Visual artist Renate Aller and her husband, financial adviser Hugh Aller, live in this 3,500-square-foot loft in Soho. The space, originally built in 1873, was full of industrial elements that the Allers were eager to keep, yet it was also in need of extensive repairs. The renovated property has new white-oak floors, a professional-grade kitchen, a wood-burning fireplace, and strategically placed subdivisions to create several distinct spaces, including a master suite, a library, and a studio for Mrs. Aller. The black leather sofas in the main salon were purchased in the ’80s in London. Behind them are two of Aller’s landscape photographs, now on exhibition at the Parrish Art Museum.
photo by Michael Grimm

A Photographer’s Dream Loft in SoHo

Multihyphenate Renate Aller’s light-filled aerie in an 1800s building complements her dynamic lifestyle

By Paola Singer
Photography by Renate Aller and Michael Grimm
May 17, 2019

“There was something so special about the space, like it was carrying beautiful memories,” says artist Renate Aller of walking into the SoHo loft she shares with her husband, Hugh Aller, for the first time. “It welcomed us instantly.” Although the couple was smitten with the late-1800s property just the way it was, with its jumble of exposed pipes, weathered cast-iron columns, and 15-foot-high ceilings covered in stamped tin tiles, there were countless leaks and cracks and wonky electrical setups to repair. And then there was the issue of Aller’s growing body of work—namely a series of large-scale landscape photographs she had been composing over the last decade—which not only required a spacious studio but also one that felt separate from the rest of the home. “The loft where we lived before was really open, and I had nowhere to escape my artwork,” says Aller. “It got to be quite exhausting.”

Shortly after moving to New York in 1999, Aller began spending time in a house near Westhampton Beach, where she photographed subtle variations of the same seascape year after year. She performed a similar exercise in the mountains of Alaska, Switzerland, and Nepal, and in the sand dunes of Colorado and New Mexico, the results of which are on exhibition until July at the Parrish Art Museum in Water Mill, New York. When the Allers found their dream loft in SoHo, she was deeply focused on this project. Nevertheless, the couple embarked on a comprehensive renovation of the 3,500-square-foot apartment, adding new oak floors, professional-grade kitchen appliances, an ecologically friendly wood-burning fireplace, and strategically placed subdivisions to create a master suite, an office for Mr. Aller (who is a financial adviser), a library that doubles as a guest room, and a studio for Mrs. Aller that includes a custom-sized storage closet, an elevated workspace, and an alcove used for various artistic purposes.

One of the modern additions to the loft is an ecologically friendly fireplace from Bodart & Gonay, fronted by a slab of unpolished granite. The small brass table on the left, which is shaped like a goat, was designed in the ’80s by Aller.
photo by Michael Grimm

“Sometimes I’m producing photos and I lay out huge prints all over, other times I have artist friends showing their work here—everything is in permanent flux,” she says. “Having a flexible space was very important.” This flexibility extends beyond Aller’s studio into the loft’s main living area, which has a salon furnished with wood-framed leather sofas and an open kitchen furnished with an ebony-stained maple dining table, which Aller designed. She also designed the retractable wood-veneer round pendant that hangs right above it. Aller may be known for her photographs, but she is also painter, sculptor, musician, and furniture designer, a skill she was advised to “never mention” while she attended the prestigious Chelsea School of Art and then Byam Shaw in London. “That was my secret career that I couldn’t talk about when I went into art school,” she says in an amused tone. “They told me it would be frowned upon.”

But Aller, who’d been drawing sketches of interiors since she was a little girl, went ahead and produced a furniture line in the 1980s. The line ended up being the subject of an exhibition at the Hamiltons Gallery in Mayfair. Many of those pieces are now in the loft, including a small desk with etched pewter doors and a matching ebony-stained maple chair with a leather seat. Their simple, sometimes curved lines are a great complement to the apartment’s industrial bones. “When I was growing up in the ’60s and ’70s in northern Germany, one of my early influences was the Bauhaus idea of a gesamtkunstwerk,” says Aller, “wherein a building and its contents (including art) had to be read as one, be on equal footing.”

Photographer Renate Aller‘s SoHo loft’s open kitchen and dining area, which is used for anything from intimate dinners to boisterous parties, features sleek professional-grade appliances, including a 60″ BlueStar range, a Gaggenau steam oven, and a Viking refrigerator. Aller designed the ebony-stained maple table (paired with vintage chrome-and-leather chairs), as well as the circular wood-veneer lamp, which retracts up into the ceiling using a pulley system purchased at a boating store.
photo by Michael Grimm
In the library, which sometimes doubles as a guest room, the couple placed a folding Bruno Mathsson table from the ’50s, a Mario Bellini leather chair, and modular Vitsoe shelves designed by Dieter Rams. “If he could, my husband would Vitsoe the entire apartment,” says Aller, half jokingly. “They are so flexible.”
photo by Michael Grimm
“The human eye cannot understand space without markers,” says Aller. “Placing a small desk with a chair in the middle of a long wall makes the eye understand the space and experience it as larger than if left empty.” The artists designed this ebony-stained maple desk with etched pewter doors, as well as the hand-carved chair. On the left wall is a photograph of the Swiss Alps, a piece from her series “Mountain Interval.” Every window in the sun-drenched home was outfitted with hinged hardwood shutters made by Kirtz Shutters in Oklahoma.
photo by Michael Grimm
“We wake up every morning to our favorite artwork by [artist friend] Christopher French,” says Aller of the square piece that hangs above the yellow armchair in the master suite. “It has a Braille text by Diderot that says, ‘The imagination creates nothing, but is perpetually occupied with resemblances.’” The glass cabinets with Dutch gilding metal were designed by Aller in the ’80s for an exhibition at London’s Hamiltons Gallery.
photo by Michael Grimm
Aller is seen here printing one of her large-scale photographs in her atelier. The stairs lead to her office, set in a semi-enclosed elevated platform. Underneath the platform is a custom-sized storage room for her art. The black cabinets in the background were designed by her husband using Bisley plan files and custom dollies with non-marking wheels.
photo by Michael Grimm
Renate Aller and her husband, Hugh Aller, on the rooftop of their SoHo loft. The couple met more than two decades ago in London, where they lived until 1999. When they first moved to New York, they stayed in Mark Rothko’s former atelier at 222 Bowery, which was at the time used by Abstract Expressionist painter Michael Goldberg, a friend of the Allers. They then lived in a loft in Tribeca for nearly 10 years.
photo by Renate Aller

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