By Dena A. Edwards
On a cloudy, foggy day, little can be seen out the windows of the lofty perch of the penthouse residence in the City Place Tower in downtown Oklahoma City but a quiet, white blanket. Residents and guests are pulled into the nature immediately outside the plethora of plate glass. Which is exactly the point.
Design architects Hans Butzer and Jeremy Gardner of Butzer Gardner Architects re-designed the two-story high-rise space around the windows and their glorious views.
“The whole architecture was set to connect to the views, to give an unobstructed connection to the outside,” Butzer said.
The 5,000-square-foot penthouse residence encompasses the entire 32nd and 33rd floors of what was originally the Ramsey Tower, 204 N. Robinson. Built in 1931 by oilman W. R. Ramsey, the 440-foot structure was, for a short time, the tallest building in Oklahoma City, before losing its title within months to the then-newly constructed First National Center. Only 2 feet taller at the roof, the First National Center boasts an additional height of nearly 50 feet to the point of its spire. City Place Tower currently is the 7th tallest building in the state.
And on a clear day, the entirety of downtown Oklahoma City spreads itself like a blanket for City Place penthouse residents to enjoy, with the 360-degree panoramas Butzer and Gardner ensured with their design.
One of only five high-rise penthouses in Oklahoma City and the only one in downtown, the City Place Tower penthouse is one of this year’s stops on the American Institute of Architects (AIA) architecture tour on Sat., April 16. The 10th annual architecture week, 2011 eXperience OKC, is capped with the architecture tour, open to the public, with seven different residential and commercial locations for visitors to walk through. The penthouse crowns the tour with its lofty height and elegant grace.
The journey through the condominium begins with the recently renovated exclusive parking garage, designed by Architectures incorporated (Ai). Ai also was involved in the renovation of the penthouse and the tower lobby, which penthouse guests can bypass by taking their dedicated private elevator, which opens directly into the foyer of their residence – a foyer that instantly sets the stage for the sophisticated space.
The original art deco elevator doors slide open to reveal an elegant wall – one that appears to be paneled in a rich wood with a high contrasting vertical grain, but what is actually a wall-covering product made from tree pulp. A contemporary feel is set with the two large, clear, organic leaf sconces that flank a pair of original art pieces.
The buff, polished Spanish limestone floor leads into and through the spacious main living area – more than 2,000 square feet of open area bathed in natural light and set off not simply with wall art, but with amazing scenery of downtown Oklahoma City.
“We wanted to keep with the Art Deco (style of the building), but use materials and detailing more conducive to contemporary design,” Butzer said. “We selected timeless materials that provide a richness, a tactility.”
White oak with a cherry stain was used to build the cabinetry, line the door frames, the windows and the base molding throughout the home, and as wood accents throughout. In the hallways of the space, upstairs and down, the white ceiling is spelled with inset squares of wood, adding some additional modern interest.
Perhaps one of the more striking materials the designers used prolifically throughout the breathtaking condo is a rich chocolate marble with heavy contrasting veining – a look common in Art Deco design. Slabs of marble envelop the support columns in the home, and are used for a dynamic affect in focal areas, such as the elevator and master bedroom. Not only do the vertical marble features add sophistication, but the distinct veining provides movement and rhythm to the spaces.
“The marble adds a voluptuous quality as it wraps (around the columns),” Butzer said. “We were trying to learn from what (Art Deco) style offered, but not mimic it.”
The mock-galley kitchen has a long stretch of matte black granite countertops, the surface of which is barely disturbed by the black glass cook-top. The opposite side of the kitchen is a large island, topped with a thick, heavy white marble slab with an under-mount preparation sink. A Sub-Zero refrigerator, high-tech microwave drawer, icemaker and stainless steel range ensure the pleasure of the home chef. A limited number of upper cabinets give the room an open feel, and the picture windows bring in natural light and gorgeous views. A small balcony punctuates the end of the galley.
The casual dining area sits off the kitchen, and is completely open to the cavernous living space, which has four separate seating areas for conversation or simply contemplation. Currently unoccupied, the condo was staged and decorated by Sees Design of Oklahoma City in an eccentric style with strong modern materials and lines, but with traditional tufted pieces. Large abstract art pieces dot the rooms, drawing the eye but not competing for attention with the views.
Both corners of the living space are capped with corner windows. Small, intimate seating areas sink into each corner. The main bulk of the room was divided into two different gathering places for social functions, each area delineated by the use of area rugs and slightly different furniture styles and colors. One central chandelier dangles from the white ceiling over what is the dominant social space.
In the redesign, Butzer and Gardner turned what was originally six or eight different rooms into the single open floor plan of the living and dining areas, plus the kitchen.
“When we first came into the project (in the summer of 2008), the condo was dated corporate apartments,” Gardner said. “Lots of raised floors, mauves, poofy furniture and plastic laminates.”
“(Redesigning) is a fluid process,” Butzer said. “You have to sit and listen to what the issues tell you.”
One of the biggest issues was the lower floor ceiling. During the 1980s, what was originally an outdoor atrium on both levels was added into the interior, creating variations in floor and ceiling levels. Additionally, the architects had to determine clever ways to hide the modern mechanical systems in a building built for 1931, with lower standard commercial ceiling heights. One solution was “easing the edge” of the ceiling on the entire floor, creating an aesthetically pleasing curve where the ceiling comes in, which also made a beautiful joining between the ceiling and the numerous windows.
Not only was this a practical solution, but “the way the light slides in and reflects off the ceiling creates magic,” Butzer said.
An impressive high-tech modern convenience is the control panel. A small inset touch-screen monitor discreetly allows homeowners to control all the systems in the penthouse – lights, televisions, air conditioner, heater, home alarms and sound systems.
A guest bedroom and bathroom, along with a powder bath with the original hexagon-shaped mosaic tile floor, finish off this level of the residence. A wide sweeping staircase, with oak planks and the ornate 1931 metal railing, leads past a floor-to-ceiling mirrored wall on the landing and up to the top floor.
Although this floor houses an office with attached bathroom and what is planned to be a workout room, the main attraction and focus is the master suite. Butzer and Gardner created the hallway leading to the bedroom as more than just a hallway – as a procession. They lined up the doorways into the additional rooms with the windows in those rooms, for easy outdoor views from the hall, and a buildup of what was to come in the master.
“The quintessential function is the master bed,” Butzer said. “We wanted the simplest conversation between the bed and the views.”
The double doorway opens into an alcove of marble – floor, walls, ceiling – and even a half-wall directly in front, topped by a wall of clear glass. Pathways around the wall on both sides lead down a few steps onto a hardwood floor and the master bed, which has the backside of the marble half-wall as its headboard. His and hers bathrooms flank the room, hers with a deep soaking tub, and his with a steam shower.
The bed faces a raised platform which takes viewers up to a floor-to-ceiling, west-facing, plate glass window wall, and a glass door on each end of the platform opening onto small viewing balconies. The entire glass alcove can be shut off with heavy draperies for darkness and privacy, or can be left open for enjoyment of the beautiful Oklahoma sunsets.
“This is what we envisioned … these views, this energy,” Butzer said. “I mean, how cool to sleep with the view of Oklahoma City at your feet.”
For more information about the eXperience OKC architecture tour and tickets, visit www.aiacoc.org/tour.