This bold West Village brownstone was designed for an intrepid New York City couple and their college age son. Everything the family accumulated was sold or given away in anticipation of the move from their Upper West Side pre-war apartment to their new home downtown. They were starting over.
This is the second home the architects designed for the family. The first was a sprawling country house on a rural eight-acre site. That house was informal with an emphasis on casual weekend living. In contrast, the owners wanted their city home to be formal and contemporary, yet distinctive in plan, finishes and furnishings. The project extended over two years with no detail unconsidered. The result is an inventive design perfectly suited to family-life and the frequent entertaining they enjoy.
The original five-story structure had been subdivided over time into small apartments. Several of the earlier renovations removed structural elements leaving floors out of level. To achieve a high standard of finish the entire interior structure and rear wall of the building was removed. Only the street elevation and party walls were saved. On the rear, a new aluminum and glass facade announces the contemporary character of the house and forms a backdrop for an elegant garden.
The floor plan is organized around a five-story atrium. An Escher-like stair winds its way up to the roof through it. At the top, where the stair makes its final turn, a push of a button sets in motion a power-operated skylight that glides open allowing access to the roof deck with its spectacular views of the city and the Empire State Building.
Shifting patterns of sunlight and shadow drift down to the lower floors through the atrium. What is typically the dark center of a brownstone is in this case filled with natural light. At night, indirect lighting transforms the underside of the stair into a dynamic twisting sculpture.
Interior finishes are spare in keeping with the contemporary design of the house. White walls, etched glass panels and dark wenge floors contrast with chartreuse cabinetry and eggplant colored carpet. On the upper floors, dark oak cabinetry and paneling form a warm backdrop for the private spaces in the home. Fireplaces in the entry hall and living room are anchored by large floating slabs of striated grey marble. Stone on the ground floor extends out onto the terrace and visually connects the interior with the 40 foot deep garden. On one side of the garden is a six foot high wall of Cor-ten steel, on the other a fence and integrated bench of stained ipe provides seating for a custom designed steel and stone dining table.
The architects worked closely with the owners selecting furniture, carpets, window treatments, lighting and art. Contemporary pieces mix with traditional elements and mid-century antiques to create a collage of color and texture. Major art pieces by Clifford Ross, Candida Hoffer and Bettina Werner were purchased specifically for the house.
The architectural mission was to design a unique, comfortable home with a contemporary “downtown” look. The result is one that puts in perfect balance spaces for comfortable family life with elegant and sophisticated spaces for entertaining, an up-to-date interpretation of the New York City brownstone.