ASID Icon - Spring 2011 - (Page 26)

UP CLOSE/ The Art of Conversion PAWTUCKET, R.I., HAS always been a “working” PROJECT SPECS/ Project Name Riverfront Lofts Interior Design Morris Nathanson Design Design Team Principal: Morris Nathanson, ASID Co-developer: Phyllis Nathanson Architect Casali Inc. Architects Architect of Record Raynor M. Warner, AIA Location 10 Exchange Court Pawtucket, RI 02860 Photos by Chris Vaccaro Renderings by Tom Limone WORK/LIVE-IN ARTIST COMMUNITY THRIVES IN A NEW ENGLAND MILL TOWN / THIS PAGE: High-arched windows, exposed ductwork and refur- bished maple floorboards echo the building’s original function as a factory. Some units contain mill architecture elements such as jewelry molds and scales. town. So when its once-industrial economy fell to international competition, the town was left with a striking era of architecture desperately seeking new purpose. Eighteenth-century textile mills, turned 1930s jewelry factories, line Pawtucket’s Blackstone River, in a town a mere five miles from downtown Providence. By the late twentieth century, the mills began to close. Morris Nathanson, ASID, and his namesake firm sought to convert these spaces into artist communities, where residents could pay one mortgage to live, work and maintain an office or studio space. Riverfront Lofts became the pioneer project of this cultural rebirth, marking the work/live-in concept as one with a huge community impact. Nathanson first gained an understanding for work/live-in spaces nearly three decades ago, while working in New York City. In the 1980s, artists in the SoHo neighborhood were moving into sweatshops, a coexistent effort slated as the first artist work/live-in model—a concept Nathanson later applied to his home state. In 1986, he purchased a former Pawtucket paper mill, where his offices now stand. In 2002, he set his sights on a mill across the street, now Riverfront Lofts. “I determined that we would, as much as possible, retain the historic elements,” reflects Nathanson on the project’s planning phase. In order to receive historic credit from the city and state government, the building’s exterior would remain true to its 1800s architecture. Inside the building, determining orientation of the residences was primary, due in large part to existing mill-type elements, which include maple floorboards, brick walls and oversized windows. Pre-existing tall ceiling heights of 12 to 17 feet accommodated one-and-two-level loft spaces, and 60 units of what Nathanson calls “vanilla spaces” were designed. Bathrooms and kitchens were completed for these spaces, but partitions could ultimately be determined by the buyer. Nathanson explains, “It appears to be a very typical, clean New England building on the surface, but each unit functions to the needs of the individual artist or resident.” At the time when Nathanson began converting industrial spaces into these hybrid habitats, work/ live-in zoning did not exist in Rhode Island. Artists lived illegally in mills, at the whim of their landlords. Nathanson went before city council in Pawtucket to explain the work/live-in concept. After convincing the city to give it legal status, Nathanson offered the project as a model to encourage conversion of more mill properties. “It was an education process,” he recalls, “and [the city’s] general attitude was very positive and helpful through the zoning process.” The development of work/live-in space in Pawtucket changed the whole outlook on the value of an artist community. “This was major,” describes Nathanson. “The impact we can make, and our ability and responsibility to change the direction of a community and breathe new life into old buildings is inspiring. We were the pioneers of work/live-in and conversion of mill-type buildings in Pawtucket certainly, possibly in Rhode Island as a whole.” i 26 icon spring/11 the magazine of the american society of interior designers Photo © Morris Nathanson Design

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of ASID Icon - Spring 2011

ASID Icon - Spring 2011
President’s Letter
Of Note
Plan B
Still in the Dark
RealWorld DesignWeek
Up Close
Design for Life
Inside ASID
Resource Guide & Advertisers
Iconic Spaces

ASID Icon - Spring 2011