Designer Spotlight

The “High and Low” Architecture of Bade Stageberg Cox

Serving clients ranging from needy nonprofits to Manhattan's annual Armory Show to affluent homeowners, the New York City–based triumvirate of Tim Bade, Jane Stageberg and Martin Cox has carved out a niche for itself creating smart solutions to vexing, multidimensional design challenges.

Designers, from left, Tim Bade, Jane Stageberg and Martin Cox formed their architecture studio, Bade Stageberg Cox, in 2008. Top: In the living room of a home in Orient, on the East End of New York’s Long Island, a couch by Theo Ruth for Artifort keeps company with Ib Kofod-Larsen armchairs and an Arthur Umanoff side table. The fireplace tools are George Nelson for Herman Miller. Photos by Andy Ryan

The architects Tim Bade, Jane Stageberg and Martin Cox are known for their ingenuity. When clients with a 14th-floor apartment in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood bought the unit below theirs, they hired Bade Stageberg Cox to renovate, a job that included adding a stairway to the 12th floor. The architects decided to make the landing, halfway down the stairs, the missing 13th floor — most Manhattan buildings lack floors with that supposedly unlucky number — and surround it with bookshelves. This gave the clients not just a circulation route but also a small library in which to linger. The plan killed at least three birds with one stone, which is something good design can do.

The partners work together in an airy Downtown Brooklyn office. “Every project gets attention from all three of us,” says Stageberg, who worked for Gluckman Mayner Architects before starting her own firm in 1998. Bade and Cox, who had been colleagues at Steven Holl Architects, arrived in 2007 and 2006, respectively. The three describe their oeuvre as “high and low,” ranging from grand residences on New York’s Upper East Side to creations for struggling nonprofits.

They recently developed a line of inexpensive furniture for homeless people given apartments by New York City, which they designed to be made at Brooklyn Woods, a job-training program for low-income residents. Now, they’re renovating a Manhattan apartment whose affluent owner has funded their research into new ways of using cast glass and other cutting-edge materials.

For clients who expanded their apartment in New York’s Chelsea into the one below theirs, the architects turned a new stairway and landing into a library. The pendant light fixture above is by Gaetano Sciolari; artist Matthew Brannon custom designed the wallpaper. Photo by Andy Ryan

A client combining both high and low is the Armory Show, which every year brings some of the world’s best galleries to a couple of cavernous piers on the West Side of Manhattan. There, expensive art meets dull surroundings. Since 2012, the show’s organizers have charged the firm with outfitting the piers in ways that make collectors want to hang around. The first year, the architects and their employees collected chairs that had been discarded on Manhattan streets, then gave each of their finds — which exhibited an amazing variety of shapes and sizes — a thick coat of taxicab-yellow paint.

For next year’s fair, they’re focusing on making the stairway connecting Piers 92 and 94 into an art object. Benjamin Genocchio, the director of the Armory Show, says that, in addition to laying out the fair efficiently, they’re “attuned and sensitive to the selection and placement of furniture, to where people will pause and rest, to thinking broadly about creating an experience.”

One of the trio’s (relatively) high-end projects is a house near Austin, Texas, for a family with five children. The clients wanted to live in a glass box. “But this is Texas, where the sun beats down,” says Cox. So, the architects gave them a lot of glass, especially on the sides of the U-shaped house that face the swimming pool. But they also gave the building deep overhangs, to keep direct sun out from April to October while allowing passive solar heating in the cooler months. Below those overhangs, they conceived the walls as collages of transparent, translucent and opaque surfaces, designed to keep the house cool, frame the best views and give the owners privacy where needed — again killing three birds with one stone.

The translucent elements — movable panels of water-jet-cut aluminum — allow in dappled light, animating the interiors. “You have no idea you’re in a suburban neighborhood,” says Cox. “You feel like you’re in the trees.” Ceilings of richly colored mesquite add intimacy. The architects designed much of the lighting, including a 35-foot-long fixture for the hallway. “We wanted the house to glow gently at night, and we worked to avoid glare,” says Bade, explaining the need for a custom fixture that directs light away from the glass.

 

For the Orient house, the architects renovated and expanded a split-level structure designed in 1959 by Olindo Grossi, dean of the School of Architecture at Brooklyn’s Pratt Institute. Its glass walls now open to broad, multi-level decks with views over Long Island Sound. Photo by Andy Ryan

Left: In the house’s study, which leads from the main living area to the master bedroom suite, a Christian Liaigre desk and stool stand below a Jean Lurcat tapestry. The lamp is by Atelier Primavera au Pritemps, and the office accessories atop the desk are by Ernst Schwadron (photo by Andy Ryan). Right: Another tapestry, this one by Jean Picard Le Doux, adorns the master bedroom, where a Le Corbusier armchair sits beside an Albert Larsson table and bedside tables by Peter Hvidt and Orla Mølgaard-Nielson flank a vintage German bed (photo by Richard Powers).

The architects created a house near Austin, Texas, that met the owners’ desire for a modernist glass box while shielding them from the area’s intense summer weather. Deep overhangs keep direct sun at bay from April to October. The living room’s couch and end table are from Ligne Roset, while the candlesticks on the mantel are Nambé. Photo by Whit Preston

The Austin home’s windows, while largely shaded from the sun in summer, allow for passive solar heating in the cooler months, keeping spaces cozy. Solid walls here and there also provide privacy, something especially important in this upper-level bedroom, whose windows overlook the pool court. Photo by Whit Preston

The wings of the U-shaped Austin house embrace a pool. The open end faces south, maximizing the water’s exposure to the sun. Custom-made water-jet-cut rolling aluminum shutters help shade the bedroom wing (top right). Photo by Whit Preston

 

The patterns cut into the Austin home’s rolling shutters create a beautiful play of shadow and light inside, as seen here, in the upper level’s bedroom hallway. Photo by Whit Preston

The firm has done several residential projects for Jesse Gordon, a lawyer and entrepreneur who collects mid-century design. One of his best finds was an entire modernist house on eastern Long Island with spectacular water views but not a lot else going for it. Here, the architects transformed a flat roof into a deck with a shade structure, which is now part of a series of linked outdoor rooms that overlook the water.

In addition, the firm reconfigured the house’s master bedroom. That included cladding its new fireplace in earth-tone Talavera tiles that Gordon found at a yard sale. The partners also mounted in the shower a four-foot-in-diameter vintage Italian glass mosaic that the client had picked up years ago at an auction. By using Gordon’s finds — not merely hanging them but building them into the house — they gave the pieces gravitas, and, he says, “They gave my collections a venue.” The architects chose classics like the Paavo Tynell chandelier over the dining table and accommodated Gordon’s desire for a Kerf kitchen. “They’re receptive to every request,” says Gordon, who calls the trio “great problem solvers with an amazing aesthetic sense.”

Bade, Stageberg and Cox often apply those abilities to Manhattan lofts. In one, in a historic building with a corner “apse,” they shrank the bedrooms to create more communal space. The job also entailed taking down a wall that had enclosed the kitchen and replacing it with a walnut and powder-coated steel divider. It now flanks the 14-foot-long dining table, whose form is roughly similar to that of Manhattan. (“It’s hard designing an organically shaped table with a leaf,” Stageberg reports.) In the living room, the architects chose furnishings that reinforce the geometry of the space: a curved-back B&B Italia sofa, George Nelson Catenary chairs, a spiraling 1970s Stilnovo pendant light fixture and a rug designed by the Bouroullec Brothers for Nanimarquina.

 

In the living room of a loft in another Chelsea building, the designers hung a 1960s Stilnovo pendant over an Arne sofa by B & B Italia, George Nelson Catenary chairs, a Philippe Starck Gun lamp made by Flos and Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec‘s Losanges carpet made by Nanimarquina. Photo by Andy Ryan

The Chelsea loft’s open and expansive kitchen and dining areas feature a black Skygarden S2 pendant by Marcel Wanders for Flos, a dining table by Bade Stageberg Cox and Eero Saarinen side chairs. Photo by Andy Ryan

Hans Wegner Wishbone chairs surround a walnut table of the architects’ own design in a loft near New York’s Cooper Square, which belongs to an investment banker who’s also an art book publisher. A custom assemblage of Bocci light fixtures illuminates this dining area. Ghada Amer‘s Big Drips, 1999, sits to the left of Amy Sillman’s Freudian Slip, 2000. Photo by Tim Bade

The gallery-like living area of the Cooper Square loft invites guests to sit, whether on the Zanotta sofa, the Alvar Aalto Tank armchairs or the petite wooden chair by Salvador Dalí, all of which stand around Marcel Wanders’s Flower table and atop a Karkula carpet. Two works by Caroll DunhamNext Bathers, four (wash), 2012 (left), and Dead, Yellow: Four, 2007 — hang on the gray wall. Photo by Andy Ryan

 

To separate the dining and living areas in the Chelsea loft, the architects created a powder-coated-steel and walnut divider that hangs from the high ceilings. Photo by Andy Ryan

Perhaps their most ambitious loft project was for Gregory R. Miller, an investment banker and art book publisher. He wanted a warm, intimate home that could also accommodate art tours and book publishing events. They used large pivoting and sliding doors to separate the public and private zones, deploying white walls in the gallery areas and douglas fir in the domestic spaces. A library for small-scale works (and the client’s art books) is furnished with built-ins, plus an Eero Saarinen tulip table and Walter Knoll chairs. For the main room, they designed a table whose shape — wide, almost bulbous, at one end and narrow at the other – allows it to accommodate anywhere from 2 to 12 people, who can seat themselves in a variety of configurations.

One of the partners’ current projects, outfitting an apartment for a Manhattan family, has allowed them to explore new materials and methods. “The owners’ interests spurred our research,” says Cox. For the walls, the architects developed acoustic panels made of slats of maple with irregular spacers. Custom glass fixtures, conceived as cantilevered slabs of light, are being cast by California artist John Lewis. And with the bathroom tiles, inspired, in part, by the work of British mathematician Roger Penrose, they are investigating aperiodic tessellations — patterns that can fill an infinite amount of space without repeating.

Which is exactly what these three inventive architects are working toward: filling a lot of space without repeating.


Jane Stageberg’s Quick Picks

“We love the layers of light and the translucency of the glass, which gives form to the light.”

“This chair is an attractive sculptural object. The thin waist between the seat and the back deftly articulates the form. Fine leather piping is a delicate line that outlines the form in space.”

“The unexpected glass wheels are amazing — they remind us of an orrery. The craft is superb.”

“The beautiful, simple form of the shade suspended in a delicate anthropomorphic frame is unusual and enigmatic. It reminds us of the costuming in the TV version of the Handmaid’s Tale.”

“We like these chairs by the influential designer because of their marriage of industrial materials and organic form. The chairs’ patina adds a layer of richness to the aluminum.”

“This pendant is a favorite of ours. Ingenious geometry appears simpler than it is. Used with a chrome-tipped bulb, the fixture casts soft light below while projecting striking shadows above.”

“For someone feeling adrift at a cocktail party, this table gives one a perfect excuse to be antisocial. It’s a striking object of curiosity.”

“These chairs envelope the body, are beautifully proportioned and incredibly comfortable. Need we say more?”

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