March 1, 2012

Puzzling It Out: Joseph Giovannini Renovates an NYC Apartment Pro Bono

Of the handful of architects living in my New York co-op building, the suspicious one wondered aloud why I would ever design an apartment for free. The optimistic one understood right away. An opportunity to transform something ugly and underused into something beautiful and useful was irresistible to me, even if it meant donating gobs of time.

Like all co-ops, ours was scrounging for ways to halt the upward creep of monthly maintenance charges. Our departing super was vacating his one-bedroom-viewless, sunless, adjacent to a concrete courtyard straight from Sing Sing-and, trained as an architect, I intuited a way to structure a profitable deal out of underdeveloped real estate. I started playing chess with spaces. If I transformed the current super’s office, in the basement, into an apartment for his replacement, that would free up the ground-level space. Combine it with half of an unnecessarily large laundry below, and we’d have a garden duplex to sell.

With David Turner Architect serving as architect of record for my Giovannini Associates, I made two strategic moves. There were too many pipes and beams in the way of an internal staircase, so I linked upstairs and downstairs via a new greenhouse in the back courtyard. Inside, moving the front door and ripping out a pair of closets made space for a dining area next to the kitchen. I shaped the kitchen island with space-saving planes, and what resulted resembled a suprematist construction.

While the 650-square-foot former super’s apartment became an 1,100-square-foot garden duplex, the new super’s apartment also emerged bigger and better. The building put $460,000 into both units, then sold the duplex for $950,000. In addition, the buyer is already paying monthly maintenance—the gift that keeps on giving.

My payoff? The pure gratification of turning the worst apartment in the building into the most desirable one. It was a Cinderella transformation. 

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