An Old City apartment that's 'organized but playful'

Artist William May (left) and scientist Joel Karpiak have decorated their Old City with trendy furnishings, pop art, and bright color.

Just because their names aren’t on the building’s deed hasn’t stopped Joel Karpiak and William May from embossing every inch of their Old City rental with things that they love and that bring them joy.

After taking a peek inside their place at the Berger Building, it comes as no surprise that Karpiak, 32, is a scientist, and May, 25, is an artist. Their sense of placement, precision, and proportion, plus their layering of materials, trendy furniture, and pop art, have transformed a minimalist unit into a stylist urban setting.

“We like it organized but playful,” says Karpiak, a South Jersey native, who has his doctorate in chemistry from the University of San Francisco.

Camera icon TIM TAI / STAFF
The living room/dining room is adorned with an inflatable lobster, reminiscent of artist Jeff Koons’ famous aluminum lobster.

In 2015, Karpiak, who prefers urban living, was looking for a Center City home, even though his job at GlaxoSmithKline in Collegeville is a good two-hour commute on public transit.

He was instantly drawn to the building’s industrial flair, both inside and outside. The apartment building, like most in this part of the city, was once a big factory and retains original details, such as squared openings, duct work, exposed brick walls, and bronze entrance hoods.

May, who grew up in Irvine, Calif., and studied at the California Institute of the Arts, moved in with him a year later. The couple met when Karpiak was visiting friends in Southern California. They’ve been together for three years.

“We look for historical pieces, but we like the look of modern. And we try not to spend more than $1,000 on things,” says May, who is the brand director for Shift, an outdoor furniture and accessories studio, which created the tables for the Porch at 30th Street Station.

Just past the couple’s front door, we get another hint of the building’s bygone days. An imposing motor, which might have been used to power an elevator, was left intact on the ceiling.

Camera icon TIM TAI / STAFF
Evidence of the Berger Building’s industrial past includes  exposed brick, wooden ceiling beams, and a giant motor.

A one-of-a-kind runner in bold designs by artist Keith Haring splashes the bleached wood floor with color. An abstract painting of body parts, purchased from Jules Goldman Books and Antiques on Second Street, catches the eye.

A metal-and-stone clock found in New Hope hangs above a black mid-century, plastic-fronted dresser that was created by French-born Raymond Loewy, who was known for his sleek designs. (They also have a Loewy cabinet that holds their flatscreen TV.)

Enlivening the wall are hundreds of spindly magenta plastic pieces, linked together and resembling an underwater plant; thus, their designers, French brothers Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec, named them Algue, which is the French word for seaweed.

The kitchen, dining, and casual seating spaces are essentially one rectangular space, and embrace more architectural elements, such as a retaining column; a wide-plank wooden ceiling; and curved courses of red bricks above the long windows.

The kitchen is decidedly modern, with white Eurostyle cabinets, stainless-steel appliances, and a peninsula with black-and-chrome Philippe Starck stools. The black granite countertops offset the copper canister set and 1960s orange Uten.Silo storage unit that holds cooking gadgets.

Camera icon TIM TAI / STAFF
Among the kitchen’s conveniences is an orange Uten.Silo storage unit that holds cooking gadgets.

Serving as a divider between the kitchen and the casual seating area are an auburn acrylic Umbo bookcase and a wooden dining table, built by a friend of Karpiak’s, and surrounded by more Philippe Starck seating. The bookcase has objects carefully situated on shelves, creating a fashionable scape that includes cookbooks, notably, Mastering Pasta: The Art and Practice of Handmade Pasta, Gnocchi, and Risotto by local chef Marc Vetri, with David Joachim, and The Artists’ and Writers’ Cookbook (1961) by Richard Olney, with recipes from James Michener, Upton Sinclair, Marcel Duchamp.

Trapped in a fisherman’s net and hanging above the cozy orange modular set is an orange inflatable lobster, replicating artist Jeff Koons’ famous aluminum lobster. Pillows, from their travels to London, Spain, and Sweden, in array of colors, add more whimsy.

The second bedroom was converted into their office and is furnished with Raymond Loewy knockoffs, which  include two bureaus, a night table, and desk, all in provoking lime green. Another bold element is the 1981 Oceanic Lamp by Michele De Lucchi. The black floor chaise longue was purchased in Manhattan.

Influenced by May’s trips to Japan and Singapore, their bedroom, which includes a platform bed from Ligne Roset, has an uncluttered simplicity and serenity. Wild flowers in an Ian Anderson vase, a candelabra, and a collection of crocheted Swedish coasters keep things balanced.

Outside, the streets bustle with delivery drivers, Segway-riding tourists, mothers pushing strollers, but there isn’t a peep to be heard inside the men’s apartment.

“It’s another positive,” Karpiak says. “Once we’re home, it’s like another world.”

Camera icon TIM TAI / STAFF
The office, furnished with Raymond Loewy knockoffs, captures Joel Karpiak and William May’s sense of fun.

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