When we see her glass buildings reaching to the clouds, it’s hard to fathom that less than 200-years ago Manhattan Island was a sheep meadow with verdant grazing farmland. As the island became less agrarian, the site that had been the thriving Treadwell Farm became a magnet for land developers. In 1860, instead of corn and vegetables being planted, it was townhouses that began shooting up. Then going back to the dawn of the twentieth century, the New York Central Railroad that carried commuters to Westchester and points north, got buried underground and the wealthy started migrating uptown to what is today one of the choicest and best parts of the country, what is now known as the Upper East Side. After the Third Avenue “El” was disassembled in 1954, the townhouses that were buried under the elevated subway line finally saw the light of day. But it was the building boom that greeted post World War II Americans when the Manhattan gold rush was ignited. Upscale women’s dress shops, five star restaurants, department stores and new apartment buildings were created in the post-war boom. Where else were the newly rich supposed to live? This takes us to a particular townhouse in the east 60s… Built in 1905, it first served as a two family home and later was used as a gentleman’s club. While the secrets of that club may never be told, the imposing female nude statue that once stood guard still hasn’t moved from her garden perch.
The owners, a successful Wall Street power broker and his family, after living in the townhouse for almost thirty years, were ready to renovate again. They contacted a highly regarded construction company, Duce Construction, whose job it would be to transform this four-story structure and make it into a more suitable and stylish home. The wise and knowing contractor knew he would not — and could not attempt this difficult job without the help of an experienced and well-credentialed architect. That’s when Selim Koder was selected. Koder’s knowledge of fine art and furniture, and his ability to communicate with our clients, made him the perfect architect for the job.
The scope of the job was enormous: The ground floor dining room facing the garden had low ceilings and the bedroom above had extremely high ceilings. Both spaces were ill proportioned. The front study on the second floor was falling apart and the rear of the house was always cold in winter — plus it was leaking. Then, there was the unused sauna, which had been converted into a closet. And, an extra circular staircase that connected the parlor to the ground floor chewed up the living room space depriving it of any suitable furniture. Plus, the main staircase had no fewer than 17-layers of paint. To put it bluntly, the house was a wreck.
Koder understood that the entire rear of the townhouse had to go and be rebuilt from the foundation up. He blocked off two years to do the work, the first year to design the townhouse and the second year to build. The construction company did the same. It was a labor of love even though true love often has bumpy moments. But this story has a happy ending.
First, the entire second floor parlor and ground floor were gutted. The scheme was to raise the ceiling of the dining room and install higher doors allowing for more light to come into the room from the garden. The bedroom off the upstairs parlor also needed to be raised above the floor level but still managing to have high ceilings as well. In order not to disturb the neighbors’ demising walls, a structure was built within those walls designed by a structural engineer who anticipated the use of laser technology as provided by the contractor’s highly qualified steel subcontractors. A steel grid was erected in a fraction of time of what it would normally take to build a standard building.
Initially, the client wanted to create a modern master bedroom with an open space and low walls. Koder cautioned against this citing the context of a classical townhouse and that privacy would be lost. The architect preferred more defined spaces rather than loose flowing spaces between the bedroom, walk-in closets and hallways. Fortunately, Koder’s idea was adopted and the study was put in front of the house separated by a gallery of Dutch Master Baroque art in the parlor, and a generous walk-in closet — all defined within spaces separated by tall French doors. Now the space flowed nicely. Floor heating was installed throughout allowing a healthier distribution of hot air. A new air-conditioning system sported an anti-bacterial and humidity control system to preserve the owner’s art collection.
The new façade facing the garden is composed in a classical proportion. An old-fashioned stucco process is used with the color matching the front of the building. The sides of the townhouse projecting into the rear are also covered with stucco. Ironically, the owner will never see them, but his neighbors will. A custom copper cornice adorns the top of the building, and custom stucco casings surround the French doors.
If the devil is in the details then this house is divine. Every inch was addressed, redesigned and changed. Now, magnificent furniture adorns every room, the extraordinary artwork has a proper home, and the owner gets to ponder his strategic investments and moves while bathing in his Onyx bathroom every morning. The hand selected Pink Onyx, the rarest of the set, are selected to cover the walls. Calmer veins wraps around the tub area. The intense graining dominates the steam shower enclosure that is accessed by tall, custom-brushed nickel doors with iridescent glass panels from Bendheim. Also selected was Murano Smalto, pink iridescent wall tile that would glow from behind the medicine cabinets. The His and Hers Pink Onyx vanities have nickel doors below, framing a sand blasted version of the same iridescent glass, used for the shower doors. Well-hidden cove lighting was selected for under the vanities and behind the medicine cabinets.
For the main stairs, the existing balusters and handrail are restored. Beautiful mahogany handrails are resurfaced after years of being buried under 17-coats of paint. A new radiator cabinet with a marble top is installed. A painting of a Dutch countryside hangs above. The extensive art collection, with works by Maurice Utrillo, Paul Signac, Ferdinand Bol, Cornelius van der Voort and Marc Chagall needed to be properly lit and displayed. Wendell Lighting, the best on the market, were selected and installed to so that the light would hit within the frame. The installation of these lights required special provisions as they were installed after the paintings were on the walls. The circular staircase was removed thus rendering a more suitable gallery for the owner’s 17th-Century Dutch Master oil paintings that were destined for the parlor.
Koder added three tall double doors at the master bedroom level leading to Juliet balconies overlooking the garden. On a pleasant evening, the owner could pry open the doors and slide a concealed insect screen and enjoy the fresh air.
Lush landscaping now surrounds the nude statue, a point of interest in the garden. The broken white marble in the yard was replaced with more appropriate bluestone tiles. This is a home that makes people smile as the townhouse settles in for the next one hundred years. True perfection!