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Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Mid-Century NYC Apartment: House Tour

The Building

The Carlton House was built in 1946 and designed by architect Philip Birnbaum, who went on in his later more seasoned years to design Trump Tower. He was an architect better known for his interiors - his thoughtful use of space and light and devotion to creating "livable" spaces. Even so, I quite like the exterior of our building with it's open balconies in the front.

The Floorplan

The Foyer

I love that this apartment has a formal entryway - a space that is not intended for anything more useful than getting one's bearings upon entering the apartment.

A foyer is one of the hallmarks of the midcentury apartment design. Though it would be considered wasted space in most floor plans today, there's much to be said for having a place to hang your coat, toss your keys, put down your bags when you come in the door. 

Right now I've furnished it with an awesome little mod settee that I inherited and slipcovered (here's how you make white slipcovers without a pattern), a dark wood bookcase, a sweet little midcentury console table that I found at Beall and Bell in Greenport and could not resist, and a Sputnick light fixture.

While this doesn't feel like the forever home for the little settee - I think it will end up in the master bedroom - it makes a cozy little spot to change your shoes as you come and go.

 The Living Room

The living room is a 12 x 20 ft rectangle - the perfect layout for a back-facing sofa aligned with a library table. And given the bookshelves that replaced the infamous Wall of Mirrors referenced in NY Times "The Hunt" - how appropriate.

The Dining "Area"

The floorplan draws attention to the dining area with this raised platform. I don't know what the thinking was back in 1946, but the raised platform just screams mid-century, doesn't it? It creates a distinct area for eating, and I appreciate the graceful transition from room to room.

The Kitchen

My first instinct was to rip out the wall, level the raised dining platform, and create an "open floor plan". It certainly would have made the room look immediately spacious upon entering the apartment. At the time, all the Renov8or budget was going toward the more needed upgrades in the bathroom.

You know what? I'm so glad I waited.

Now that I've been living with it, I have come to like this enclosed galley kitchen. It keeps cooking smells in and mess out of sight. 

Shortly before moving in, we gave it a makeover (see White Kitchen Makeover for Under $3,000). I painted all of the cabinetry a neutral cream color, added a row of upper cabinets, replaced sink fixtures, and tiled the backsplash in cream subway tile. The rich cream color has subdued the busy coral granite to the point where I not only don't hate the pinkish stone anymore, I admire it's natural beauty. 

So, this Reno8or learned something by being budget constrained. I learned that simple changes make a world of difference. And it's best to live in a home a while if you can. (It will tell you what it needs.)

The Office/Second Bedroom
Having a second bedroom in NYC is a luxury that was beyond our imagining. And of course it wouldn't have been affordable if we had stayed in Carroll Gardens or moved to Manhattan. This is what makes real estate in Queens such a great deal for us.

I found a mid-century style sofa bed in a small shop in Astoria for the office/second bedroom. Mom and Dad tested out the bed when they visited the week after we moved in. They said it was comfy (but maybe they were being tactful?).

I made good on my promise to Ross - a room to keep his guitars in. There are now four - count 'em.

And I snapped up the corner window for a long desk we can share. See Office for Two: An Ikea Hack. A project that is still not finished - hence the missing wall cabinets. (Perhaps this spring.)

The Master Bedroom

I have to laugh when I say the words "master bedroom". Our bedroom is HUGE. Really. It's 12 ft x 20 ft. I've seen entire apartments this size in NYC. We barely know what to do with all the extra space (but trust me, I'll figure it out!).

The bedroom has an inviting "bay window" facing east and a fire escape window that faces north. I commissioned the security gate by iron works artist Valessa Monk. (See Security Gates Can Be Pretty.)

I love waking up in this room to bright morning light streaming in from the windows and glancing off the steel petals of these ironwork flowers. It is a real work of art. 

The three bay windows overlook a row of two-story Tudors, so there's nothing blocking our light six flights up. There would be no reason to have window treatments for modesty sake, but we need them sometimes for shade. As most of our windows are non-standard sizes, I had to consider shelling out for custom window treatments. Then I found the very affordable Enje solar shade at Ikea. I bought one for every window in the house and hacked them down to size. It really was not difficult. See Ikea Hack: Cutting Enje Roller Blinds to Fit Your Windows.

The Bathroom
Before we moved in, we had the bathroom gut-renovated. This was a major project, taking it down to the rafters and beams. And I spent many hours poring over bathrooms on Houzz and Pinterest in the planning stages. I wanted it to look classic and timeless - like it belongs to the 1940s era of our home, but also clean, spare, and modern. 

As a nod to the ubiquitous subway tile of the era, we tiled the walls with beveled white field tile. And added a half hex floor by Heath Ceramics - Dwell collection (that I just LOVE!). 

Our tub is the Kohler Tea for Two deep soaking tub. It is undermounted with a marble double apron and deck that I designed and had fabricated by Empire Cabinetry and Marble in Brooklyn.

The shower is furnished in 3x6 subway tiles in a deep charcoal gray with light gray grout for contrast. There are two showerheads from the Kohler Purist line, an overhead and a handheld, adjustable on the bar. (Great for showers when you don't want to get your hair wet.) The shower door is vintage - one of the few things the former owners left intact. It was manufactured in 1946 by GM Ketcham MFG Corp in Brooklyn. I cleaned up the chrome with some Bar Keeper's Friend and had it relazed with clear glass. Where we raised the ceiling in the shower stall, I just left it open at the top. It's one of my favorite things.

The sink was a happy surprise. I considered a pedestal of course. It certainly would have been appropriate to the period and was probably what was there originally. But I really love the art deco era console sinks with shiny chrome legs that were the standard in more luxurious mid-century homes. I seriously considered a custom order from and also seriously considered the Kohler Kathryn with marble top. But in the end I took a chance on this Mason Console sink from Signature Hardware - an online store that has no bricks and mortar location where you can see and touch the products. It was a leap of faith certainly, but one with a soft landing. It turned out to be just as high quality as the Kholer fixtures and has exactly the timeless look that I was going for way less. 

The chrome medicine cabinets and sconces are from Restoration Hardware, and the quality and heft could not be better. RH's white glove delivery was excellent - even when I had to return them for a different size.

And so concludes our house tour. I hope you enjoyed it. Leave a comment. Ask a question. I WILL reply.