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05.31.2012
Feature> Easy Opulence
A townhouse in Greenwich Village provides a family with a refuge of elegant calm.
Sofa by Christian Liaigre for Holly Hunt; Club chairs from A. Rudin; Floor lamp by David Weeks from Ralph Pucci; Vintage Knoll swivel chair from Wyeth; Fine sisal grasscloth wallpaper from Stark.
Scott Francis

Architect Steven Harris of Steven Harris Architects and interior designer and painter Lucien Rees Roberts of Reese Roberts + Partners figure that they have together worked on some 60 townhouses in New York, but the 1840s charmer on Bank Street was the first one to need a complete facelift. The bricks on the facade were loose enough to remove by hand. Once they rebuilt the front, reusing the original bricks and adding a fifth floor with replicas, they blasted off the rear garden facade to create a two-story glass wall framed in industrial steel sash, being careful to maintain the same shape and proportion of the window panes of the front. “It can be so distracting when you look through an historic front and see a starkly modern structure at back,” said Harris.

   
Como bed and chest by Riva 1920; Chandelier by Marcel Wanders from Flos; Fine sisal grasscloth wallpaper from Stark; Custom-designed carpet from V’Soske (left). Bathroom walls of silver travertine; Countertop in Gaudi marble; Fittings by Dornbracht (center). Obi dining table and Ma Bell chairs by Ceccotti; Optical chandelier by Barovier & Toso; Silk wallpaper from Zimmer + Rohde; In entry hall, vintage 1970s mirror by Neal Small; Console by Michael Coffey from Todd Merrill Antiques (right).
 

The balancing act between past and present, historic and modern guided all aspects of the renovation and interior design in an approach the architect described as “modernized traditional or domesticated modern.” That meant detailing the interiors with baseboards, moldings, and casing around the doors—familiar prewar details—all slightly streamlined or abstracted. Even the fireplace that fits in seamlessly is actually based on a 1940s French original amped up in drawings by Rees Roberts and digitally carved from limestone. Only the master bath, an amenity that would not have existed in the original, is fully modern with silver travertine walls, meticulously detailed doors with flat casings and a reveal, and sleek X-shaped fixtures by Duravit.

The furnishings are a combination of custom-designed, showroom originals, vintage modern, and pieces that the homeowners collected on their travels. The owners are Chinese-Australian and, according to Rees Roberts, brought to the project “a refined sensibility about texture and color that was impressively subtle.”

 

 
Bean desk and Marlowe chair by Ceccotti; Arm chairs by Poltrona Frau; Brera bookcase by Riva 1920; Ceiling light by Serge Mouille from Gueridon (left). Kitchen Tay wood cabinets custom-designed from Tabu; Fittings by Dornbracht; Custom-designed walnut island counter; Miro stools by Riva 1920; Pendant light by Artemide; Dining table and chairs by Riva 1920 (right).
 

A nearly monochromatic palette hovering around beige, ivory, and wood tones holds it all together, as do the extra-long planks of fumed oak boards for the floors throughout. Wall treatments of Sisal Grasscloth from Stark in the living room and master bedroom, and silk fabric from Zimmer + Rohde in the dining room add the texture that keeps it from being too quiet. “Clients often ask us if we should add pieces here and there,” said Rees Roberts, “but we encourage them not to have more than they need. Space is the luxury.”

While chandeliers—a contemporary Murano with pink optical globes, a 1940s classic by Serge Mouille, and a shrouded Flos by Dutch wunderkind Marcel Wanders—and a smattering of modern antiques (notably a Michael Cofffey console in the foyer), introduce a degree of sculptural drama, the overall aesthetic is intentionally cool and collected. The years of experience with urban townhouses in the city have led the architect and designer to one absolute understanding: “For anyone living in New York, serenity is an ambition,” said Harris.

Julie V. Iovine