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Looking For a Building That Can Hold Art

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If reading The Hunt stokes your deepest hopes that someday everything in life could work out, then you, too, are obsessed with the New York Times Sunday Real Estate section. Join us as we venture into the depths of this weekend's installment.

Everyone knows we love The Hunt. Most likely, so do you. But there are some stories that really stand out more than others, and this week featured one of them. John Ransom Phillips is an artist who outgrew his Tribeca duplex on Warren Street and was looking for something like a warehouse that could fit his work comfortably. After touring Frank Stella's building in the East Village and some patrol firehouses, he found a free-standing house on East 58th street which perfect for him. Also, make sure to check out the slideshow.

-In his TriBeCa co-op, “the art kept spilling over into my living area,” he said. “As my paintings became larger, I wanted more space and I wanted the living space to be separate from the studio.” -Mr. Phillips found it in early 2001 in a squat two-unit condominium on Downing Street in the West Village. The ground-floor unit, nearly 3,000 square feet, was for sale for around $1.72 million. Mr. Phillips bought it, and was prepared to move in, when he ran up against a law giving the owner of the other condo 30 days to match his offer, which is what happened. Mr. Phillips’s deposit was returned and the sale canceled.

-In 2006 he found a three-story building with 3,500 square feet at 123 East 12th Street. It was owned by the artist Frank Stella and adjoined Mr. Stella’s studio: an 1889 Beaux-Arts brick barn, originally the horse auction house of Van Tassell & Kearney, on East 13th Street.

-There was talk of separating the parcels and tearing the barn down, and the Landmarks Preservation Commission was reviewing the property. Mr. Phillips concluded that any attempt to buy the 12th Street parcel would be endlessly complicated, and abandoned the idea.

-Two possibilities arose with the dissolution in 2006 of the New York Fire Patrol, a little-known group charged with limiting property damage after fires. The patrol house on West Third Street, with a stable out back, was lovely, but “needed more work than was worth it,” Mr. Harris said. It later sold for $4.3 million to the journalist Anderson Cooper.
The patrol house on West 30th, in the fur district, also included a stable. Mr. Phillips stood across the street, imagining the building as his. But a neighboring landlord quickly bought it for $1.53 million and put it on the market for $5 million.

-Last winter Mr. Harris sent Mr. Phillips photos of a small house with a white picket fence at 313 East 58th Street, one of Manhattan’s few free-standing houses. “Immediately I didn’t want it,” Mr. Phillips said. “I didn’t want a residence. I wanted a studio where I could make a residence inside.” The advertisement was odd, for a one-bedroom home with six bathrooms.

-When Mr. Phillips saw the former dance floor, with two skylights — one of them with 16 glass panels in a vaulted ceiling — he began to see possibilities. “There it was,” he said. “A building can encourage you to grow in new ways, and this building clearly told me I could grow with it.” It is, he said, “the perfect reflection of the next stage of my life."

-Mr. Phillips divided his old place on Warren Street into two apartments. He sold the fourth floor for $1.6 million. The top floor is listed at $2.6 million. He closed on his new place several months ago, paying $3 million. He auctioned off the kitchen equipment, including a 120-gallon soup kettle. Interior renovations, costing around $350,000, are under way, and should be complete this winter.

In the end he wound up with a pretty unique property that he couldn't have imagined of ever owning, in a location we doubt he was even considering. Love it!

·Space Wanted For Living and Painting [NYT]