Architect: Johnsen Schmaling Architects
Contractor: Link Builds
This project entails the radical transformation of an existing residential unit on the 11th floor of the former Terminal Storage building at the edge of downtown Milwaukee. The original apartment, built during the uninspired 2005 conversion of the long-vacant structure into a residential building, featured an ill-conceived maze of cellular, disjointed spaces and the predictable developer-driven palette of bromide finishes. The removal of extraneous partition walls, dropped ceilings, and expendable doors allowed for the spatial reconfiguration of the apartment and the creation of its new domestic epicenter, a large open space for cooking, dining, and living.
A continuous rift-sawn white oak ribbon weaves through the entire unit and serves as the principal architectural device to organize the unit. At once cabinetry, wayfinder, and spatial tie, the sculptural ribbon leads from the entry vestibule into the open living space, wrapping the existing central bathroom core and folding up into a ceiling plane to delineate the kitchen before turning into the perimeter wall of the main bedroom wing.
As it undulates between floor and ceiling, the three-dimensional wood ribbon creates openings and articulates physical and visual thresholds between adjacent spaces, intermittently framing large amber-colored glass panels that add a powerful chromatic accent to the deliberately restrained interior material palette. The glass panels act as visual filters that draw warm light deep into the unit’s core and transform into enigmatic canvases, their blurred projections subtly revealing glimpses of the life unfolding in the rooms beyond.
A series of sculptural built-ins engage the wood ribbon as it meanders through the apartment. Defining the edge of the kitchen, a continuous, varnished walnut plane peels up from the ground and turns into a long, seemingly floating bar counter, then folds up as a canopy and down again to transform into the base of the kitchen island. As it weaves through the kitchen, the walnut band cradles black-lacquered cabinet boxes, their reflective, high-sheen finish adding visual complexity to the overall composition of the space.
Echoing the formal vocabulary of folding walnut planes and nested cabinets established in the kitchen, the built-in bed in the master suite is a continuous band of walnut that serves as the mattress platform before turning into headboard and ceiling liner. Similarly, the bathroom vanity consists of a floating walnut plane that frames mirrors and a lacquered medicine cabinet box. In the media room, the wooden ceiling canopy folds down at each end to support the suspended cabinets that bracket the intimate space.
Photos: John J. Macaulay