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The exterior of a townhouse. The facade is red brick. There are white stairs and a white porch. The door is painted white. There are multiple windows and a garden.

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A 190-year-old Tribeca townhouse is reborn with historic—and eclectic—touches

Two artists revive a piece of old New York

On one small street in Tribeca, where this three-story house stands, it still looks something like the 19th century.

But the changes this home has seen since it was constructed in 1828 are mind-boggling. When it was built the Revolutionary War had happened a mere 45 years before, and the Hudson River was just across the street (today, infill puts the water a couple of blocks away). A genteel family lived there initially, until the area became an wholesale produce market and the house was transformed into a spot where eggs and poultry were sold. In the 1960s the market moved, and vast swaths of homes in the neighborhood were demolished to make way for new development.

City agencies such as the Landmark Preservation Commission stepped in and rescued this Federal-style home and eight others like it. “The homes were given individual landmark status,” says architect Susan Yun of Yun Architecture. “Their scale and profile did not exist anywhere else in Manhattan.”

A staircase. The bannister is black and the stairs are wooden. The side of the staircase is painted white.
Architect Susan Yun moved the first-floor staircase to the central part of the home. She designed the new stair rail and balusters to look historic, but with somewhat modern proportions. The wall color here and throughout is Benjamin Moore Atrium White.

The homes were given a cursory, modern remodel and put up for sale. An artist and his wife purchased this home and lived there for nearly 40 years. When it came up on the market again it had not changed since the 1970s, and time had taken its toll.

That’s when a new couple (a pair of artists) stepped in, and the home was reborn yet again.

A living area. There is a fireplace. Over the fireplace hangs a patterned tapestry. In front of the fireplace are two tan chairs and a wooden coffee table. There is a patterned area rug under the table and chairs. There are shelves with objects next to th
The owner collects many things, and the home was designed to accommodate and display some of them. All of the wood-burning fireplaces in the home were sealed, and they were reactivated during the remodel.
Two women, the homeowners, stand in front of a staircase with a black bannister and wooden stairs. Both women are dressed in black and are looking at the camera.
Penelope August (left) and Susan Yun (right) pose in the remodeled home.

“We loved the history of the house,” says one of the owners. “But the unusual thing about it was that, while it was largely unchanged on the outside, on the inside there was nothing original left. In a way, we had to invent the history for the interior.”

They hired Yun and Penelope August (who worked as the interior designer on the project) to make it happen. Together, they decided that the new interior wouldn’t be a recreation of what might have been or a modern take on traditional interiors (think the pervasive “farmhouse style” that’s swept America).

Instead, they imagined a layered look that a home evolving over many years might possess. “We wanted to do something totally new that would match the house without seeming artificial,” the owner says. “We used as many old, recycled materials as possible and also modern elements. It looks like layers of history, as if the house progressed over time.”

A bedroom. There is a large bed with white bed linens. There are doors on both side of the bed. The ceiling has exposed wooden beams. The walls are painted white. There is one window letting in natural light.
The wooden beams were left exposed and unpainted. The salvaged doors come from Demolition Depot. The doorknobs were purchased by the owner on eBay. The distinctive olive knuckle hinges come from P.E. Guerin.
A bedroom. There are exposed wooden beams on the ceiling. There is a large bed with white bed linens. There is a fireplace which has a colorful mosaic frame and logs sitting inside. The walls are painted white and there is artwork hanging.
The tile around the fireplace was designed by one of the owners. The architect tucked built-in dressers at the corner of the steeply pitched ceiling.

The architect meticulously restored parts of the brick exterior (the outside is landmarked, the interior is not), adding new, energy-efficient wooden windows that match the old and recreating a porch with ironwork railings that are inspired by the neighboring buildings, but crafted with modern, code-compliant materials. Even if they found their former neighborhood confounding, the original family would likely recognize their old home.

Inside, the architect began the stratified strategy with background materials that appear historic, such as plaster crown molding, wide-plank salvaged wood floors, and handrails and balusters that are new, but have classic lines. The owner—a consummate eBay shopper—found all of the door knobs and some of the light fixtures in the house. Working with August, she also purchased antique and vintage sinks, bathtubs, wallpaper, and doors.

A bathroom. There is a white bathtub with brass fixtures. The floor is decorated in blue and white tiles. There is a white vanity which has a mirror hanging over it. The walls are painted white.
The custom blue-and-white floor tile is crafted by Haand in North Carolina. The vintage tub was discovered at Big Reuse. The Easton fixtures are from Waterworks.
A walk-in shower with white walls. The shower head is a rainfall shower head. The floor is decorated in blue and white tiles. There is a large window overlooking trees.
The walk-in shower in the master bedroom has a rainfall shower head.

The new elements include sleek limestone fireplace mantels and surrounds (all four wood-burning fireplaces in the home were reactivated), a generous kitchen with colorful terrazzo countertops, and a Jean Prouvé-inspired built-in designed by August.

An architectural move makes way for the new kitchen. “The stairs were stacked at the back of the house,” says Yun. “On the first floor, we moved the stair to the center of the house. This allowed for a good-size kitchen that has a connection to the outside.”

The kitchen cabinets have a traditional form—think Shaker-style, paneled door fronts; olive knuckle hinges; and classic knobs and pulls. But the colors and materials make it fresh; those cabinets are painted a purple-gray color and the cabinet handles are made of glass.

A kitchen. The cabinetry is light grey. There is a hardwood floor. There is a bright yellow oven. There is artwork hanging above the sink. There are light fixtures hanging from the ceiling.
The focal point of the kitchen is a mustard-yellow Lacanche range. The countertops are custom made by Precast Terrazzo. The cabinet pulls and knobs are by Crown City Hardware, and the rose-gold Easton sink fixtures are from Waterworks. The flooring here and throughout is from Reclamation Lumber. The light-pink light fixtures were designed and crafted by Penelope August and Andrew Hughes.

Along those same old-new lines, the range is from Lacanche, a French company that traces its roots back to a 1796 ironworks foundry. But this appliance is crafted in a happy yellow hue.

The countertop is a thoroughly modern terrazzo that contains a rainbow of polished glass chips that come from recycled bottles. “We got to select the colors,” says the owner. “It was really fun.”

It’s interesting to contrast the modern kitchen with classic notes to the more period study upstairs. “I wanted one room in the house to look more traditional,” the owner says.

A black stair rail. The bottom of the stair rail is a curl shape. The stairs are hardwood and the walls are painted white.
For another stair rail, Yun took a classic form and enlarged it to make a modern statement.
A hallway with a hardwood floor and white walls. There is a staircase with a black bannister and wooden stairs. There are hanging light fixtures. At the end of the hallway is a doorway where the door is open. There is a red chair in the room with the open
The light fixtures throughout most of the house were found on eBay.

The vintage wallpaper in the study sets the tone for the space. “Originally, we had talked about using a lot more wallpaper in the house,” August says. “But finding enough vintage paper for many rooms is difficult, and so is moving art. In the end, we decided to make this the wallpapered room, and—even though it was fragile—we managed to find enough rolls of this wall covering to make it work.”

In this space, the mantel and surround is wood, not limestone. “We sorted through many, many options in an antique shop before finding the perfect one,” says August. “Unfortunately, someone robbed the restoration studio where we had taken it to have the paint stripped and took it. It was never recovered, but we had taken a lot of photos of it and had it recreated from those.”

A living area. There is patterned wallpaper on the walls. There is a large grey couch and a grey chair. There is a patterned blue and white rug on the floor. Artwork hangs on the walls.
The owner wanted one room to appear more vintage, so she and August selected antique wallpaper from Secondhand Rose. The mantel is by ECR Antique Conservation & Restoration.

Modern art and furniture keep the room from having a house museum quality. “The clients have very eclectic tastes,” says August. “Eclectic interiors fit them and allow them to display their wide-ranging collections and pieces.”

Nowhere is that eclectic spirit on display more than the powder room. Like the majority of its species, this one is small. And, in many respects, it’s simple—there’s an electric blue hex tile on the floor and a vintage white pedestal sink. But the sconces, which are globes with giant eyes on either side of the sink, elevate the space to an artistic level. “I bought these on eBay,” the owner says. “They were part of a lamp that was once in an optometrist’s shop. We weren’t sure what to do with them at first, but thought they looked cool here.”

A bathroom. The floor and wall are decorated with blue and white tiles. There is a white sink and a mirror hangs over the sink.
Bright blue Fireclay tile covers the powder room, making an electric backdrop for a pair of vintage light globes that used to decorate an optometrist’s shop. The vintage sink is from Demolition Depot.
A shelving unit which has red drawers and wooden shelves. On the shelves are various objects.
August designed the midcentury-inspired shelving unit with cork shelves and orange cabinet fronts to display and store the owner’s collections.

As any architect or designer will attest, working with vintage materials not original to a house takes a special kind of patience—repairs often need to be made and standard measurements usually don’t apply, so size adjustments are necessary. But in this house, patience paid off, as the concept adds a lot to the final result. “It’s extra work, certainly, but we were all game for anything,” says August. “It’s really worth it for this project. The house has a custom look that really fits.”

The owners brought that game-for-anything attitude to the task of remodeling a landmarked building that comes with extra restrictions designed to preserve pieces of the past. “For us, it was a pleasure,” says the owner. “We care about the history of New York City—and it feels good to be a caretaker of a small part of it.”

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