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Max Touhey

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In Gramercy, ‘fantastic bones’ give way to an exquisite home

See how a couple blends modern and traditional in a pre-war, one-bedroom walk-up

Scott Francis had been looking to move to the Gramercy area for well over two years when he found the home he felt would be a perfect fit. It was a one-bedroom rental in a pre-war, walk-up building, just a block away from Gramercy Park. The five-story building was built in the early part of the 20th century and was once home to a private boys school. Even though it was 10 p.m. the night Francis found the listing, he picked up the phone and called the broker. When the broker didn’t pick up, he kept trying until he got her on the phone, and subsequently scheduled a visit.

That was three years ago. At that time, Francis and his partner Mike Fabbri had been living in the East Village for five years. The couple moved to New York soon after they graduated college, and the East Village seemed like the ideal fit for their early years.

But as time went on, they wanted something slightly more suburban—a neighborhood that was more private, but also just steps away from the heart of the city. While growing up right outside of Boston, Beacon Hill had been one of Francis’s favorite neighborhoods. Gramercy reminded him of that, and it was something that he wanted for himself.

“When you get older it makes a little bit more sense to be here,” Francis said. “The East Village is young and fun and a great place to be when you're right out of school, but when you’re transitioning to your late 20s, early 30s, the peace and quiet that you find on these streets is really nice.”

When Francis first checked out the apartment, it was completely empty but he was immediately drawn to the pre-war qualities of the unit. Francis says he’s always been attracted to this style of architecture, and his own “very traditional gentleman’s style” made his furniture a natural fit for this apartment.

Of course, he made several new additions. All the existing light fixtures were replaced, the wallpaper in the bathroom was redone, dimmers were added, and the whole place has been fitted with surround sound as well.

“It was a canvas with really fantastic bones and I think that’s what anyone should look for in an apartment,” Francis said. “And it had a big entertainment space. We like to entertain a lot.”

“The apartment is centrally located for all of our friends, and we like to think of it as a friends apartment,” Fabbri added (Their annual Christmas party sees up to 150 guests make their way to the apartment, along with a 12-foot-tall Christmas Tree).

The entertainment space—the living room and the dining room—is the focal point of this apartment. This is where Francis, who spent two years studying interior design, has poured much of his creative mettle into, trying to combine more traditional pieces of furniture with modern embellishments.

On the traditional side, a slender clock with maritime imagery that hangs on the wall was given to Francis by his great-grandfather. One of the lamps in the apartment, with shamrocks on top, was passed on to him from his great-grandmother who was half-Irish, and the art on the walls is a mixture of oil paintings, charcoal drawings and sketches from places that hold meaning for Francis—one of The Duomo for example, reminds him of the time he briefly lived in Florence, Italy.

Modern additions include the overhead light in the living room—Francis usually dislikes exposed light bulbs, but the sculptural aspect of this fixture made it appealing to him—a brass coffee table from Mastercraft, which Francis says is a collector’s item that he purchased in an online auction for $380 (he says he could sell it today for about $8,000), and a Mies van der Rohe Knoll chair.

Furnishings are the key element for Francis and Fabbri. When an almost identical apartment opened up down the hall from the couple, they tried to get one of their friends to rent it. Several came by, but none were impressed even though they had been floored by Francis and Fabbri’s apartment.

“People didn’t like it even though it’s the same thing,” Francis said. “It’s all about furniture and lighting. You just can’t visualize a space without it.”

Scott Francis (right) and his partner Mike Fabbri at their one-bedroom Gramercy apartment.

Francis and Fabbri both work as agents for The Corcoran Group, with their office just a short distance away from their home. Being in his line of work, Francis has seen almost every apartment in the neighborhood, and hasn’t seen a better fit for them, keeping all of the couple’s needs in mind. With his background in interior design, Francis sees his home as a space that continues to evolve.

“Nothing is ever a finished product,” Francis said. “I’m always on the search for great deals and unique pieces. That’s what’s so wonderful about living in NYC that there’s always so many places to shop and source from and people getting rid of things as they redesign.”

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