Art, architecture and design run through the Lebanese Abillama family. “Our father was a collector from very early on,” explains architect Raëd Abillama of his architect-turned-industrial designer parent. “And my mom really loved design and style, creating moments with pieces she collected for their charm rather than their value.” During his childhood, spent first in Paris, then in Beirut, his parents “exposed me to many aesthetics through travel and visiting galleries.”
Raëd’s brother, Karim, who manages several companies specializing in the building industry, regularly “buys art and design pieces without necessarily having a place to display them,” Raëd notes. Further, Karim’s son, Talal, just opened Gratin, an art gallery on Manhattan’s Lower East Side.
So when Karim decided to establish a pied-à-terre in New York just as his brother was developing an apartment house called the Abi Chelsea on West 19th Street, he snagged a seventh-floor unit with a terrace facing the High Line and the Hudson River. This offered Karim a chance to unpack many things that had been relegated to storage, and Talal the opportunity to curate artworks in the 2,200-square-foot, three-bedroom residence.
Here, those elements translate to a blue-chip art collection that encompasses works by Cecily Brown, Paul McCarthy, Alice Neel, Albert Oehlen, Julian Schnabel and Wolfgang Tillmans, among others. There are also original furniture pieces by Gio Ponti, Jean Prouvé, Alberto Rosselli, Carlo Scarpa and Gerald Summers, along with the work of more modern designers such as Rogan Gregory.
The living and dining areas huddle around the Vipp kitchen, which, along with white-oak floors, interrupts the gallery-white envelope. The kitchen is the center of activity of many homes, explains Raëd, who used Vipp throughout the building because “the materials are robust and able to age properly with use and time, while staying truthful to their function.” The apartment encircles an elevator shaft that also conceals building mechanicals. Raëd clad this functional core in concrete panels that still feature the round recesses created by tie rods used during the pouring process.
The reason? The coming-home experience begins when you walk into the building, believes the architect. “That language of concrete starts on the ground floor,” he notes. “You see it a lot in Tadao Ando’s buildings. It’s an architectural expression of the structure” that makes the act of returning consistent from the ground floor right up to the penthouse.
What is interesting about the art collection, however, is its consummately idiosyncratic character. There are works from the 1950s to today – paintings and sculpture, still lifes and portraiture. Some are figurative, others abstract, revealing a collector with an eclectic bent who has been given a neutral space in which to spread his wings.
Photography by William Jess Laird.
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