Nowadays, the higher the floor, the more valuable the apartment. But when the Apthorp, one of the first high-end apartment buildings on New York’s Upper West Side, was built, people were still getting used to living downtown, let alone at the top (elevators were also a relatively new thing in the early 1900s). This meant that top floor apartments were often reserved for staff and laundry facilities. In other words, they were quite cramped.
More than 100 years later, the vast Italian Renaissance Revival building designed by Clinton & Russell still stands proud as a New York City landmark and one of the city’s most beloved apartment buildings. . So when Sarah Zames and Colin Stief of the design studio General assembly learned that one of their loyal clients had purchased three adjoining apartments on the top floor of the building, they knew it would be a unique and challenging project.
The top floor space was a series of old maintenance rooms, which had long been neglected. Since the three units were arranged in a line along one of the building’s courtyards, the 1,430-square-foot space had a narrow footprint, even after knocking down the walls. Luckily, thinking creatively about a building’s quirks is exactly what the design duo do best.
“We did a lot of townhouses and brownstones, but I think this was one of the most interesting older structures we’ve worked on,” Zames says. “We’re always looking for projects like this and we’re so excited when we get ones that have some depth to start with.”
The trio of apartments had sat idle for years and were in a completely raw state when the General Assembly took over the project, meaning they could truly start from scratch. It was a relatively cramped room that had three bedrooms and two and a half bathrooms, not to mention the kitchen, living room and dining room. But since it was supposed to be a base for the couple and their two young children (they spend most of their time in the north), luckily it didn’t need to have room for all of them. their belongings.
“The idea was for it to be a little retreat in the city,” says Stief. “They love being up north, so when they come here they have to feel comfortable, enveloping and warm.”
Here’s how they pulled it off.
The living/dining room
As they aimed to create a decidedly modern space, Zames and Stief made sure to include nods to the historic building’s roots. They took the arched windows, an Apthorp signature, and continued the pattern throughout, more overtly in the case of the arched doors, but also in more subtle curves in the custom moldings, kitchen island and light fixtures. The custom window shutters are crafted from the same natural French oak seen throughout the apartment, adding a warm, bucolic feel while remaining fresh, clean and modern. “We didn’t just want to make big curtains that covered the arches,” says Stief. “They are such a part of the Apthorp that we wanted to adopt it.”
The apartment’s narrow footprint meant that the bedrooms had to be placed on the street side, where the largest windows were. To avoid a railroad-style situation (the bane of many New Yorkers), designers added a courtyard-side hallway and carved a series of Studio Dunn wall sconces into the plaster so they wouldn’t jut out not in space. “The hallway is about 42 inches wide, but because it’s so long, it feels a bit narrow,” Zames explains. “We wanted it to look a bit like a hotel – everyone has a switch for their outside light in their room.”
The front door of the apartment opening directly into the kitchen, the designers installed a French oak partition and a parquet floor to delimit part of the space at the entrance. Two quirky architectural features of the Apthorp – the skylight and exposed column – help balance the contemporary vibe of the remodeled kitchen. “Having an open kitchen means every room has to look a bit like the furniture,” says Zames. “We curved the end of the island to make it look like a really nice custom piece of furniture.”
The children’s room
While the rest of the apartment maintains a calm and serene palette, the children’s room is given a burst of joy thanks to the Flat Vernacular Swallowtail Sunstone wallpaper. The designers drew inspiration for the piece from the bird lamp, which stood in a dressing room in the clients’ former apartment and had always delighted their young daughter. The drawers under the bunk beds provide additional storage space in the relatively small space.
Although space might be tight for a family of four (sometimes five, when grandma comes over to stay), it proved to be the perfect perch in town. And the fact that the designers have known the client for 10 years helped them do exactly the right thing. “It’s always nice to work with a regular client because there’s a level of comfort, and it makes you want to work harder and do a really good job for them,” says Zames. “But it also means you can have a little more fun.”