Design: Space Invaders ; Artist Ryan McGinness Has Converted a Redundant Manhattan Garment Factory into a Space in Which to Live and Work. Liz Farrelly Measures the Results. Photographs by James Rexroad

By Farrelly, Liz | The Independent (London, England), August 3, 2002 | Go to article overview
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Design: Space Invaders ; Artist Ryan McGinness Has Converted a Redundant Manhattan Garment Factory into a Space in Which to Live and Work. Liz Farrelly Measures the Results. Photographs by James Rexroad


Farrelly, Liz, The Independent (London, England)


IF YOU'VE ever fancied living in a New York loft - a genuine century- old, working, commercial building stealthily nestled away in downtown Manhattan - then follow the example of artist/designer Ryan McGinness and find it yourself.

Before they married, McGinness and his wife Trish had a one- bedroom apartment each and a small work studio. They decided they wanted to consolidate their life and work spaces, so McGinness set out to explore his preferred neighbourhood on foot. He discovered a derelict garment factory (previously home to a printer, machine shop and lift parts manufacturer) where he spotted a sign written entirely in Chinese, except for the square footage.

McGinness has christened the block WesLES (Western Lower East Side). It stands at the crossroads of SoHo, Little Italy and Chinatown, an "unclassifiable" area that has side-stepped the gentrification that is sweeping through lower Manhattan. His neighbours include Chinese bakeries, a Buddhist temple, "and a chicken and bunny slaughterhouse around the corner". But, he adds, "It's still a genuine place - we have a great local diner."

McGinness's renovation experiences, along with the gleaming, multi-functional end result, could either send a DIY-inspired shiver down your spine or have you pining for wide-open spaces: 2,500sq ft, by 10ft high, to be exact.

Talking to him now, on the eve of his next adventure (he's just bought a loft close by and this time has a contractor dealing with the whole, messy business), McGinness is philosophical about the pros and cons of loft-living. "Pros - space, good for entertaining, there's a freight elevator, and it's got great lighting with windows on four sides. Cons - it's difficult to heat, difficult to cool, difficult to clean, security is an issue in a commercial building with people coming and going, and sometimes the mail gets screwed up."

The apartment is what's known in the US as a "floor-through", meaning that it takes up the entire width of a city block. Trish has had to deal with screaming drunks squatting in the doorway; on one occasion they had to call the fire department to a smouldering floor below; and in those between-times - chilly late spring and early autumn - when the building is without its roaring winter heating, Ryan has had to work in gloves. In late autumn, he has to sleep with earplugs as he acclimatises to the typical clanging of an antiquated New York heating system. f

And yes, they like having parties (Trish is an events organiser). They also both love working from home and the loft comfortably accommodates McGinness's three to four assistants. On any one day they may be painting, drawing, writing, plugged into computers or having meetings. A red silk rope greets guests, who are asked to remove their shoes and make themselves comfortable on a large plush and gilt-painted sofa, or its orange vinyl neighbour.

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Design: Space Invaders ; Artist Ryan McGinness Has Converted a Redundant Manhattan Garment Factory into a Space in Which to Live and Work. Liz Farrelly Measures the Results. Photographs by James Rexroad
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