Preserving the authenticity with careful millwork

Educating the Eye Wood Finishing


“I don’t want it to look like a kit of parts.”  The designer for this project, Kerry Joyce, had an artistic intent for the apartment.  “It should look as if it had always looked this way.”

We’ve built 20 projects at New York City’s Plaza Private Residences.  Approaching the Indiana Limestone façade of the Plaza, then walking in it’s gilded, stone paneled lobby, one develops a certain set of expectations about what one might find upstairs.  But what was upstairs, was a competent job by the developer of sheetrock-walled condominium apartments.

In Kerry’s opinion, the best thing for this client and this apartment was to reward the visitor.  They should say: “Isn’t it amazing that this apartment, built at the turn of the century, has survived so exquisitely?  They just don’t build them like this anymore.”

To achieve this in the entry vestibule, the dark wood was fabricated in a shop; but assembled onsite so that it could be sanded together into a continuous piece of custom millwork.   A panellised system assembled on site would give away that the work was done recently.  The stain was applied next, crossing joints, again, as it would have been at the turn of the century.  Finally, rather than a sprayed finish, the final finish was carefully hand applied.

The white English oak veneer in the library was limed and the veneer slightly raised as if the entire room was a cabinet from the 16th century.  The vertical grain of the oak was chosen to have no “medullary rays” so the wood was “rift sawn,” meaning that it was cut square down into the tree picking up its growth rings.  Again, the panelling was carefully assembled and finished on site.

Elsewhere in the apartment where the millwork was to be painted, we needed to give the impression the wood had been painted dozens of times.  We sanded off the outside corners of the woodwork, filled the inside corners with a small bead of caulk, and then primed with a heavy underbody paint to give the impression of a heavy paint build up that had rounded off the details.

Design: Kerry Joyce

Architecture: A2architect

Photography: Michel Arnaud

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