In Long Island City, An Architect’s Sound Vision

This sustainably designed loft, located in the heart of Hunters Point, lies just blocks from MoMA PS1 (and Trader Joe’s)

Completely renovated and reimagined from the top of its 14-foot ceilings to the bottom layer of soundproofing under its French oak floors, 27-28 Thomson Avenue 454 was designed by its architect-owner as a showcase for art, books, and music. The apartment is designed to maximize light and space and is filled with quiet, bespoke, luxury details that result in a superbly comfortable space for living.

Since his undergraduate career at Cooper Union, designer-owner Lis Cena, who holds an M.Arch II from Yale, dreamed of living in this converted LIC factory, where the Eagle Electric Manufacturing Co. once manufactured circuits and switchboards. When he first saw this particular unit with his husband, Jason Dobbs, he was immediately blown away. “It was an exceptional space — as an architect, I had an x-ray vision of what it could become.”

“I wanted to live and experience the space in the same organic way that one would move through a garden.”

Lis Cena, Architect

The environmental designer, educator, and sculptor — a native of Kosovo — set about doing a full gut renovation, including changing the floor plan so that the great room, with its amazing 8-foot-tall and 15-foot-wide wall of windows, became the central focus. The result is equally ideal for entertaining, displaying oversized art, playing music, and just plain living.

Cena also moved the kitchen out of the living area and into its own space at the opposite end, conveniently located next to the front door.

The 1,385 square foot unit is long — 60 feet by 20 feet — and Cena wanted to have a layout that would accentuate its length and space. “My goal was to create a design that maintained the openness, but that had enough partitions to have a variety of private spaces. I wanted to define these separate areas without enclosing them — divide, but not hide,” explained Cena. “I wanted to live and experience the space in the same organic way that one would move through a garden.”

Cena achieved his goal by designing built-in bookshelves and storage cabinets that serve as dividers. Though the shelves are eight feet tall, the loft’s 14-foot ceilings ensure that while the bookshelves create visually and physically separate areas in the apartment, they still allow light and sound to flow between the spaces. “When I wake up in the morning, I see beyond the bedroom. I can see the sun hitting the walls,” Cena remarked.

The loft’s walls and floors are unusual — the construction is museum-quality, with a thick layer of soundproofing behind the walls and underneath the floors — that meet together seamlessly, with no baseboards. The built-in bookshelves are made of maple plywood and the floors are a wide-plank knotted French oak.

“I wanted the dichotomy of having both rustic elements in the design and a clean, modern look,” added Cena. “The main idea was to let natural materials breathe life into the space and have white walls to display art.”

“I wanted the dichotomy of having both rustic
elements in the design and a clean, modern look.”

The residence stands as a masterpiece on its own and also serves as a fantastic backdrop for both visual and aural art. In addition to the soundproofing, the loft also has a built-in sound system installed within the shelves and the ceiling that operates in three different zones—it’s part of a wireless smart-home system that is Alexa compatible. These details not only allow light and air to flood the unit, but also music, whether it’s played live or through the speakers. 

The Great Room can accommodate two full-sized concert grand pianos (Cena previously dovetailed a Blüthner and, fittingly, a Queens-built Steinway Model D) or other combinations of instruments or sculptures. The built-in bookshelves are specially engineered so that there’s no sag, even when completely filled, as Cena can attest, with his own collection of more than 2,500 books. 

“Lis and Jason have built an exceptional home that is truly one-of-a-kind,” said Patrick W. Smith, the Corcoran agent handling the listing. “You would never be able to have this kind of expansive loft space with 14-foot-high ceilings and nearly 1,400 square feet in a new development, yet the modern finishes and high-end construction bring the space completely up to date.”

As for the building: Arris Lofts is in the center of Court Square, just a short distance from MoMA PS1, Sculpture Center, Book Culture, and yes, that brand-new Trader Joe’s. Amenities include an indoor swimming pool, a sauna, roof deck, fitness center, and 24-hour staffed lobby. And if proximity to four subway lines (7, E, G, and M) wasn’t enough, the nearby Long Island City LIRR station is the terminus for most Hamptons-bound trains—no Jamaica transfer required.

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