For Alexandre and Sofía Sanchez de Betak, an old-school SoHo loft provides the perfect lab for creative living and unconventional style
Take one step inside the Manhattan loft of Alexandre de Betak and his wife, Sofía Sanchez de Betak, and you know you’re not in Kansas anymore. The epic social/entertaining space at the heart of the home—“living room” doesn’t begin to describe it—feels like a set for a Pina Bausch performance or some outré production of an Ionesco or Pirandello play. Among the dramatis personae are postmodern chairs by Peter Shire and Marinus A. Vljim, freestanding chain lamps by artist Franz West, pyramidal light sculptures by André Cazenave, and a Louis Durot seat in the form of a woman’s upturned torso and legs. There’s also a Vespa parked by one of the columns and a swing hanging from the ceiling. The mise-en-scène is redolent of drama and possibility.
Given the homeowners’ résumés, the eccentric milieu should come as no surprise. Alexandre built his reputation transgressing the boundaries between the worlds of fashion, art, and design. His namesake firm, Bureau Betak, has produced some of the most indelible fashion shows, events, and exhibitions of the past three decades—with the impresario himself taking on the roles of art director and designer. His Argentine-born wife, the former Sofía Sanchez Barrenechea, plotted her own trajectory through the beau monde as a high-profile art director, travel guru, and fashion maven. The couple’s 2014 wedding in Patagonia featured ushers sporting Darth Vader helmets and a giant blow-up of the Star Wars villain—a bit of cheeky pop culture to leaven the glamour of the bride’s Valentino couture gown and the resplendent natural beauty of the setting.
Playfulness and humor are clearly essential parts of the de Betak program. Witness the tatami room in their Manhattan loft, which includes three types of sake on tap, a video projector, and a hydraulic table that rises mysteriously from the floor for casual dining. Or the proliferation of vintage Japanese toys throughout the home. “I have a big family of robots. They’re my little friends, my little monsters,” Alexandre says of his long-time collecting obsession. For more adult divertissements, there’s a handy stripper pole in a hidden, mirror-paneled lounge where guests retire for postprandial high jinks. “You can’t build an apartment from scratch and not make a secret room,” Sofía explains matter-of-factly.
The fun continues in the bedrooms of Alexandre’s two teenage sons, Amael and Aidyn. One room is tucked discreetly in a loft space above the mirrored bar; when the kids are in residence, the stripper pole becomes more of a fireman’s pole, perfect for fast escapes. The other bedroom is constructed of metal scaffolding, Erector Set–style, with platform beds and an integrated desk below. “This was my dream when I was a kid,” Alexandre muses. As for the child he and Sofía are expecting, he says they’ve considered setting up a baby tent in the middle of the loft.
For gastronomic pleasures, Alexandre created the ultimate chef’s kitchen, centered on a monumental stainless-steel island that is the ne plus ultra of bespoke cookery. “The kitchen was custom fabricated, cabinet by cabinet, by a Chinese metalworking shop in Brooklyn. I spent a year with those guys, driving them nuts,” he recalls. Predictably, the couple enjoys entertaining, and the kitchen allows them to do so on a grand scale, whether that means cooking pasta for 100 for a book launch or making paella for a throng of fashion-forward guests.
But for all of its sybaritic bells and whistles, the apartment hews more closely to the rough-and-ready SoHo artists’ dwellings of the 1960s and ’70s than it does to today’s so-called luxury lofts. The deliberately unfussy materials palette includes weathered floorboards reclaimed from an upstate New York barn; cabinetry of brushed oak with linen-backed copper grilles; and stainless steel for a dash of early-1980s high-tech realness. Pipes and radiators are largely left exposed, as are the original wood columns and beams. The layout of the space has a similarly old-school loft vibe, particularly in the open-plan core, where one could easily picture the mandarins of Abstract Expressionism performing their alchemy on heroically scaled canvases.
We wanted to respect the history of this place and not try to make it something that it isn’t
“We wanted to respect the history of this place and not try to make it something that it isn’t,” Alexandre says. “The huge room is incredibly versatile, not just for entertaining but also for mounting installations and playing around with different elements from the shows I design. It’s the kind of space that begs for creative experimentation.”
Which brings us back to the swing dangling from the ceiling between the living and kitchen areas. For this whimsical amenity, Sofía has a perfectly rational explanation: “It’s very important to have a swing nearby when you feel like swinging.”
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