Artist Michele Oka Doner’s New York loft is at once sculptural, organic and finely wrought, a direct result of her creative DNA. She transformed one floor of a former button factory into a living, breathing piece of art, which served as the model for the home of the potter played by Demi Moore in the 1990 movie Ghost.
The 5,000-plus-square-foot loft is a gallery of her works, a studio and an arena to display the natural objects that inspire her daily. Michele’s pieces — from relief prints to clay sculptures to massive cast-metal objects — are scattered throughout the space. Furnishings, also designed by Michele, blend in seamlessly. Click through to see inside the magnificent space.
Architectural elements, like the Art Nouveau Corinthian columns and decades-old wraparound rads, are reminders of the building’s origins as a button factory. Contemporary upgrades included adding a mezzanine level (housing a bedroom, dressing room, office, bath and guest room) accessed by an open staircase (top left). Placing a piano front and center in the living room reiterates that art and music are central to life here; it’s topped with a branch-like candelabra by Michele.
A massive round table creates a communal feel in the living room and balances the angular architecture. Michele designed both the iron-steel-based table and the circular bench that encompasses it — together, they look like a giant paper cutout. An assortment of aquatic plants (and fish) in fishbowls displayed on dramatic pedestals adds energy, while tactile objects are scattered throughout the loft where they can be easily handled.
Michele stores found objects in a drawer unit on casters, which has lots of usable surface area up top for examining specimens. The large piece behind is the working drawing for Michele’s artwork Pearl Crystal Canopy, a huge gilded dome encrusted with 1,400 real pearls that was installed in Qatar.
Michele’s office, with its classic mid-century modern desk, runs along one wall of the living area, where she’s surrounded by her works and found treasures.
A grouping of clay figures and staffs by Michele date from the late 1970s to the early ’80s.
Michele liked the idea of preparing her tea while looking into the main room, so she designed this curved peninsula with elevated stainless steel counter and tucked the kitchen behind that. Glass storage shelves fitted into the window wells are a visually airy alternative to upper cabinets; the light streams through the dishware, making it appear almost weightless. Panelling in the jambs plays up the height of the windows and the depth of their wells.
Michele designed the dining table topped in thick, dark grey marble. It’s flanked by a caned loveseat and vintage bentwood chairs designed by Josef Frank and Josef Hoffmann. Casually propping Michele’s large-scale work against the brick wall creates an arresting yet relaxed focal point. The loft’s deep sills offer additional means of display.
The open risers of the wooden staircase to the second level mimic the original hardwood floors, yet feel contemporary. The artful bench at the foot of the stairs is a 19th-century piece by architect and furnituremaker Carlo Bugatti.
Dark walls and a dark rug heighten the coziness of the den, in sharp contrast to the light, open feel of the main living area. Michele designed the coffee tables, and the sofas are vintage pieces by Florence Knoll.
Instead of hanging photos throughout the loft, portraits of Michele and mementoes are layered on floating shelves in the den for a curated, personal feel.
Tall shelving that stretches up to the ceiling maxes out storage in the library off the living room. The bookcases’ black finish breaks up the loft’s primarily white palette and makes this area feel more intimate.
Author: Wendy Jacob with files from Kerstin Rose
House & Home November 2015