The back of the building on Lorraine Avenue will become a Piet Mondrian work of art.
PLANNING DEPARTMENT

By JAIMIE JULIA WINTERS
winters@montclairlocal.news

Local architect John Guadagnoli has proposed making a nondescript building on Lorraine Avenue into a Mondrian-esque work of art.

The two-and-half story, concrete, flat-roofed building in the back of 224 Lorraine Ave. “is a big concrete block … waiting to be painted. It’s a blank canvas,” Guadagnoli said.

Guadagnoli chose Dutch painter Piet Mondrian’s neoplasticism style to paint the back and side of the building because “it fits … and it’s optimistic.” 




Neo-Plasticism is a style of abstract painting developed by Mondrian in the early 20th century, using only vertical and horizontal lines and rectangular shapes in black, white, gray, and the primary colors red, blue and yellow. In his abstract painting, he sought to “reveal universal harmony and order,” according to artsy.com.

Mondrian’s composition with Large Red Plane, Yellow, Black, Gray and Blue.
The Hague, Gemeentemuseum Den Haag PD-US

“His Composition in Red, Blue, and Yellow (1930), with its gridded black lines locking squares of color into a geometric composition, exemplifies the visual vocabulary he created to express his ideas,” the site says.

Many may recall the Partridge Family and their bus, painted in in the gridded, primary colored blocks — it was inspired by Mondrian’s abstract art.

Property owner Talib Hamid Al-Bayati and the architect were at the March 18 Historic Preservation meeting to unveil their plans to renovate the second floor of the structure, to be used as a new two‐bedroom apartment. Both floors are currently being used as retail. The property is within the Upper Montclair Historic District and is listed as a key building in the district nomination report. Members were to give their nods to facade changes such as new awning and casement windows and a new wood wrap‐around canopy — which the board did, sending the application to the Planning Board for approval of a conversion to a dwelling unit and to allow for no parking while two two parking spaces are required.

But although not within their purview, the historic commission members also weighed in on the painting of the building’s exterior in the Piet Mondrian‐esque style. 

For Guadagnoli, it was “go big or go home,” he said of the design. 

Member Caroline Kane-Levy said that she loved the circa-1825 building as it reminded her of Venice Beach architecture. She thought the design bold, and even though the Mondrian painting would only face the parking lot, wrapping partially on the driveway side, she is concerned that it would be seen from the street.

Members Jason Hyndman and Stephen Rooney said the portion that would seen from the street would provide a “little interest and draw you in.” 

Member John Reimnitz said he would be more in support of the design if it didn’t wrap around the side and could not be seen from the street.

“Someone is going to get tired of this in say 10 years,” Reimnitz said.

Rooney said that because “Mondrian was all about proportion,” the proportions of the blocks should not be arbitrary. 

Guadagnoli said he had to incorporate the architectural elements such as the gutters, windows canopies and doors into the how he designed blocks of color. 

Board architect Thomas B. Connolly said he recommended that the applicant be encouraged to select an exterior color scheme that would help the building blend with the surrounding streetscape and “that the proposed use of a Piet Mondrian‐esque wall graphic composition should follow more closely the primary colors, white ground and black grid lines that characterize the artist’s works, in order to be a successful design — i.e. number of colors, height‐to‐width ratios of rectangles.” He said that design contained too much gray along with the white, yellow, red, blue and black. He also suggested that canopy over the door be changed from wood to black. 

But board member David Greenbaum reminded his colleagues that they don’t have a say over colors.

“It’s paint,” he said, adding the commission can’t pick paint colors. “And it’s not designed to blend in. He’s making a statement.” 

Commission chair Kathleen Bennett said the board could not “pick apart” the design, but could only comment on the materials used. 

“He’s [Guadagnoli] putting his a** on the line,” Greenbaum said. “We can’t tell him to change his vision.”

Rooney suggested that stucco be smoothed out as much as possible.

“This will live or die by its execution. Good luck,” Rooney said, adding that maybe it would draw out Banksy, the infamous mysterious muralist whose identity remains unknown but whose work pops up overnight in cities all over the world.