Handel Architects and Moed de Armas & Shannon were enlisted to transform 737 Park Avenue (Art Deco, built 1940) and 150 East 72nd Street (Renaissance Revival, built 1913) into eminently liveable works of art. We interviewed Malay Shah of Handel Architects and Dan Shannon of Moed de Armas & Shannon Architects about the luxe results.
BuzzBuzzHome: In general, when you are renovating a pre-war building, how do you decide which details of the original architecture to maintain and which modern features or materials to add?
Malay Shah: It is always an intriguing challenge to decide which details of the original architecture are relevant for today and will hopefully remain relevant in the future. 150 East 72nd Street has been standing for 100 years, and our approach was to maintain the exterior of this Renaissance Revival building, since it is a true representation of an era of apartment construction that informed and inspired the design of many buildings within the Upper East Side.
When converting an architecturally significant building, one has to identify and understand the contributing architectural elements and materials of the original structure to successfully integrate modern materials and finishes into it.
Dan Shannon: We begin the process by researching the original architect’s design intent. Then, using our interpretation of the design vocabulary, we identify the inherent design elements that are essential to the building. Our design attempts to enhance and highlight, through restoration and repetition, those elements which remain relevant to contemporary uses and programs.
BBH: More specifically, how did you update the design aesthetic of 150 East 72nd Street, which was first built in 1913?
MS: The original layouts developed by Schwartz and Gross had very efficient spatial organization which allowed for the development of new layouts and the ability to update its design aesthetic. The smaller “chambers” and narrow galley kitchens from original layouts were redesigned to develop spacious and well lit eat-in kitchens, larger en suite bathrooms and generous closets to suit a more modern lifestyle.
MS (cont.): Specifically speaking, large-sized stone slabs, stone tiles and traditional basket weave flooring patterns were tastefully integrated in bathroom finishes and detailing. New wood flooring with a plywood sub-base was installed with narrow 1-1/4” wide solid oak in order to maintain the flooring’s original design and feel. Window casing and door and crown molding details were re-imagined with clean lines to maintain the stately essence of this pre-war building.
DS: The original building entry features a rich and distinctive limestone. To compliment this richness and enhance its distinctiveness, we introduced new doors with a decorative pattern expressing the building’s classic Beaux-Arts motif to the exterior. We also added carriage lanterns to either side of the doors, both to punctuate the entry and illuminate the building’s nighttime appearance. In the lobby, we recreated a period space with coffered ceilings, intricate plaster walls and a decorative floor with inlaid marble elements. Modern LED fixtures illuminate these intricate details with a clarity that was not possible when the building was originally built.
BBH: What are some of the challenges of converting older rental buildings into new condominiums?
DS: The most significant challenge for any conversion is to update the building’s infrastructure and integrate modern amenities within the existing structure without compromising or creating an extensive modification to the structure and exterior envelope.
BBH: The conversion of 150 East 72nd Street sourced historically significant materials, such as the same Tennessee marble used for Grand Central Terminal. Can you discuss the thought process behind choosing these materials?
DS: It was an easy decision to use Tennessee Pink marble because of its quality and historic value. It was a substantial material during the Beaux-Arts period, and replacing it would have drastically altered the character of the building’s lobby. Lacking in the original design were distinguishing details one would expect in a classic period interior. We enhanced this rich field of marble with the insertion of inlaid medallions, using contrasting marble types of Grigio Carnico, Rosso Levanto and classic Statuario to accentuate the restored original marble flooring. We further added a new Tennessee Pink wall base with cove molding to elegantly transition into the space’s plaster walls.
BBH: How would you describe your vision for 737 Park Avenue, which was originally designed by Sylvan Bien?
MS: The building was designed in classical tripartite division with a limestone base, masonry middle and an ornate crown and circular enclosure for its water tank. The building was classified as “Classicizing Art Deco” by the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC). The vision for the project was to maintain the character and presence of Sylvan Bien’s design while enhancing the exterior envelope. After design studies and review with LPC staff and preservation consultant Nick Doyle of Acheson Doyle Partners Architects, the building’s original double hung windows were replaced with new energy efficient casement windows. Overall, the design team preserved the building’s aesthetic while enlarging and reconfiguring the apartment layouts to accommodate today’s modern lifestyle and household.
DS: The overall vision was to blend classical beauty with modern sensibility in an effort to make a statement of timeless elegance. To achieve this, we studied the building and its history closely to identify the original and defining features of this late period deco building, notable for its thematic decorative elements such as the Greek key and arrowhead patterns. The entry doors were rebuilt to integrate the Greek key and arrowhead motif of the window screens, which were also restored. The lobby features a restored terrazzo floor and well-detailed marble walls which are enhanced by reinterpreted lighting using prismatic crystals to add a period touch. The lobby also features a seating alcove with oak burl wood veneer wall panels inlaid with nickel-silver trim and will be furnished with deco pieces to complete the period atmosphere.
BBH: What are some of your favorite design touches at 737 Park Avenue?
MS: Some of my favorite design touches include the beautiful 4’ x 8’ book matched Michelangelo marble slabs that are installed in the master bath walls and floors, and the variety of the additional bathroom layouts. Additionally, I appreciate the spacious eat-in-kitchens, with glass-faced millwork, that were enlarged from the original apartment layouts.
Also, the building’s G line has a truly special layout which combines the feel of a loft space with a modern residential layout.
DS: My favorite touches include the subtlety of the deco motifs, the fluted marble pilasters, and the embossed stars at the building entry and in the terrazzo, both being restored as part of this project.