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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. Birnbaum was an architect better known for his interiors - his thoughtful use of space and light and devotion to creating "livable" spaces are often noted. Even so, I quite like the exterior of our building, with it's open balconies in the front.

Here's a look inside.


The Carlton House, Jackson Heights


The 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 a hallmark of 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, and put down your bags when you come in the door. That's a roomy coat closet to the left of the entrance. 

I've furnished it with a little mod settee that I got second-hand and slipcovered (here's how you make white slipcovers without a pattern), a dark wood bookcase, sweet little console table from Beall and Bell in Greenport, and Sputnick-like light fixture.

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

Living Room

The living room is a 12 x 20 ft rectangular space. Long and narrow, it is perfect for a back-facing sofa aligned with a library table. And given our bookshelves that replaced the Wall of Mirrors much maligned in this NY Times "The Hunt" article - how appropriate, right?

Dining "Area"

The architecture of the room draws attention to the dining area with a raised platform. I don't know what the thinking was back in 1946, but the raised platform conveys at a glance that this home was built mid-century. The raised platform does create a distinct area for eating, and I appreciate the openness and graceful transition from room to room.


Was my first instinct 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 we moved in, all the Renov8or budget was going toward the more needed gut reno in the bathroom, so I gave the kitchen a cost-conscious makeover (see White Kitchen Makeover for Under $3,000), painting all of the cabinetry a neutral cream color, adding a row of upper cabinets, replacing sink fixtures, and tiling the backsplash with subway tile. The rich cream colors I added definitely subdued the busy coral granite - to the point where I not only don't hate the pinkish stone anymore, I can admire it's natural beauty. 

Now that I've been living with it, I have come to see some of the pros of an enclosed galley kitchen. It keeps cooking smells in and mess out of sight. 

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

Second Bedroom/Office
Having a second bedroom in NYC is a luxury that would not have been affordable had we remained in Carroll Gardens or moved to Manhattan. You get a lot of home for your money in Queens, which is what's fueling the interest in our Jackson Heights historical district neighborhood.

To utilize this room as both office and guest room, we found a mid-century style sofa bed in a small shop in Astoria. 

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

And I built a long floating desk that two can share, from some spare Ikea parts.  See Office for Two: An Ikea Hack. A project that is still not finished - I have yet to install the wall cabinets. (Perhaps this spring.)

Master Bedroom
I have to laugh when I say the words "master bedroom". Our bedroom is HUGE by NYC standards. It's 12 ft x 20 ft - I've seen entire apartments this size. 

The bedroom is a work in progress, but we are coming along. See Bedroom Inspiration: Yellow and Gray.

There's an inviting "bay window" that faces east.

And a fire escape window that faces north. I commissioned iron works artist Valessa Monk to make the beautiful secure gate for it. (See Security Gates Can Be Pretty.)

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

The three bay windows overlook a row of two-story Tudors, so there's nothing blocking our light on the top floor six stories up. We have no need for window treatments for simply modesty sake, however, we do 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.

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

As a nod to the ubiquitous subway tile of the era, we tiled the walls with beveled white field tile. And added a more modern take on the half hex floor with tiles from Heath Ceramics - Dwell collection.

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. If you are curious to see how marble holds up in a bathroom, see My Honed Marble Two Years Later.

The shower is tiled in deep charcoal gray subway tiles with light gray grout. I designed it to have two shower heads from the Kohler Purist line - an overhead and a handheld, adjustable on the bar. The adjustable is great for showers when you don't want to get your hair wet. And it makes cleaning the tiles a breeze. The shower door is vintage - it is 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 elements of this bathroom.

The sink was a happy surprise. I had considered a pedestal of course. It would have been appropriate to the period and was probably what was here 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 console with its beautiful marble top. 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. So, it was a leap of faith, but one that had a soft landing. This sink turned out to be just as high quality as the rest of the Kohler fixtures in the room. And it has exactly the timeless look that I was going for, for way less. 

The chrome medicine cabinets and sconces are from Restoration Hardware. The quality and heft could not be better. RH's white glove delivery was excellent - even when I had to return one of 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.