Friday, October 10, 2014

Peter Stamberg and Paul Aferiat

By Sian Ballen & Lesley Hauge
Photographs by Jeff Hirsch

“If we didn’t know you were architects, we would have thought artists lived here,” we said about Peter Stamberg and Paul Aferiat’s lower Fifth Avenue loft. They were pleased. Known for their painterly use of color, it was fascinating to listen to their thoughts on this surprisingly complex subject of color in the lives of human beings.

“The idea of choosing a color is people’s fear of making a choice,” says Peter. If you’re inspired by the photographs of their loft, check out their thought-provoking website (www. and especially their treatment of the Saguaro hotels in Palm Springs and Scottsdale, Arizona where they transformed dingy desert-colored buildings into brilliance.

We’re interested in your name – “Aferiat” – where does it come from?

Paul: My father was Algerian—did you see the Yves St. Laurent film? It is amazing, amazing! And he was born in Oran, which was where my father was born. My father became the president of Porthault in the US and I only visited Algeria when I was young.

You have a good French accent—did you grow up speaking French?

Paul: Well my mother was child of the Holocaust. She was 13 years old when they sent her by herself to America and she lost her parents there—she was from Vienna. So language was not something that was actually cultivated in our household. We weren’t told anything about it all.
Models of residential and commercial projects and photos are arranged in the entryway of Peter and Paul's office space. The awards are from Hospitality Design magazine for the Stamberg Aferiat-designed Saguaro Hotels in Palm Springs and Scottsdale.
Looking across Peter and Paul's office space. The office was designed for maximum openness, using open metal studs and multi-wall polycarbonate. Looking toward the front entryway of the office area.
Keith Tsang at work on an upcoming project. More project models lean atop the office bookshelves.
Artwork collected over the years is placed throughout Peter and Paul's office. The ceramic vessels in the center were designed by Ettore Sottsass. The project on the board is a house that they designed on Shelter Island.
The photograph to the right of the model of the Hoffman House is an image of Case Study House No. 22 by their late friend Julius Schulman.
And you, Peter—your mother was a guidance counselor at a high school!

Peter: And I went to the same high school! She wasn’t my counselor—I was switched over to another group. People said it must have been horrible but she was wonderful.

Perhaps it was kind of useful to have a guidance counselor/mother …

Peter: It was except when I was busted near the end of senior year cutting gym the entire year.

Is that the naughtiest thing you’ve ever done? It’s not that naughty!

Peter: No, no …. no-no-no-no! I once went to jail [protesting] as a student at Columbia in 1963, but I was only in jail overnight.

Paul: You know last night we went to see “Hard Day's Night” at Film Forum … I mean, boy speaking of connecting with our youth—you get a sense of the world and how clean cut they were, even though [The Beatles] were considered cutting edge. But they wore suits and ties and their music was sweet … it was just innocent! And then Vietnam … and then the collusion of Columbia with the war machine and then came Kent State of course … and the world changed. The innocence was lost.
Peter and Paul designed a house for themselves on Shelter Island, a 21st century re-examination of Mies van der Rohe's Barcelona Pavilion. Pictured are a few of the many magazines that have featured the house.
James Rosenquist's "The Bird of Paradise Returns to the Hot Water Planet" fills a wall near the conference area. It is an allegorical work related to environmental damage.
"Le Temoin" by Man Ray, who had been a friend of Peter's, is positioned atop Able Steel Equipment shelving. Nearby a ceramic sculpture by another friend, Christopher Adams, hangs above one of four prototypes of the "Carbon Chair" by Bertjan Pot, another close friend.
A painting by Al Jarnow hangs above the bed.
A group of Christopher Adams surreal ceramic sculptures fills a wall of the loft. Adams, a practicing doctor who majored in evolutionary biology in undergraduate school, created the work during his artist residency at Greenwich House Pottery.
The loft kitchen cabinets are from IKEA.
Let’s talk about how New York is changing now—as architects perhaps you have a hand in it.

Paul: At Film Forum they now show a movie about how it started and how they eventually found a place for it on Houston Street where no one cared – and to think they’re now building condo after condo after condo there.

Peter: We do believe in a city’s evolution but we also believe in sort of areas that are somewhat sacred.

Paul: There was once a contribution by Mayor Koch—bless him for many things— directing money and using brilliant minds to further the idea of public housing and that doesn’t exist anymore.
Five portraits by their friend David Hockney hang in the entry hall. From left to right, the portraits are of Ken Tyler, Celia Birtwwell, a Hockney self-portrait and Gregory Evans. The red chair was designed and made by Peter and is part of the Contemporary Archive of the Cooper-Hewitt, the National Museum. The table to the left of the chair is by Studio Simon and is an homage to Brancusi. The gold leaf and bronze table was designed in 1937 by Meret Oppenheim. The ceramic pieces on the table were made by friend and neighbor Jonathan Adler.
"Les grands trans-Parents" is by Man Ray.
A photograph by Edward Mapplethorpe hangs in the entryway to the loft.
A David Hockney self-portrait hangs above a Venini Handkerchief vase. To the left is an Eames leg splint. To the left of that is a Fornasetti waste basket. A David Hockney portrait of Gregory Evans.
A print by Keith Haring sits below other work by Hockney. The marble table is by Carlo Scarpa.
Another group of ceramic sculptures by Christopher Adams hangs near a chair by Gerrit Rietveld. Adams describes his works as "biomorphic abstractions based on the concept of biological speciation.
I have to say you win the prize for the best website we’ve seen. Who came up with all the questions like: “When have you ever dreamed in black and white?” or “Who knew warm was a color?”

Paul: We have a very, very dear friend, Reed Krolloff, who collaborated with us.

Peter: He helped us recognize as architects that we’re not always our own best communicators.

Paul: The work can be gorgeous but architects can be such terrible speakers.

Well you two are very good speakers. We must talk about all your color and use of color, for which you are so well known.

Peter: We did this gallery talk as part of our show (“Art on Color”  Gemini G.E.L. at Joni Moisant Weyl gallery) and we started out by saying there’s claustrophobia, fear of small spaces, there’s arachnophobia, fear of spiders, there’s homophobia, fear of us and there’s chromophobia … the greater fear of us. Color almost everyone loves, they may not admit it, but they love it … and yet they’re afraid of it. When you’re at a party and everyone is wearing black, then someone walks in wearing a red dress, everyone smiles. [The “Art on Color” show was designed to reveal how perception of works of art is enhanced or altered by being displayed against colored backgrounds]
"Le Temoin" by Man Ray stands below a print by James Rosenquist.
Above, below and around the bookcase are works by Michael Heizer, Andy Warhol, Robert Gwathmey, Christopher Wool, Marcus Blechman, Ellsworth Kelly, Edward Mapplethorpe, Robert Mapplethorpe, Christopher Adams, Ruth Orkin and Berenice Abbott. The Gwathmey piece hung in Peter's childhood bedroom. Paul was an associate in the office of Gwathmey Siegal + Asscociates prior to the formation of Stamberg Aferiat + Associates. Charles Gwathmey was the son of artist Robert Gwathmey.
Peter and Paul divided their loft apartment into different color zones, each filled with works of art collected over the years.
Peeking into the guest room. The photographs in the guest room are by their very dear friend, the late Ruth Orkin.
Chairs by Kazuhide Takahama surround a glass table by Maria Simoncini. The large print on the far wall is by James Rosenquist.
On the Vico Magistretti bookcase sit sculptures by Tom Otterness and Alessandro Mendini.
New York City Marathon medals and Shelter Island 10k medals were won by both Peter and Paul hang on a bust that they have named Maggie MacIntyre.
Portraits of Peter and Paul by David Hockney and a photo of Peter and Paul with the folksinger Mary Travers stand atop on a cabinet that they designed.
Looking across a glass desk towards a wall of porcelain sculptures by Christopher Adams. Bertjan Pot's "Old Fruit- Versatile" desk lamp was a gift from the artist.
We’re programmed to like color, aren’t we? It helps us survive.

Peter: Historically color was part of ancient culture, ancient Greece, ancient Rome, the Egyptians—everything was highly colored. Then the Dark Ages and the Middle Ages come along and people forgot. When the temples and the statues were rediscovered in the Renaissance, the paint was gone and those things, unpainted, became the Classical ideal. Color was perceived to be primitive. Sixteenth century ships were sailing around and going to places like Africa and that was where the color was.

Paul: Then there is the perception that black and white is considered masculine and logical whereas color is considered feminine. There’s a definite misogyny there.

Peter: The influence of photography also altered the way we think about color. Remember that photography was created in the late 19th century and photography was black, white and grey. Suddenly, regardless of what was created, its translation to the world and the way it was disseminated into high culture meant that there was now this very limited palette. The world’s intellectuals saw the world as black, white and grey even though someone like Mies van der Rohe’s Barcelona pavilion was colored with a brilliant green wall and red velvet drapes—none of that translated to the world.
A pair of Eero Saarinen "Womb " chairs are beyond the "Salsa" sofa, which Stamberg Aferiat designed for Knoll.
Sunlight fills a corner seating area of Peter and Paul's loft. The leather chairs are by Le Corbusier. The wood table is by Carlo Scarpa. The purple sofa is by Eileen Gray.
Art books are stacked atop a coffee table by Isamu Noguchi.
A view across the seating area of Peter and Paul's loft. A collection of red, orange and yellow glass and porcelain are grouped atop a table standing beneath the windows. The Jasper Morrison Glo-ball lamp is in the foreground. To the left is a light sculpture by Ingo Maurer. The red hanging lamps are Castiglioni "Parentesis" lamps.
More views across the loft space.
The blue homage to Yves Klein was purchased in a statuary store and painted by Peter and Paul for a photo shoot.
A collection of red, orange and yellow glass and porcelain fills a table near the front windows of the loft.
Wonderful city views, including the Empire State Building, can be seen from the oversized windows of Peter and Paul's lower Fifth Avenue loft.
And now we have Restoration Hardware …

Peter: It panders to this fear. It’s good taste. The idea of choosing a color is people’s fear of making a choice.

Do you think there are certain colors that some people approach with less fear, so to speak?

Peter: This [idea of less intimidating color] is from the conventional way of looking at color. All of us grew up learning about primary colors and the color wheel where all of the colors are complementary. This theory was started by Aristotle. Philosophers think a lot about color. Then Newton said, wait a second. If you take every pigment and mix it together you get black. However if you take every color of light and mix it together, you get white. So now we had to look at things differently. With us, generally, when we use color in a project, we use it to create light.
Walter Gropius, Peter and Paul's cat, on the living room sofa.
"Teli" a fabric and steel Castiglioni design for Flos from the early 60s is suspended above the dining room table. The high back curved dining room chairs are by Charles Rennie Macintosh.
A laser print by David Hockney hangs above a chest of drawers. To the left is a mask by Bertjan Pot.
A bulls-eye print by color field painter Kenneth Noland hangs near an opening near the master bedroom.
Photos of Peter and Paul with friends and family.
More views of the art-filled colorful walls surrounding the dining room.
The IKEA kitchen. The floor and backsplash are slate. The square tiles are by illustrator Phil Scheuer in homage to two of Peter and Paul's late cats, Mies van der Rohe and Lilly Reich. The yellow ice bucket is a vintage Heller ice bucket.
We love The Saguaro hotel you did in Arizona. When you went to the planning authorities and said that you were going to paint it in all those brilliant colors, what was the response? Did they buy your idea that the colors were inspired by the colors of the wildflowers found in the desert?

Paul: It’s a great story. In the beginning, we didn’t tell them about the wildflowers. Anyway, during the presentation we get to the color scheme and the response was: “You’re kidding of course.” The planning officer said that it was required that the buildings in Scottsdale have to be painted in desert colors, which is why Scottsdale is so relentlessly beige. So we then said, “Oh, let’s show you the last presentation board.” We picked a dozen flowers that were indigenous to the desert … she took a deep breath and she said, I’m going to get [around this with a loophole] but you have to promise me that it will be done within 48 hours. You will have to have a SWAT team. And we did. And people were at first were shocked and said they hated it. But then suddenly everyone just loved it.

So what do you do at the end of the day then? Do you have a brightly colored drink?

Paul: [laughs] Peter does drink a colored drink!

What drink is that then?

Peter: It’s called a “Madras.” You mix vodka, cranberry and orange.

Paul: My favorite is Lillet, which is actually golden.