The architects at Gramatan Corporation start most of their projects from the outside, with location and historical context in mind, and then, as concepts transform into realities, move all the way down to the most specific of details: for instance, the custom height of a closet that will hang car racing suits. The firm, a sister company of Livingston Builders, Inc., is two years old, and is headed by architect Gerard J. Beekman. Currently, Gramatan—a full-service company with architects, builders, and interior designers—is making the leap from a budding Livingston offspring to an established team of cross-disciplined individuals known for proposing innovative living ideas. (Right before this story went to print, Beekman wanted to express his gratitude to Livingston and wrote in an e-mail: “Gramatan would not be possible without Jim Remez and David Palmer [Livingston’s founding partners]. They have an extraordinary rolodex of clients they’ve collected over the last 20 years. The generosity they have shown with sharing these clients, as well as the encouragement and financial support, is simply unheard of in our industry.”)
Meanwhile, nearly every project, every home, Gramatan creates is rooted in classic architectural proportions, whether they are traditional or modern. Beekman wants to make that clear. After only two meetings, I certainly cannot claim to have diagnosed much about this enigmatic architect. But during our time together, he reveals a few of his passions. Mainly, meeting the unique needs of his clients and his urge to create art—even if the latter is not quite part of his profession’s reality. And although I’m not sure how much of that Gerard Beekman—the self-proclaimed “archigeek” who simply “wants to make beautiful things”—he is willing to share with Quest for a story like this, surely the artist I can sense must come out when he sketches, designs living spaces, and crafts spectacular homes that appear to transcend any specific architectural style.
We have arranged to meet at Gramatan’s Madison Avenue offices, a location strategically chosen for its proximity to many of the firm’s Upper East Side projects. They moved in a couple months ago and seem to be settling in nicely. Beekman begins by talking about a project Gramatan designed that flanks Palm Beach’s Everglades Golf Course, an 8,000-square-foot home on a street where Marion Syms Wyeth designed 10 of the 14 neighboring historic properties. Right now, the space is a plot of empty land. “It’s a blank slate,” he says, showing me an aerial photograph of the site, “but the context isn’t.”
Beekman maintains that in a place like Palm Beach—and New York, too—certain legislations still steer home aesthetics. It’s not a bad thing. “We spend a lot of time figuring out how to mesh what our client wants with a building that’s going to make sense in its setting,” he tells me. “So when I’m approaching a project like this, I want to design a building that fits the street.”
Which is to say he has ideas. A lot of ideas. Almost from the moment we sit down, they flow out of him. Of course, the solving of spatial issues. But furniture arrangements are integral to the initial design process, too: “A client is not going to be occupying an empty room,” he says. That’s why a hand-drawn sketch in lieu of a computer-generated image is originally presented to a client. Since the building structure and furniture are constantly developing, the hand sketches foster a sense of collaboration as ideas are quickly generated, tested, and reviewed in meetings. With Gramatan, the process is entirely holistic, allowing for a seamless completion. “It’s a triangle,” he illustrates. “You have the owner at the top, the builder on one side, and the architect on the other, all working together.” This saves time for the client and often cuts out major budgetary headaches.
In a traditional project, Beekman explains, “you’d have an architect who would work on a set of documents for maybe up to two years, in a vacuum.” That means little input from the builders. “The architect,” he continues, “would then hand the plans over to a builder and then the builder would give the client a cost analysis.” Most of the time, those costs are much higher than expected and can lead to discordant moments during construction. Since Gramatan architects and interior designers bring the builders—Livingston—under their roof, clients receive a very unified design. “What drives us,” says Beekman, “is creating an elegant space where people are going to feel their best.”
As Gramatan continues to create these unique spaces, Beekman and his team will hear more of what’s starting to become familiar feedback. Robert V. Gilbane, one of several pleased Gramatan client, sums it up well: “Having such an engaged and collaborative design-build team enabled us to achieve our dream home very quickly and without the stress, design errors, and cost overruns that often accompany such an undertaking.”