Fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg is best known for turning American sportswear on its ear in the 1970s with her signature wrap dress. A savvy businesswoman and style icon, she is just as notable for hanging out with Andy Warhol (his portrait of her hangs prominently in her office) and as a regular at Studio 54 as she is for running her eponymous company. Given her A-list persona, there is, of course, a certain amount of blurring between her personal life and the DVF brand. Her new 35,000-square-foot headquarters, designed by architects Amale Andraos and Dan Wood, founders of the New York City–based WORK Architecture Company (WORKac), reflects this crossover.

Tucked behind two landmarked façades (the building interiors were not subject to the same preservation requirements and were gutted) on Manhattan's west side in the meatpacking district, each level of the five-story studio headquarters—from the ground floor boutique to von Furstenberg's penthouse—is a different program and on a different point scale between public and private. This diversity raised two primary challenges for the architects: How to create a unified space out of the programmatic array, and secondly, how to light such a variety of spaces with a range of specialized needs arising from retail space, the showroom, offices, and the residential suite.

To link the spaces, Andraos and Wood's solution—a dramatic illuminated stairway—is as signature as their client. Seventy-seven steps slice through the middle of the building, flanked on either side by a flashy guardrail—3,000 Swarovski crystals hung from vertical stainless steel cables. The architects dubbed this unique assembly a “stairdelier,” a cross between a stair and a chandelier. The stair is capped off with a faceted skylight, which crowns the uppermost landing.

The stairway volume was conceived as a “shaft of light”—a way to bring daylight deep into the heart of the building. To enhance the amount of sun entering the space, the architects installed a heliostat mirror in the double-height penthouse space created by the diamond-shaped skylight. The heliostat tracks the sun and shoots light into the secondary and tertiary mirrors that run the length of the stair. During the day, the whole DVF studio space is bright and awash in glittery reflections as daylight pours in and is reflected off of the triangular crystals. “You can feel time in the space—the movement of clouds and the sun,” Andraos says. “There's a connection between inside and outside. It is part of the overall concept to mix life and work and ideas.”

In collaboration with WORKac, New York–based lighting designer Suzan Tillotson of Tillotson Design Associates installed a 15W, continuous 5000K high-output light-emitting diode (LED) fixture along the stair stringer for nighttime effects. The detail is understated. When the fixture is off, it does not call attention to itself, but when lit, a narrow beam of light hits the crystal, setting off prismatic reflections and implying a wall of light. But arriving at such an elegant solution was not easy. WORKac and Tillotson Design went through a number of mock-ups: testing and adjusting the scheme as the design developed and the architects researched different types of crystals. “It is very difficult to light smooth glass,” Tillotson explains. “When the architects came up with the pattern and the triangular prism, it became the most difficult thing in the world to light. There isn't any surface to light. We experimented with lots of different LEDs. Warm, cool, nothing was bright enough. We had to use a very narrow, 5-degree Kelvin, daylight-colored lamp.”

Initially, Tillotson thought to create a uniform lighting scheme in the DVF workspaces and on the showroom floors, but programmatic and energy demands necessitated a tailored approach. The scheme takes into account the footprint of each floor and how the ceiling is perceived from a stairway vantage point, because that approach places the ceiling plane in full view. Worried that a pattern of fluorescent fixtures would take over the office floors, she used indirect/direct fixtures with perforated metal louvers and T8 lamps, a softer lamp source than standard T5s.

The 5,000-square-foot showroom is a flexible space—clothing racks are continually repositioned and DVF hosts events and parties every season. In the display area, which runs along the façade, Tillotson used 200W track-mounted halogen fixtures with MR16 lamps. The double-height space holds an oversized conference/banquet table, but also is designed as a black box theater. Here, Tillotson used larger scale track heads with PAR38 lamps so that the DVF team could aim and control dramatic lighting for everyday use and/or special events.

WORKac fashioned von Furstenberg's penthouse after her collection of jeweled baubles—as the diamond-shaped form emerges from the roof, one half covers her living quarters, the other the top of the stairwell. Yet, the entire team wanted to avoid over-illuminating the space, which would turn the most private of residential areas into a meatpacking-district beacon. Tillotson treated the space as the residential interior it is, using recessed adjustable 75W MR16 spots and niche lights where needed. A few warm-white LEDs are integrated into the skylight, but the design allows room for decorative light fixtures from von Furstenberg's personal collection. The gem-like skylight glows softly atop the brick building.

Lit up in shades of hot pink and fuchsia, the historic brick façade is where von Furstenberg's signature style gets full, public expression. High-intensity RGB color-changing LEDs are concealed in the windowsills on the office and showroom floors. After hours, when the shades are drawn, a 1-foot section with a 20-degree beam illuminates each window opening from a pocket at the bottom of the sill. Tillotson turned to an LED product with integrated color software management and programming capabilities to match the DVF brand colors. The lighting scheme invigorates a neighborhood that is rapidly moving from industrial warehouses, with a touch of underground nightlife, to one of Manhattan's trendiest neighborhoods. Yet the studio headquarters building is never ostentatious. Pink and sparkly, yes. Flashy, never.

DETAILS Project Diane von Furstenberg Studio Headquarters, New York

Client Diane von Furstenberg, New York
Architect WORK Architecture Company, New York
Lighting Designer Tillotson Design Associates, New York
Project Size 35,000 square feet
Project Cost $28 million
Photographer Elizabeth Felicella, New York
Manufacturers / Applications

T5 and T5HO fluorescent strip luminaires throughout

Fluorescent covelight fixtures with dimming ballast

Bomin Solar
Heliostat mirrors

MR16 downlight throughout io Lighting
Surface-mounted LED striplight grazer at stair

Halogen undercabinet millwork accent light

T8 fluorescent striplight at retail area

Lighting Services Inc
Recessed track MR16 luminaires at window display areas and lounge

Seamlessline fluorescent striplight at penthouse

Osram Sylvania
Lamps throughout the project Philips Solid-State Lighting

iColor MX PowerCore Series with color player and iPlayer2 controller keypad at façade

Crystals at stair

Recessed fluorescent troffer at office areas