In Greenwich Village, it's rare for a townhouse to sell for less than $5 million (and not uncommon for houses to sell for more than $10 million), but there is one house on a prime block that may never leave its family. Tucked on West 11th Street, just a few lots down from the massive Greenwich Lane project that's turning the old St. Vincent's Hospital into condos, there's a yellow townhouse where artist Elizabeth Fonseca and her family have lived since 1958. T: The New York Times Style Magazine goes inside the house, which has been home to artists and creative types for more than a century; sculptor Daniel Chester French designed the Lincoln Memorial here. In the 1880s, it was French who added the studio that drew Fonseca and her then-husband, the late artist Gonzalo Fonseca, to the house.
Elizabeth and Gonzalo's daughter, writer Isabel Fonseca, reflects on growing up in the house, which was actually a wedding present for her parents from her grandparents. Elizabeth and Gonzalo lived in Paris, and to lure them back, her parents knew any house would need a studio. So they bought the one with "the irresistible artist's studio, a silent, skylit painter's paradise soaring upward in 40-feet twin peaks, built 60 feet out on what would have been the backyard," and her parents moved back.
In the video, Isabel says that her parents' creative mindset led to a kind of fluidity in the decor and layout of the house. "My parents as working painters really didn't see painting as decoration. They were there to be looked at, and then they would be replaced by something else that you wanted to look at." Large scale renovations were common, too. "People, when they tire of a space, or their family shape changes, they move. And the way it used to be, there was no question of moving. This was home. This was the family house, and instead, you would renovate, maybe change the house. Add a floor. The studio became a living room. Staircases were moved, but the family remained."
Aside from the custom-made artworks, the furnishings consist of a wide variety of found objects from Elizabeth and Gonzalo's travels around the world. Isabel writes,
All these things, whether made or bought or found or bargained for, do not constitute a formal collection. Just as the kitchen lamp is held together by a spoon, paintings are sometimes fastened to the wall with thumbtacks and framed only in duct tape. No professional decorator's flourish here — instead, there was the simple example that objects you really care about, and acquire with an educated eye, can earn a lasting place.Click through to the Times for photos of the charismatic home.
· Isabel Fonseca on the House on West 11th Street [NYT]