Not quite the “if you’re Irish come into the parlour” evocation” but there’s a huge sense of the green jersey at play in this Greenwich, New York townhouse.
First off, there are the Giles Norman photos displayed on it’s monkishly ascetic walls and then there is the very Irish name of one half of the architectural practice who created this ‘reductionist’ wonder home. And, there’s the hint that the owner is in fact, Irish.
But terribly well to do, it has to be said, as this area of Manhatten is not for the average green-carder — it’s home to artists, actors, oligarchs and hedge-funders — a leafy, elegant world away from tenements in the Bronx.
But then, this house would have seen quite a bit of immigrant action in its day.
Built in 1853 in vernacular, Greek Revival style, no 130 Charles St may have offered boarding house comfort to post- famine Irish on what was then a busy dockside in New York.
Architects, Messana O’Rorke were commissioned to create the almost ascetic interior of this multi-million dollar townhouse makeover. As Brian Messana explains: “130 Charles St was always a modest house in the heart of the bustling dockside of Greenwich Village.
“It’s broad four bay front belies its shallow depth and rhomboid shape — for most of its history the house was a multi-occupancy building — either as a rooming house or as tiny studio apartments.
“In the 1980s it was converted into a single family home. The condition of the house when MO’R started design work in 2006 was pretty dire — it was shabby on the outside and inside had a warren of small rooms with sloping floors and almost negligible historic detail.
“With rough stucco walls and dark stained trims it felt more like a south-western restaurant than a townhouse.”
Set in a landmark district, and with the equivalent of a preservation order on the building, meant the architects had to be painstaking in their approach to the reconstruction.
PVC windows, security grills and painted metal caps on its brownstone sills and lintels were all removed — brickwork, brownstone and railings were restored and replaced and inside, the house was gutted.
Then, the interior was practically demolished and opened up, while the basement was excavated and the footings of the house underpinned to bring it up to standard and to support the new open-plan space above it.
It’s likely now to last another two centuries. Despite it’s parlous state, the house has a great aspect, says the architect, with what he describes as “an almost magical, diffuse light on a sunny day”.
A steel structure placed within the frame of the old house allowed the four-storey building to be opened to its core, creating four bay rooms over three stories.
The removal of chimney breasts on each east wing allowed the focus to rest on chimneys on the western side of the house and the re-arranged shape dispensed with hallways and corridors for the most part.
The main entrance leads directly into the living space from the top of a flight of brownstone steps and within, a series of built-in storage units draw the eye towards the back of the house, effectively disguising the structure’s rhomboid shape. It’s a planning device used in all the rooms of the house, says Messana.
The living room is open to to the staircase hall and to a small rear yard, through a glass door. Here tall bamboo disguise the blank brick walls of the surrounding buildings.
On either side of the newly-built, oak and steel stairs is a study and cloak room, accessed from either end of the living room.
Smooth white walls and ceilings reflect daylight into the full depth of the house and indirect lighting is used to enhance it’s “calm serenity” says Messana.
The basement level has a large dining room, with smaller, all-white kitchen and a laundry room at the rear.
Meanwhile, the master bedroom on the second floor occupies the entire floor — four bays above the living room and comes with a Callacatta marble bathroom and walnut walk-in wardrobes overlooking the yard.
Two smaller bedrooms with en suites occupy the third floor.
Light is grabbed from the roof via a glass bulkhead and the roof has been transformed into an elegant outdoor space with planting and a decked, dining area.
Charles Street is a perfect example in the use of less is more — a pared-back pallette of materials is key to the look — and here and it works beautifully.
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