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This new approach to townhouse design features repeating glass cubes – boxes within boxes – giving occupants multiple perspectives


Generally speaking, townhouses share many similar characteristics. Sometimes attached, they are typically narrow structures, bound by parallel walls and spread over three or four levels. Despite width constraints, or perhaps because of them, this style of housing is one that is often reinvented.

For architect Alexander Gorlin, Fellow of the American Institute of Architects, the townhouse has long been a source of study. With the project shown here, Gorlin applied a modern aesthetic to the townhouse form.

"This house is like a series of Russian dolls, or boxes within boxes. It features glass cubes suspended behind a low brick wall. Elevated in the front, it is possible to look through the expansive windows to the second cube enclosing the master bedroom," he says.

The client, a fan of the modern styling of the architect's earlier townhouse designs, specifically requested an open design, with an abundance of windows.

"He wanted an ultimate bachelor pad. Although, with three bedrooms incorporated into the design, the house can be adapted to family living. It's a house in which to see and be seen. It can be totally open in front, but by closing the translucent drapes, made from parachute material, complete privacy is provided," says Gorlin.


The house was constructed from the ground up on a site measuring approximately 25 feet wide by 50 feet deep. Spread over four stories, the pinnacle of the structure is a rooftop terrace.

Building regulations that were brought into existence in 1871, when a serious fire razed many parts of the city, specify that townhouses must stand alone. Framed on either side by traditional, but non-historic structures, the architect says heritage constraints weren't an issue.

Approaching the home, the double height entrance is recessed beside the glazed facade of the first cube, which appears to float above the lower level. The front door, set within this recess, is semi-encased by stucco walls, with windows from the top of the door to the ceiling adding to the drama of the experience.

Upon entering, the open-plan living area containing the living room, kitchen and dining room is first encountered.

"Situated in the middle of the room, the kitchen is the fulcrum between the dining room and living room. It has a simple layout, with stone countertops, a large island and built-in appliances, but it's obviously not designed for someone who loves to cook, "says Gorlin.

The dining room, framed by an ethereal light when the curtains are closed, has a large glass and drawn steel dining table surrounded by sleek Panton chairs.

Above, the cantilevered and steel-beam supported second cube contains the master suite.

"The steel beams supporting the bedroom are mostly hidden, although one is exposed above the stairs. Otherwise, it is cantilevered to appear suspended. The stairs feature open risers and appear to float up to the master bedroom and the rooftop terrace. The stairs cut through the whole of the house, and are lit in part by a skylight in the ceiling."

The theme of open spaces continues into the master bedroom and bathroom, a completely open plan space. Stainless steel suit racks between the front windows and the bed provide privacy additional to the drapes.

The bathroom, a light-filled space with windows that look down over the dining room, was given added texture with a minimalist timber vanity and Chinese limestone floors.

First published date: 27 October 2006

Credit List

Architect Alexander Gorlin, AIA, Alexander Gorlin Architects (New York, NY)
Interior and kitchen designer Alexander Gorlin
Builder DNA Contracting
Structural engineer The Structural Shop
Flooring Limestone
Drapes Ultra lo-porosity parachute cloth from Para-Gear
Living room furniture Alfa Sofa from Zanotta; Litt coffee table from Acerbis; Aluminum Group lounge chair and ottoman from Herman Miller; Orbis reading lamp from Classicon; Fortuny floor lamp from Palluco
Dining room furniture Doge table from Ultramobile; dining chairs from Vitra
Bedroom furniture Segno bed from Cappellini; Boxes bedside table from Porro; Noguchi table lamp from Akari
Kitchen furniture Breeze bar stools from Segis
Countertops Statuary stone
Sink Franke
Faucets Dornbracht
Cooktop, dishwasher and microwave Gaggenau
Refrigerator Sub-Zero
Bathroom vanity Architect's design by Jay Rambo Company
Basin Starck edition 1
Shower fittings Grohe showerheads; Dornbracht hardware