Abe Lincoln Slept Here
Maybe not—but this 1840 house in the West Village is now home to a childhood friend of designer Alan Tanksley
Christine Schwartz Hartley -- Interior Design, 9/1/2009 12:00:00 AM
A minute ago, you were navigating the grotty, funky tumult of the West Village, with its incessant vehicular and pedestrian traffic and hodgepodge of boutiques, cafés, bars, and clubs. But here, on the third story of a Federal-style redbrick town house tucked away on a side street, all is calm and light. At the front end of the floor, windows connect the kitchen to the narrow tree-lined street below. At the rear, the living area's glass doors open onto a narrow balcony with views up to the sky, down to a tranquil garden, and across to an ivy-covered wall. Two windows with diaphanous Roman shades let in even more natural light along the wall that faces a side passage, and a stairwell midway along the opposite sidewall lets sunshine from a skylight penetrate. Consequently, the space feels substantially airier than its 15 ½-foot width might suggest.
This luxurious urban tree house is a new project for Alan Tanksley and a repeat commission for Gates Merkulova Architects, which first encountered the property when it was still a "Dickensian slum," Zhenya Merkulova says. Built in 1840, it had been a rooming house since the 1920's—with two or three bedrooms per floor, sharing hallway bathrooms. Merkulova undertook a gut renovation in 1997 and divided the 2,250-square-foot interior into two units, with the rental apartment at the bottom. To connect the three levels of the main residence, she built an elegant staircase with silver-painted, rubber-padded steel treads. She also moved the main entrance to the rear by adding an exterior flight of stairs, which ascend from the garden to the parlor floor.
That setup worked perfectly well until the owner sold to Tanksley's friend Mitch Hecht, an investment banker turned environmental technology entrepreneur. Planning to move there with his family, he returned to Merkulova. Her interior staircase, perhaps the most striking of her original interventions, would definitely remain. It's not only a "beautiful object" that doubles as a "light transmitter," she says, but also economical, since its shape, a half oval in plan, maximizes the narrow floor plates. However, some adjustments would be required. Most notably, she seamlessly re-created a single-family residence with a fluid, open plan. She also transformed the rear of the ground level into a den, installing a glass wall with a sliding door that provides access to the postage-stamp garden.
Having already configured the kitchen and bathrooms for her first client, she focused with Tanksley on new finishes and materials for those spaces. "Alan translated, almost by osmosis, what I really felt," Hecht says. (It helps that the two have known each other since seventh grade, when they met in the school cafeteria in Huntington, New York.) Soothing colors and warm materials keep the brightness of the light and the industrial style of the staircase from having too hard an edge. Flooring almost everywhere in the house is honey-colored white oak, a wood that reappears in the kitchen's upper cabinet doors and wall-mounted shelves. The unobtrusive dining area's Danish 1960's table is rosewood, and the surrounding Jean Prouvé chairs are ebonized birch plywood. On the banquette in the dining area, upholstery offers soft shades of beige, gold, and tobacco; sofas in the living area and den are honey wheat and deep taupe. The den's sofa, cushions, and rug combine velvety and nubby textures with floral and abstract patterns, counterbalancing the sleekness of a gray lacquered kitchenette.
Tanksley's eclectic taste comes through in furniture and other objects. A clear acrylic console table placed next to the staircase, opposite the dining area, displays a pair of Vietnamese 19th-century carved wooden figures. In the entry, which is furnished like a library, he juxtaposed Marcel Wanders and Bertjan Pot's lightweight black side chair in high-tech epoxy and carbon with a massive Danish 1960's rosewood sideboard, a pendant fixture's shiny acrylic shade, and a beveled mirror framed in ebonized wood with bone inlays. "You feel you're off the grid here," Tanksley says. "Yet you couldn't be more at the center of it."
Photography by Eric Laignel.
PROJECT TEAMPAUL GATES: GATES MERKULOVA ARCHITECTS. JUSTIN SCOTT (SENIOR DESIGNER); JAY BILLIET: ALAN TANKSLEY. PLANT SPECIALISTS: LANDSCAPING CONSULTANT. SIROLLI FINE ART: ART CONSULTANT. ARCHITECTURAL AUDIO VIDEO: AUDIOVISUAL CONSULTANT. JOHN D. NAKROSIS JR BUILDING DESIGN: STRUCTURAL ENGINEER. FORDHAM MARBLE: STONEWORK. VIR CONTRACTING: GENERAL CONTRACTOR.
PRODUCT SOURCESFROM FRONT VITRA: CHAIRS (DINING AREA). THROUGH 20TH CENTURY GALLERY: TABLE. PLUG LIGHTING: PENDANT FIXTURE. ROLLHAUS SEATING PRODUCTS: CUSTOM BANQUETTE. LEE JOFA: BANQUETTE FABRIC. HINSON & COMPANY: WINDOW TREATMENT FABRIC (DINING, LIVING AREAS, BEDROOMS). PLEXICRAFT: CUSTOM CONSOLE (STAIRWELL). THROUGH TEPPER GALLERIES: LOUNGE CHAIR, OTTOMAN (LIVING AREA). LAPALMA: STOOLS (KITCHEN). CAESARSTONE: COUNTER MATERIAL. BELSTONE: FIREPLACE SURROUND MATERIAL. THROUGH PASCAL BOYER GALLERY: ARMCHAIRS (LIVING AREA). THROUGH ESPASSO: COCKTAIL TABLE BASE. THROUGH SIXTEEN FIFTY NINE: SIDE TABLES. MARTIN PATRICK EVAN: CUSTOM RUG. THROUGH ABC CARPET & HOME: PILLOWS (LIVING AREA, DEN), BEDDING (MASTER BEDROOM), TABLE, RUG (DEN). DONGHIA: SOFA FABRIC (LIVING AREA), PILLOW FABRIC (MASTER BEDROOM), CHAIR FABRIC (ENTRY). CARL HANSEN & SØN THROUGH KARKULA: CHAIR (MASTER BEDROOM). THROUGH CRAIG VAN DEN BRULLE: CHANDELIER. SAFAVIEH: RUG. CLARENCE HOUSE: HEADBOARD FABRIC. BOFFI: TUB (BATHROOM). LEFROY BROOKS: TUB FITTINGS. STONE SOURCE: FLOOR TILE. ROGERS & GOFFIGON: WINDOW SHADE FABRIC. LEPERE: SOFA (DEN). THROUGH GATES OF MOROCCO: OTTOMAN. KRAVET: CURTAIN FABRIC. WEST ELM: BED (GIRL'S ROOM). EBONSITE: SHELVING. THROUGH TWENTIETH: SIDE CHAIR (ENTRY). INMOD.COM: STOOL. THROUGH MODERNLINK: CREDENZA. THROUGH FLAIR HOME COLLECTION: MIRROR. YLIGHTING: PENDANT FIXTURE.