New York townhouse that channels the purity of the Wild Atlantic Way
An Irish architect has fused Ireland’s rugged landscape with Zen-like simplicity in a West Village apartment
When an Irish businessman purchased a townhouse on Charles Street, which runs perpendicular to the Hudson River in New York’s West Village, the property was in such a state of disrepair the floors on every level were U-shaped, bowing as much as six inches in the centre of the rooms, says Brian Messana. His Irish-American architecture firm, Messana O’Rorke, resolved the problem by removing structural joists and inserting supporting columns to run through the four floors of the building.
Once a famed bohemian quarter, the West Village has been gentrified and is now home to A-listers and deep-pocketed financiers, including Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick, who reside on Charles Street.
The house was built in 1853 and, while walls could probably tell a tale or two, the dialogue of the interior had become confused in its 160-year history. So much so that Messana wanted to eradicate the clutter of the past and ease the property into a new era of Zen-like modern minimalism.
“Instead of your space being cluttered with objects, the idea is to live more simply with some choice pieces,” he says. “The owner loved our aesthetic and bought into the whole concept.”
It was a clean sweep. All that remains of the original interior is the location of the staircase. Even the original steps have been removed to make way for white oak treads from Denmark that have been ever so slightly limed, then wire brushed, so you can feel the grain underfoot.
The entrance hall is half a level up from the street, accessed from the outside by a set of steps. Off it is the sittingroom, a sizeable space of about 65sq m (700sq ft) – each of the floors is designed as a separate space – where a pair of matching off-white upholstered bespoke sofas, made by Regeneration Furniture, sit opposite each other. Every piece of furniture in the property was custom designed by the architects, including a glass box for firewood. The addition of a luxurious silk rug is a treat for bare feet.
Made-to-measure storage units at one end of the room house media devices and books. A pair of 1970s vintage leather chairs and a ceramic piece of hanging art are the only decorative elements, save for a large-format print of a shot by Kinsale photographer Giles Norman. It is one of several works by him that hang in this Manhattan abode.
The juxtaposition of the urbane modernity of this Manhattan apartment with scenes of Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way somehow works. Norman likes to photograph mountains, hills, rivers and water scenes without any intrusion, he says: landscapes devoid of people create “purer” shots.
The scenes are part of his annual pilgrimage west, when he spends every day on his own for five or six weeks in the year. “Those weeks are pure escapism. It’s just me and my camera, and I get to see the best of the west.”
Half a level down is the diningroom where a hospitably large dining table of American black walnut takes pride of place. In true New York fashion, the kitchen area is small, comprising less than a quarter of this floor.
Upstairs in the master bedroom is a milking stool by BassamFellows and a black walnut floating bed, designed by the architect to match the chest of drawers. The firm also designed the sanitary-ware for the hotel-finish bathrooms, including Corian sinks and marble slab showers big enough for two.
The house also has a roof terrace, where rusted Hollywood Regency recliners look like they’ve been there forever. That was the idea, Messana says of the vintage pieces purchased upstate. “While an urban retreat in the city, I didn’t want something to look too finished.”
This is pared back minimalism Big Apple style, but how would Messana put it? “I like to think of it as polished simplicity.”