Thursday, February 16, 2012

CONDOS: Townhouse's New Light

The central problem of a New York City townhouse is getting light into the interior, as brothers Shepard and Willard Morgan discovered growing up on West Ninth Street in a house that was gloomy despite large front windows.
Natalie Keyssar for The Wall Street Journal
The living area looking out on the back patio.
Now, decades later, the Morgans have gutted the interior of that 19th-century townhouse and excavated down through 14 feet into a long-forgotten streambed. They rebuilt the house around shafts of light using an ultra-modern minimalist design.
The property is for rental with a non-minimalist asking price: $75,000 a month.
The gloom has been replaced by a central column of light created by a five-story open staircase and clear-glass landings that go from the basement to the roof.
The steel staircase wraps around a 65-foot obelisk-like tower of granite, with strips of lights in the corners between stone slab, hiding the elevator in plain sight.
[LIGHT5]Natalie Keyssar for The Wall Street Journal
Skylights surround the top of the granite-covered elevator shaft.
"It solves the puzzle of what to do with the elevator," said Timothy Brian Barry, a family friend and one-time sculptor and carpenter, who created the design for the space and is overseeing construction
The Morgans' father, a podiatrist, bought the 22-foot-wide townhouse in the 1940s, and turned the English basement into space for his office and operating room. The family lived upstairs for some years.
Until a few years ago, members of the family still lived upstairs and the brothers maintained a real-estate office in the building, Mr. Barry said.
Willard Morgan also has a another career as an actor, director, comedian, musician and multimedia artist. He is best known for a 2006 comic documentary, "Me & Michael" in which he stalks the documentary filmmaker Michael Moore, looking for a break in the movies.
Natalie Keyssar for The Wall Street Journal
The kitchen
When deciding to fix up the place and clear out a warren of small rooms, the Morgans and Mr. Barry had to decide whether to do a traditional townhouse renovation with fine moldings and finishes.
"We went the other way to the extreme," Mr. Barry said. "It is a charged building—there is energy in the air."
The house has a mix of features designed to
appeal to renter who want "eco-luxury" and a "chic minimalist design," according to the listing by Chris Pomeroy and Richard Orenstein of Halstead property.
A visitor can stand in the cellar level, between the 23-foot-long home theater on one side, and the mirrored gym and yoga studio on the other and look up and see the sky through a sandwich of glass landings.
A large glass skylight opens on a room-size, glass-walled "Zen garden" with a stone bench on what would have been the below-grade basement in a traditional townhouse.
Natalie Keyssar for The Wall Street Journal
The West Ninth Street townhouse, below far right, owned by Shepard and Willard Morgan has been rebuilt with a minimalist design.
Most rooms have heated floors of brushed stone and shiplapped cedar boards on the ceiling surrounded by rows of beaded LED lights. The kitchen includes a 30-foot-long granite counter.
Because the original house had a pre-existing rear building, the Morgans were able to excavate out the cellar level to create additional space totaling 9,000 square feet and extend the kitchen to the building line. A rear deck on the parlor level has its own large outdoor kitchen.
Mr. Pomeroy said that the price was set based on other recent downtown rentals of smaller, unusual properties for more than $50,000 a month.
"There are many people who will want to be the first to call this place home," he said.
The house is just off Fifth Avenue in Greenwich Village, two blocks from the Washington Square Arch. It has five bedrooms and oversized showers with granite walls and skylights.
The super-modern interior is hidden behind a plain red-brick exterior. The original building dates to 1854, but the facade was covered with stucco and topped by a red-tile roof in the 1920s.
But, Mr. Barry said the stucco facade began to fail, and was replaced with brick a few decades ago.