Sanders Portrait & Interior Photography by Bjorn Wallander
It may be dIffIcult to imagine now, but when architect Joel Sanders published Stud, his influential book about how design shapes male identities, in the mid-’90s, the loft still seemed radical. In his design projects, Sanders titillated with his decision to put semitransparent showers in the center of living spaces, inviting spectators.
“I used to be known for exhibitionistic bathrooms, and it was because I was interested in the body and breaking down boundaries around shame and pride in the body,” he says.
Not surprisingly, most of Sanders’s early clients were gay men. But a few decades on, that has changed. “Now every hotel wants that experience,” he says. He also recently completed a penthouse apartment — again, with a sexy, voyeuristic bathroom — that was designed for a straight couple... with two children. “I think it’s a positive reflection of social change,” Sanders says. “There’s a much more permissive and open idea about bodies, about gender.”
Sanders’s own West Village apartment, designed 10 years ago, is a study in many of his signature moves — like a louvered wall between the bedroom and the living room. Boldest of all is a peek-a-boo window that looks from the kitchen into the shower. “A good friend told me I was still living like a kid,” he explains of his decision to do the design himself. “I had collected much of the Midcentury Modern stuff I love, but I hadn’t taken the next step of designing my home.”
The design work of his firm, Joel Sanders Architect, has grown in scope over the years — it includes a housing project in Seoul, South Korea — and left the confines of the traditional home, exploring new ideas of fluidity between landscape and interior.
Sanders compares it to drag queens and their ability to transform themselves. “My work is about giving people the possibility to construct their identities over the course of the day,” he says. “I want to give people the opportunity to define who they want to be.”