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A New York Story: The Stunning Revival of a Landmarked Townhouse with an Intriguing History

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A New York Story: The Stunning Revival of a Landmarked Townhouse with an Intriguing History

November 16, 2018

Buildings, like cats and the Dalai Lama, can have multiple lives. And in the case of this Manhattan brownstone in the Upper West Side, its past four lives have been particularly interesting.

Currently occupied by real estate agent Sam Sullivan and his partner, David Moench, the townhouse was once a synagogue. After a fire (possibly set by the rabbi himself), Sam’s grandmother bought the property and had it converted into multiple apartments. She later renovated the bottom two floors for her daughter (Sam’s mother), who would go on to marry Billy Sullivan, a well-respected artist whose paintings are in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art. Billy used the duplex as an art studio while he lived there.

“A lot of films by Warhol were filmed in Billy’s studio,” says Devin O’Neill, of Brooklyn-based O’Neill Rose Architects. Sam hired O’Neill’s firm to rehab the exterior and turn the building, now enjoying its fourth life with the Sullivans, into an airy, modern home with a layout conducive to entertaining. To that end, O’Neill focused on two objectives: bringing in more light and creating better flow on each floor and between the two floors (Sam and his partner live in the bottom two floors; the upper three floors are now rentals).

That last bit would ultimately become the architect’s biggest challenge: figuring out a staircase design that would align with his client’s wish for openness. What they ultimately landed on is a show-stopper: cantilevered blackened-steel stairs with a handrail suspended by rods that extend all the way up to the second-floor ceiling. The result is bold but refined—just like the rest of the project. Come take a tour.

Photography by Michael Moran, courtesy of O’Neill Rose Architects.

An open kitchen and dining area, perfect for entertaining, looks out onto the terrace. Built-in shelves display the couple&#8
Above: An open kitchen and dining area, perfect for entertaining, looks out onto the terrace. Built-in shelves display the couple’s collection of Pre-Columbian and ancient Egyptian ceramics. A breakfast nook is tucked into a corner just beyond the kitchen.
Fostering a relationship between the outdoors and the interior is always a priority for O&#8
Above: Fostering a relationship between the outdoors and the interior is always a priority for O’Neill. A clever feature: The custom breakfast table features a base that’s inset into the floor so that it’s flush.
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Above: O’Neill’s firm oversaw the architectural elements and the hardware, but Sam and his partner decorated the home themselves with vintage finds and modern art. The quartet of drawings is by Sam’s father. The vintage dining chairs were designed by Roland Rainer for the Vienna City Hall.
High on the clients&#8
Above: High on the clients’ wish list was a hard-working kitchen (Sam used to be a chef). The gray and purple cabinets were made by ABR Molding, a general contractor that O’Neill frequently works with. “We’re always trying to find color to make a space special. We don’t coat the whole project in color, just single moments,” says O’Neill. The faucet is by Dornbracht.
Art plays a central role in the home, both past and present. Above the living room fireplace is a work by Robert Harms; to the right is a Malcolm Morley painting; behind the sofa is a Julian Schnabel; and next to the window is a piece by Jean Dubuffet.
Above: Art plays a central role in the home, both past and present. Above the living room fireplace is a work by Robert Harms; to the right is a Malcolm Morley painting; behind the sofa is a Julian Schnabel; and next to the window is a piece by Jean Dubuffet.
A window seat with a view. Street-side zinc planters and a potted dogwood tree provide privacy.
Above: A window seat with a view. Street-side zinc planters and a potted dogwood tree provide privacy.
Near the front door is a suspended bench, echoing the stairway design, for putting on and taking off shoes. ABR Molding fabricated the entire thing—stairs, rail, and bench—on site.
Above: Near the front door is a suspended bench, echoing the stairway design, for putting on and taking off shoes. ABR Molding fabricated the entire thing—stairs, rail, and bench—on site.
The view from the second floor landing. Just ahead is the den.
Above: The view from the second floor landing. Just ahead is the den.
From the den is access to a small terrace.
Above: From the den is access to a small terrace.
The master bedroom features floor-to-ceiling windows and access to a small deck that overlooks the backyard. Note the niftily hidden blinds.
Above: The master bedroom features floor-to-ceiling windows and access to a small deck that overlooks the backyard. Note the niftily hidden blinds.
All the bathrooms in the home are clad in subway tiles, including the master bath, which also features chic black sconces by Areti lighting and stone-like porcelain tile flooring from the Graffiti line at Stone Source.
Above: All the bathrooms in the home are clad in subway tiles, including the master bath, which also features chic black sconces by Areti lighting and stone-like porcelain tile flooring from the Graffiti line at Stone Source.
An oversized awning window provides ample light and air circulation in the steam shower room. The bathtub is clad in Carrara marble.
Above: An oversized awning window provides ample light and air circulation in the steam shower room. The bathtub is clad in Carrara marble.
The view from the outside into the breakfast nook. The bluestone patio in the back offers another space to entertain guests.
Above: The view from the outside into the breakfast nook. The bluestone patio in the back offers another space to entertain guests.
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Above: “We essentially built the garden around the wisteria,” O’Neill says, of the tree on the left. It’s the only plant they kept from the original backyard. The walls are made from sheets of corten steel, the same type of metal favored by artist Richard Serra. “Sam likes the way it weathers.”
The outdoor space is anchored by a custom steel trellis.
Above: The outdoor space is anchored by a custom steel trellis.
The rehabbed front exterior. Note the Jewish stars, vestiges from the building&#8
Above: The rehabbed front exterior. Note the Jewish stars, vestiges from the building’s former life, just above the second floor.
Before the renovation.
Above: Before the renovation.

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