Peter's Well Designed Duplex

Peter's Well Designed Duplex

Janel Laban
Aug 15, 2011

Name: Peter
Location: Fry's Spring — Charlottesville, Virginia

My partner Brian and I live in a 1200sq. ft duplex-apartment that was built in the 1920s. We adore this home, even though it's not in perfect condition. It has great historic details, fantastic molding and trim work, original wood floors, enormous windows, and plenty of big trees that provide ample shade — inside and out.

Ironically, we are also avowed modernists. We love simple, functional forms: clean and unobtrusive. We despise clutter.

Arguably, the biggest design challenge we have faced is to find balance between the two -- between our love for the ornament and functionality of the craftsmen-era, and our voracious taste for mid-century furniture. The solution, so far, has been to use the strengths of each style to compliment the other: to play-up the simple elegance of modern furniture by featuring the well-lit open spaces and elegant detail of the house itself.

As you can probably see, we have tried very hard to keep our spaces readable. To do this, in some cases, we had to build our own furniture. We built side tables to "fit" the sofa. We built a headboard in our bedroom -- which doubles as a bookshelf, a radiator cover, and most importantly, a heated cat bed. In other cases, fortunately, we were able to find items from mainstream stores to suit our needs: Crate&Barrel (sofa), Room and Board (Saarinen table), and IKEA (storage bed).

The second big challenge we face is our professional work. Both Brian and I are musicians. Brian is a percussionist, performer, and college instructor. I am a doctoral student at the University of Virginia (studying 20th century music and architecture) and a harpsichordist. It is always -- always -- a challenge to fit our work into our living space.

In some cases, this challenge is quite literally one of "fit" -- the harpsichord in our library (Op. 11 by David Jencks) is 8-feet long, and it it will not go just anywhere. At least, not without dominating the space where it's put. In this house, we managed to tame the harpsichord by creating a false wall -- a long series of bookshelves that are, of course, functional in themselves (including a hidden liquor cabinet), and that balance the instrument's unusual length.

In other cases, the challenge of professional "fit" is somewhat more metaphorical. Many of our art and decorative items relate to our musical activities. Our wall of photography features famous concert halls and pipe organs; we enlarged and framed a famous graphical music ("Refrain") by Karlheinz Stockhausen; we own several printed works by Shepard Fairey -- one, above my desk, features Johnny Cash.

Of course, there's much more to our house and design intentions. For instance, we love organic shapes and natural materials -- which is one reason our bedroom windows are (what Robert Venturi called) a double-functioning element: a decorative feature that puts our gigantic fig tree on display.

Thanks, Peter !

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