palm Springs. The bright clear desert air of the spa and its history of lively free-for-all architecture makes it just right for a splash of bright color. The building has been an aging Holiday Inn on the outer limits of Palm Canyon Drive, and it surely needed some oomph! The architects’ color palette brightened and updated the tired structure very simply. It opened in time for last year’s Modernism week and this member of the AN staff stayed at the hotel and thoroughly enjoyed the cheery colors set against the blue San Jacinto Mountains.