When these homeowners—“hands-on designers”—were looking for an apartment in New York City in the 1980s, they were ready to do some work. They were looking for something affordable, with Old World character, in a convenient neighborhood. When they found a pair of adjacent, one-bedroom apartments in a historic building on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, they knew they were home. Designed in 1910 as a residence hotel for Broadway actors and Manhattan “bachelors,” the 12-storey brick building had solid, steel-framed fireproof construction and had withstood the test of time. While each apartment was only 500 square feet, it felt spacious owing to 10 ½' ceilings and windows on Central Park.
That’s not to say there wasn’t work to be done. The apartments were built without kitchens, as there had been resident restaurants on the main floor and rooftop. A galley kitchen added in the 1950s was tiny and cramped with barely enough room for one person. Bathrooms had the awkward, step-up construction common in early-20th-century apartments with plumbing added. The handsome willow moulding and trim was intact but had been painted flat white; original plaster walls were cracked and stained from old water leaks and had been painted a restless, disco turquoise blue.
The couple joined the two apartments together by opening up adjacent walk-in closets. They chose to return to the Art Deco era in their design and decorating—a time when high-style city living was celebrated.
The two living rooms became one grand salon, outlined by four ca. 1890 golden-oak columns on plinths found on a road trip to Vermont. The room was designed around evening entertaining, with seating upholstered in autumnal paisleys and plaids, comfortably arranged so guests can sit and enjoy the sparkling views.
To take advantage of those views from the dining room, narrow, double-hung
windows were replaced with generous 6' x 8' windows. Walls were reinforced with steel beams to support the larger openings, and as the building is landmarked, city planning permission was required before construction began. (The process took nearly five years.)
Art Deco includes a celebration of the exotic. Thus, ‘Isola Bella’, an otherworldly floral panorama wallpaper from Zuber, was chosen for the dining room. A double-sided, Rosa Levanto marble fireplace (that also opens into the adjacent living room) was added to anchor the end of the room. Art Deco furnishings include a stylish commode accented with ivorine pulls and a flame-mahogany side table.
Over time, the owners acquired three more tiny apartments on the floor below, enlarging their space into a two-level, 2700-square-foot residence. An open staircase leads through the exotic jungle of Zuber’s panoramic paper ‘Brasil’ to the lower level of bedrooms, a study, and baths.
The master bath was an early project. It’s done in black-and-white Art Deco glamour mode, with black granite and mosaic tile wainscoting beneath white Thassos marble subway-tile walls (both from Ann Sacks), and marble-top pedestal sinks.
Wallpapers in each of the bedrooms set a tone. The master bedroom is sophisticated, with walls upholstered in a Ralph Lauren cashmere and wool suiting fabric outlined with grosgrain ribbon and streamlined, nickel-plated studs. Chinese design was never more popular than during the Art Deco period; the Chinese lacquer reds, jade greens, and ebony blacks are a perfect complement to the era’s streamlined designs. The Chinese guest bedroom was designed with ‘Panorama Chinoise,’ a rare, 1913 hand-blocked Defosse and Karth wallpaper. Another guest room is intimate with Zuber’s forest-green ‘Tapestry’ paper.
Since the couple already occupied the top floor, it was only a matter of time before they bought the rooftop. They designed a 4,000-square-foot terrace with dining and seating areas surrounded by containers of white birches, creating an oasis in the midst of their urban setting.
The Kitchen Suite
The kitchen required major work. The owners started from scratch in what had originally been one of the bedrooms. As this apartment was on the top floor, they took advantage of the location by removing the ceiling and replacing it with a large, 18-foot-long tented glass skylight that brings sunshine in throughout the day. The project required a fair amount of engineering for the removal of the original ceiling’s support beams and replacement with steel beams around the perimeter.
Glass-fronted, quarter-sawn oak cabinets were a custom build, all done with early-20th-century profiles and such vintage touches as icebox hinges and latches.
A Putnam rolling ladder allows access to high wall cabinets. Walls are covered in white, hammered subway tiles outlined in red, with an engaging, Twenties-style hand-blocked wallpaper from Mauny above. Vintage-style, nickel-plated and painted lanterns found in London were hung from the glass ceiling.
See an Art Deco bathroom.