When Tia Cibani found the Chelsea house she and her family now call home, she knew it would require more than a mere restoration—the building was in a state of disrepair, and far from the retreat she dreamed of. She was certain, though, that it had potential, and with Winka Dubbeldam, who heads the New York–based firm Archi-Tectonics, she began the two-year process of utterly transforming the crumbling building.
Central to this transformation was extending the house’s footprint, raising the top floor about 12 inches, and rethinking the rear façade—all while negotiating the complexities of building in a city with rigorous landmark laws. “We wanted to have this fluid, very organic façade, which would allow a visual connection from the lower to the higher levels, and also to what we call the other room—the garden,” says Dubbeldam.
Cibani, who designs an eponymous line of clothing and was, before that, the creative director of the brand Ports 1961, describes the process of making the home as a collaboration. The architect concurs, noting, “I love working with people who have an idea. I just love the whole discussion, and the challenge. I always think if you get challenged, you do better things.” Cibani’s mandate for Dubbeldam was simple. “I told her I wanted more space, more light. I wanted a clean feeling, but I wanted it to not be clinical and cold,” she says. “I wanted it to be warm.”
Cibani, who designed the interiors herself, achieved that sense of warmth by incorporating soft textures and classic furniture, like the big sawhorse dining table and an invitingly sprawling living-room sofa. Cibani and her partner, William Langewiesche, welcomed daughter Castine about a year after moving in. The laid-back décor is sophisticated but not fussy: Toys strewn about on the floor don’t look out of place. The design was very much about entertaining, which they do often, throwing casual mingle-in-the-kitchen-style dinner parties. The open plan encourages guests to wander, and that contributes to the casual, welcoming air Cibani was after. “I like to think of houses or residential areas as connective zones,” says Dubbeldam. “This very fluid, connected interior isn’t about rooms, but more about zones. In theory, we think of it as one open area.” This is a modern way of thinking, quite different from what the structure’s original builders would have intended, but it creates a sense of comfort that guests can intuit, and it suits the family’s way of life. Cibani’s career in fashion means she’s always grappling with the rapid pace of the larger trend cycle; the house is, as all should be, an escape from professional pressures. “My work is always changing,” she says. “It’s nice that my home can be a constant. I wanted this to be lasting.”
*This article appeared in the Summer 2014 issue of New York Design Hunting.