A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.
–Antoine de Saint-Exup’ery
Back in October I posted this story about Barbara and Peter who renovated a structure over at the corner of Lafayette and Niagara. This past weekend I was allowed to visit another exciting project on Main near Lafayette. An old vacant 13,000 sq’ brick structure has been converted into a live/work space that could be the ultimate modern living accommodation in the city. Owners, Frank and Margarette Fantauzzi spent two years gutting the building’s interior, which by the looks of some old photos, was an accomplishment in itself. They successfully rescued the original wood floors that had been punished by years of water leaks… leaks that relentlessly poured through the roof. And they even managed to save the original tattered tin ceiling that had been covered up by false drop ceilings.
After the interior was sufficiently stripped to the bare bones, the renovation process began. Frank, an Associate Architecture Professor at University at Buffalo, examined the second storey 4200 sq’ loft layout very closely and was determined to retain as many of the structure’s key original elements as possible. Anything that could not be refurbished immediately was incorporated into future plans so that they could be revisited at later dates during the ongoing transformation. Many of the design elements that the couple chose to implement into the build-out were strategically positioned and keenly inventive.
One walk across the vast second floor common area gives the visitor a sense that most of the work was done to hide… um… most of the work. The custom cabinetry is built in and around the living areas so that they become one with the walls. Some of the cabinetry even presents optical illusions that play with depth perception, while hiding the functional spaces within. Even the wood columns have built-in electric switches and outlets – an architectural feature rarely seen since the days that fine craftsmanship was mandatory for many of Buffalo’s elegant mansions. Plus, the custom-built, steel plate, free-standing fireplace is totally killer and looks like a blend of medieval and futuristic designs.
One of the walls in the master bedroom is comprised of Baltic-birch processed plywood panels that are layered in such a way as to display an almost natural pattern that might be found in a pinecone or a pineapple. These systems cost relatively little when weighed against the visual impact that they make within their respective rooms. Even though the building had sat vacant for eight years, and had changed hands many times, commercial design elements like the room divides were salvaged and incorporated into the residential layout. The frosted glass window that made up the upper half of the divides allows natural light to penetrate the innermost living spaces, while acting as privacy screens from room to room. The exterior panes of glass were replaced, and storm windows were added to help retain heat loss. Frank, Margarette and their two young daughters are still patiently waiting for some of Frank’s signature pieces to come in… like the custom door to the main bedroom. I can only imagine what a task it must be to create a door that must compete with the towering wood pocket doors and the vault-like front doors that can be found in other sections of the house.
Other ‘coming soon’ features include installation of a gigantic skylight that will be added over the kitchen, and a staircase that will someday lead to the expansive rooftop (there’s a ladder to get up there now). The travertine stone bathrooms are in the ‘recently completed’ stage – each one with functions totally different than the next. One has a turret-style, glassless look-through into the next room, while the other has a vista onto the skylight (coming soon) in the kitchen. Each space has been designed to fulfill a specific function for the various members of the family. Margarette, the resident Sewing Mistress at the Buffalo City Ballet located within the Tri-Main, has her own production office to retreat to. And Frank has turned the rest of the building into a number of studio spaces where he and his compadres experiment with material design. There’s even a pool table and wood-burning fireplace to occupy time when nocturnal work turns into social fraternization. And that’s still just the second floor.
The first floor is a never-ending series of studio, fabrication and gallery spaces that the couple plans to turn into temporary gallery spaces for UB Master of Fine Arts (MFA) students. Look for news on an upcoming show this spring. From there Frank and Margarette will be looking for more of a permanent concept to house in the space(s). If you know of someone that is looking to capitalize on the growing arts community around the Main Street corridor, feel free to contact me about the opportunity. One last design note that can’t be forgotten is the brilliant galvanized folded sheet-metal wall that shadows the back drive of the compound. The wall was designed by a UB student for a thesis project, and Frank was so impressed with the concept that he incorporated it into his blueprint. “It’s my way of enjoying my education,” he told me. “I love getting home from work and coming up with new ideas for our home”. The Fantauzzi’s have created a modern-day dream abode that any fan of contemporary design and unusual architectural elements would be excited to see.