September 29, 2015

SPAN Architecture Gut Renovates Upper East Side Duplex

New Yorkers pay dearly for natural light—and the sky’s the limit for skyline views. So imagine the delight of a jet-setting couple who, after buying a 1980’s duplex on the Upper East Side, learned that nearly half the windows in the public rooms had been walled up and forgotten. The dated interiors furthermore layered on elaborate wallpaper, swagged drapery, and heavy crown molding, culminating with that classic emblem of manufactured respectability, a fake fireplace.

“There was no incentive to save any of it,” SPAN Architecture principal Karen Stonely begins. She and her fellow principals, Peter Pelsinski and Jean-Gabriel Neukomm, gutted the 3,000 square feet, in the process revealing the missing windows and ditching the fireplace. Space recaptured from what had been a little-used dining room allowed an extra bedroom for visiting parents and friends.

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The two downstairs bedrooms are carpeted in gray broadloom, while the two upstairs bedrooms, including the master, have floorboards of cerused oak. To connect the levels, SPAN replaced a standard staircase with a gossamer ribbon of accordion-folded perforated stainless steel. On either side, oak-veneered walls conceal the stair’s supports, amplifying the virtuoso structural achievement.

As for furniture, the owners shopped with Stonely for a mix of vintage and contemporary pieces by the likes of Edward Wormley, Vladimir Kagan, and India Mahdavi. Not one but two Kagan sofas have pride of place in the living room. The larger sofa, a swooping L shape, had to be hoisted in through a window.

An aircraft-cable system aids the display of blue-chip art against the gallery-white walls. “We used museum-quality lighting, but it was important to illuminate the rooms as rooms,” Stonely explains, pointing out LED recessed ceiling fixtures selected for their amber undertones. No one, she reports, misses the “warmth” of the old fireplace.

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