A town house worth the wait
On Location: The late-19th-century house had been split up into five apartments, but its details — intricate moldings, floral marble fireplaces, etched glass pocket doors — were intact. It took more than five years but George Fares finally has his dream home.
The New York Times
NEW YORK — In New York City, successful real estate outcomes are largely a result of three qualities: patience, nerve and sheer luck. George Fares, 56, a producer of television commercials, would seem to have all three.
In the early '90s, after moving from a 300-square-foot studio in Yorktown (rent: $265) to a one-bedroom on the Upper West Side (rent: $1,100), he began looking at town houses. He thought, vaguely, that he would like to live in one someday and that, in any case, it would be a nice investment, particularly if he found a multifamily property.
It took five years before he made a bid, for this late-19th-century house in Chelsea — a bid he lost. Six months later, the house was for sale again, and he bought it for just over a million dollars.
The house had five apartments, but its details — moldings as intricate as the icing on a wedding cake, deliriously floral marble fireplaces, etched glass pocket doors — were intact.
His own apartment had gone condo, and he had met a young architect, Julian King, now 44, who had worked for Rafael Vinoly and Richard Meier and who practiced a kind of thoughtful, sensuous modernism that appealed to him. King made him a sleek bachelor pad featuring much white maple and concrete.
As the apartments in the town house became vacant, Fares asked King to spruce them up for the next tenant. Then, three years ago, the ground- and parlor-floor apartments became empty, and Fares moved in. He and King planned a renovation that scooped out the contemporary mistakes but left all the 19th-century details.
On the parlor floor, a small beige bedroom with painted-over window transoms became an airy open kitchen and dining room. The original kitchen, a tiny cramped box on the ground floor, morphed into a master bathroom. A glass wall onto the garden is nearly invisible. Indeed, the "wall" is a sliding door that disappears, opening both the bedroom and the bathroom to the garden.
Everything was painted white; the rough wide-planked pine floors were bleached; and the rooms were only minimally furnished, to give the details (those glorious moldings!) top billing.
There are all sorts of cunning flourishes. The master bath has one of those solid-stone sinks cantilevered out from the wall. But unlike many versions of this minimalist fantasy, where the pipes are hidden in a wall, and God help you when the inevitable leak or clog occurs, King tucked the pipes into a slim teak bench with a mitered access panel. And when you open the medicine cabinet, you see the brick of the wall between this town house and the next, a satisfying archaeological reveal.
King also pushed the kitchen wall out 18 inches and hid all the ductwork inside it (a trick he learned while working for Meier on the Getty Center). The air now spills out from behind the luscious, floral molding, which was recreated by Architectural Sculpture and Restoration, a Brooklyn firm that specializes in ornamentation. Outside, the parlor floor deck is connected to the garden by a steel-and-teak staircase, alongside of which a stucco wall masks more mechanicals. Topped with a planter of ornamental grasses, it's a spare, lovely volume.
The cost of the 2,500-square-foot project was about $200 a square foot, and it took 2 ½ years to complete, which was OK by Fares (see patience, above).
King, who has worked on the house now for nearly seven years, said: "I really got a chance to know the house. It's what I always tell clients, which is to live in a place for a year before you do anything, so you can see how the sun moves through it, and learn all its habits."