Elizabeth Gray, FAIA, and Alan Organschi took a leap 15 years ago when they bought this 19th century commercial building in the Ninth Square district of New Haven, Conn. Against their real estate agent’s advice, the partners plunged ahead, refitting the dilapidated three-story masonry structure in a way that both reflects and supports their collaborative, craft-centered practice.
The partners equipped one of the building’s two street-level bays as a workshop for producing construction mock-ups, custom furniture, and building components. “We usually make the front doors for our houses,” Gray says. A hangar-type door allows passersby to view the operation within. The partners converted the two floors of warehouse space above the shop to a rental apartment.
The building’s opposite half holds a gallery-like reception and conference space at street level and the firm’s design studio above. Removing a large chunk of the third-floor deck, the partners opened their workspace to the timber-framed roof and a new clerestory capped with one of their firm’s signature shapes: a hyperbolic paraboloid roof. “Straight sticks frame it,” Gray says, but the result is a gracefully warped plane. The studio’s two levels communicate via an open stair built up from 24 Parallam beams. “It’s nothing but stringers,” Gray says. “It’s incredibly durable, and it was done in one day.”
Economical moves like that--plus the courage to invest here in the first place—yielded a project that benefits both the firm and its neighborhood, which has experienced a revival in recent years. “It’s like our own little SoHo,” Gray says of the area today. “It has this wonderful urban flavor.”