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An Apartment Called Birdsnest: A Kiev Architect’s Well-Planned Lair for a Friend

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An Apartment Called Birdsnest: A Kiev Architect’s Well-Planned Lair for a Friend

December 3, 2018

Swiss filmmaker Marc Wilkins leads a peripatetic life, shooting commercials and music videos in Cape Town and Buenos Aires while keeping a home base in NYC and more recently Berlin. It was a Ukrainian producer at the Cannes Film Festival who tipped him off that Kiev is a great, affordable location for filming, and so for the last 15 years, Wilkins has also made several work trips to the capital city. After Ukraine’s Maidan revolution of 2014, he decided to try living there: “Kiev has a certain melancholy and mystery that attracts me,” Wilkins told us. “I’m fascinated with this post-Soviet society that’s trying to figure out who they really are and what they want.”

He found his apartment while cycling past a castle-like building and noticing a For Sale sign. Set in a once-grand structure divided into small apartments, the available flat was an ode to peeling wallpaper and water stains, but had 12-foot ceilings and, he says, “charisma.” Wilkins decided to keep looking: “I had only started and it felt too soon—until, a few weeks later, when the sale sign came down. Seeing it gone was a bit like receiving a wedding invitation from a girl I secretly loved.” Quick inquiries were made, a pending buyer fell through, and Wilkins swooped in. He hired 28-year-old architect Emil Dervish, one of his friends from the city’s creative community (and a graduate of Kiev’s National Academy of Art and Architecture), to oversee the remodel. A lot of work later—and a 2,000-mile journey for a Berlin moving truck—the filmmaker is in residence and at work on his first full-length feature.

Photography by Mikhail Loskutov, courtesy of Emil Dervish.

birdsnest kiev ukraine architect emil dervish 1a
Above: Dubbed Birdsnest for its location in the turret, the apartment is on the fifth floor of an early 20th-century, pre-Revolutionary-era building on Reitarska Street, which Dervish says is Kiev’s most beautiful thoroughfare and Wilkins notes is starting to percolate: “a restaurant opening, a photo studio, a fashion label, and some friends and I, including Emil, are creating a gallery—you can feel the future of culture on this street.”
a custom, multi functional bookcase runs through the heart of the apartment, di 18
Above: A custom, multi-functional bookcase runs through the heart of the apartment, dividing the public from the private space (the cabinet at the end serves as a coat closet).

Dervish began the project by taking down walls—in consultation with an engineer—inserting a hidden metal support beam and relocating the entry for an improved flow. (Scroll to the end to see Before photos.) “Emil always begins by turning over every stone,” says Wilkins. “I wanted to start with a plan, but he said, ‘Let’s do the demolition first and see what we find.'” One of the discoveries: a concrete block ceiling under the existing plaster. Dervish suggested exposing these concrete bones throughout as an industrial contrast to the restored herringbone parquet flooring.

Above L: The new entry is set off in Yves Klein blue (RAL 5002)—a nod to the fact that Wilkins is a passionate sailor. The wooden train rack shelf—see 10 Easy Pieces for sourcing—is the first of many family souvenirs that made the journey from Berlin. Above R: A star feature of the renovation is clean-lined hardware in unlacquered brass, designed by Dervish and fabricated by a local metalsmith: “I found an old master who in the seventies had made the brass details for the Kiev subway,” says Dervish.
 &#8\2\20;i told emil i wanted the apartment to have a connection to t 21
Above: “I told Emil I wanted the apartment to have a connection to the history of the building, but that it should also feel fresh and modern,” says Wilkins. “My other briefing point: I like a space that makes you feel safe—and that’s comfortable to be naked in.”

Dervish responded by applying a warm and unifying materials palette of ivory plaster, oak, and brass throughout. It took four layers of paint to make the ceiling match the walls. The upright piano came from Wilkins’s mother and his grandmother’s china cabinet stores whiskey: “Living with these things is my way of making sense of my patchwork family,” says Wilkins. The Bon Voyage movie poster is from a short he wrote and directed that was shortlisted for an Academy Award in 2017.

fully integrated into the living space, the kitchen features a large brass cabi 22
Above: Fully integrated into the living space, the kitchen features a large brass cabinet designed by Dervish. Wilkins bought his midcentury sofa and armchair in Berlin; the trunk coffee table came from his German stepfather.
the apartment&#8\2\17;s &#8\2\20;tower zone&#8\2\2\1; is used as th 23
Above: The apartment’s “tower zone” is used as the dining area: vintage Ant-style chairs are paired with a marble-topped cafe table (since replaced by a larger circular table). The wall-hung radiators are original to the space: they were taken out, sandblasted, and repainted. “People thought we were crazy preserving them, but a lot of the peace and harmony of this apartment comes from those old radiators,” says Wilkins. The pendant light is another Berlin find.
dervish had the window pulls made to his specs: &#8\2\20;honesty and simpli 24
Above: Dervish had the window pulls made to his specs: “Honesty and simplicity are the values I appreciate the most,  he says. “But I understand that simplicity at its best requires perfection. Therefore, when designing, I put special emphasis on the role of detail and carefully selected materials.”
the kitchen was designed around a porcelain double sink, a \1954 swiss design t 25
Above: The kitchen was designed around a porcelain double sink, a 1954 Swiss design that came out of Wilkins’ great-grandfather’s townhouse. The brass cabinet serves as an art piece—its untreated surface is a study in fingerprints—and as a cover for the range vent with side compartments for dishes and spices. The counters are made of oak and the small island is micro-cement-covered plywood on a brass base.
the bookcase&#8\2\17;s end cabinets conceal the fridge and freezer. stay tu 26
Above: The bookcase’s end cabinets conceal the fridge and freezer. Stay tuned: we’ll be exploring more of the kitchen in a future post.
the worker, a painting by wilkins&#8\2\17;s artist father, hangs in the bed 27
Above: The Worker, a painting by Wilkins’s artist father, hangs in the bedroom, which is separated from the bathroom by a steel-framed glass screen.
dervish, shown here in the dressing area, neatly lined up deep wooden clothes c 28
Above: Dervish, shown here in the dressing area, neatly lined up deep wooden clothes closets on the opposite side of the living room shelves.
the ivory and oak palette continues in the bathroom. the brass faucet is by nic 29
Above: The ivory and oak palette continues in the bathroom. The brass faucet is by Nicolazzi of Italy. The black bakelite wall switches and outlets here and in the kitchen are from German brand Barker’s Serie 1930, modeled after a Bauhaus design: see more in Switched On. Note the closet’s custom brass door pulls.
a view into the bedroom: &#8\2\20;the glass screen acts as a psychological  30
Above: A view into the bedroom: “the glass screen acts as a psychological divider,” says Wilkins.
even the elegant bath has a concrete block ceiling. that&#8\2\17;s the wc o 31
Above: Even the elegant bath has a concrete block ceiling. That’s the WC opposite the inset tub, an Ettore Sottsass design from Kaldewei.
like the kitchen island, the bathtub has a micro cement surround. 32
Above: Like the kitchen island, the bathtub has a micro-cement surround.
the brushed brass fixtures are by nicolazzi. 33
Above: The brushed brass fixtures are by Nicolazzi.

Floor Plan Before

as was, the 667 square foot apartment was divided into small rooms. 34
Above: As was, the 667-square-foot apartment was divided into small rooms.

Floor Plan After

dervish reoriented the entry and opened up the main living space, neatly dividi 35
Above: Dervish reoriented the entry and opened up the main living space, neatly dividing it from the bedroom and bath by a combination bookshelf and closet.

Before

the old entry bears no resemblance to the new. the original floor was still in  36
Above: The old entry bears no resemblance to the new. The original floor was still in place—”it’s so hard to find details like this in Kiev,” says Wilkins—but in need of repair and refinishing.
the windows and radiators were also salvaged and upgraded. 37
Above: The windows and radiators were also salvaged and upgraded.
the tiny bath was already on its way out. 38
Above: The tiny bath was already on its way out.

Here are three more apartment remodels that make ingenious use of every square foot:

And for salvaged Soviet-era industrial lighting, take a look at Reborn in the USA.

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Frequently asked questions

Who designed the Bird's Nest apartment in Kiev, Ukraine?

The Bird's Nest apartment in Kiev, Ukraine was designed by architect Emil Dervish.

What are some of the space planning lessons that can be learned from the Bird's Nest apartment?

Some of the space planning lessons that can be learned from the Bird's Nest apartment include: maximizing natural light, creating multifunctional spaces, and utilizing creative storage solutions.

How did the architect maximize natural light in the Bird's Nest apartment?

The architect maximized natural light in the Bird's Nest apartment by using glass walls and skylights to let in as much natural light as possible.

What are some of the multifunctional spaces in the Bird's Nest apartment?

Some of the multifunctional spaces in the Bird's Nest apartment include: a living room that can be converted into a bedroom, a hidden kitchen that can be closed off when not in use, and a home office that can also be used as a guest bedroom.

What are some of the creative storage solutions in the Bird's Nest apartment?

Some of the creative storage solutions in the Bird's Nest apartment include: built-in storage under the bed and in the hallway, a hidden storage wall in the living room, and a sliding storage wall in the home office/guest bedroom.

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