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At that time, Rogers had been commissioned by the government to look at ways to revitalize rundown urban areas. The massive Millennium Dome project fell under this edict, and although it has been the subject of mirth and national disappointment (one critic described it as “the world’s largest refrigerator magnet”), Rogers is proud of the construction of the Dome. The architect reports that he spent a mere $82 million of the Dome’s $1.1 billion total budget, adding he had nothing to do with its contents, which many people understand to be the problem. Lord Rogers–whose career spans the famed Lloyd’s of London building, the new Welsh Assembly building, and Paris’s Pompidou Centre with Renzo Piano–is not only deservedly renowned, but refreshingly honest. Montevetro is his first residential building in England (apart from the design of his own home) and its popularity has already been proven. In a matter of weeks, high-priced, highly-designed penthouses were snapped up at the same rate as the more demure lower-level apartments, which can hardly be considered as the dregs.
Constructed in step formation on the site of a demolished warehouse on a bend in the Thames across the river from the chicest row of terraces at Cheyne Walk, Chelsea, Montevetro can boast not only river views but also, closer on its own bank, proximity to a 17th-century church built by Sir Christopher Wren as well as a pair of landmark 1960s apartment blocks.
Lord Rogers created Montevetro as a composition of five distinct but attached parts, in ascending order from A block to E block, E forming the tallest of the stepped columns. Within each block there are two penthouse apartments, the most impressive being the taller one in the E block where views through glass walls extend 360 degrees. All penthouses have full-height glazing on their east and west elevations and double- or triple-height rooms with ceilings reaching 30 or more feet.
Model apartments with full furniture
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Architecture Shell: arrangement of furniture and objects
A few adjustments were made to the architectural shell. Baseboards, floors, and walls were left as before, but standard-height, raised panel doors were replaced with smooth ones that run all the way to the ceiling. A few soffits and arches were removed to allow the ceiling to run uninterrupted as a modernist, horizontal plane. According to Leonard, “The apartment was really a tight box. We were trying to figure out a way to blow it open without changing the architecture very much. We regarded everything that we did as a little intervention in the space.”
These “little interventions” were guided by an interest in reducing clutter, streamlining the arrangement of furniture and objects, and evoking greater space through reflections, scale shifts, color, and other optical adjustments. At the entry, Leonard and Webb added closets along one wall and, in a sort of anteroom beyond, placed beveled mirror panels on two walls to suggest an enlargement of the living room beyond. Past the living room is a master bedroom and bath. To the other side of the foyer, beyond the closets, a windowless media room was refurnished with a lean sectional sofa, leather recliners and fitted with a built-in, mirrored glass bar. The two children’s rooms that open to this space were given sandblasted glass doors to allow for the passage of light while maintaining privacy. Pale blue satin paint was used liberally throughout the apartment to create what the designers call a “calm, ethereal effect.” This light blue was reiterated in other elements, including a monochromatic painting in the entrance foyer and the master bedroom’s curtains.
Refurnishing the living room with sectional sofas and leather recliners
The living room furniture, much of it custom-designed, was central to Form’s efforts. In Leonard’s words, “We wanted the pieces to have a presence of their own and establish a dialogue with one another. We were really interested in the relationships of things.” To enlarge the perceived length of the room, Form designed a wool shag carpet that is hand-sheared in wide strips to suggest perspectival distance. Likewise, a 20-ft.-long brass-and-marble bench along one wall gives a sense of depth and spatial unity. The bench further provides a display surface for objects and informal seating when the family entertains.
Form recommended that the clients transfer much of their mid-century furniture to their beach house and explore instead a more sleek, postwar Italian sensibility for the city. In the living room, recliner chairs by Paolo Tomassi and Eco Parisi join a Cassina sofa from the 1970s. Colors were deployed strategically to keep the eye moving through the space, and a number of small, repeated elements unify the various pieces. The brass feet of the whitewashed maple coffee table, for example, reiterate the metal legs of the focal bench. Colorful, vintage Venini sconces and lamps were used throughout the apartment.
Additional pieces were designed by Form, including the anteroom’s sleek “four button bench,” the living room table’s acrylic flower tray, and an armchair made of white walnut, acrylic arms, nickel legs, and blue wool felt upholstery. Form also designed the media room’s red leather sectional sofa, reclining chairs and Leonard created the living room’s prominent abstract painting along with four, smaller “color studies.”
The apartment’s two bathrooms were overhauled with new fixtures and surface materials and a general reduction of bulk in favor of lightness and spatial expanse. Form used long, linear, glass mosaic tiles and terrazzo flooring in the children’s bathroom. The walls of the master bathroom are finished in mirror and Calcutta marble and the ceiling in backpainted glass that appears to extend the room upward. “Within the limitations of the box,” says Leonard, “we were mostly able to work with color, texture, scale and proportion. So that’s what we played with.”
If you still wonder what make a room great, this article should be helpful.