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(Bloomberg) -- In 2011, architect Barry Rice was hired to design a brand-new building at 40 East 72nd St., a block and a half from New York’s Central Park. There was one catch: The building it was meant to replace was landmarked, and the 1928 brick facade had to stay. “We demolished the building behind the facade, but we kept the facade itself,” said Rice, whose New York-based firm did a similar conversion in Brooklyn Heights two years earlier. “But the interesting thing is that when you keep a facade, it creates limitations on what you can do.”

Windows had to match the existing plan, for instance; ceiling heights were prescribed by the 1928 layout; and, even though the developer, Axia Realty, was allowed to build above the existing structure, the sight-line from the street had to remain the same. This was achieved simply, by setting the added floors back from the street, so that passersby would look up and see nothing but brick, then sky.

Rice, who partnered with designer Jacques Grange, who designed the building’s interior finishes, decided to take advantage of the mandatory setback by building a three-story penthouse above the existing building, and then used the resultant empty space as a large terrace for entertaining. The 14-room apartment, which is now complete and listed by Nikki Field, Patricia Wheatley, and Nicole Kotovos of Sotheby's International Realty, is about to hit the market for $29 million.

The apartment measures more than 6,000 square feet of indoor space and more than 1,200 square feet of terraces and balconies. There are four bedrooms, including a master suite that takes up an entire floor and includes two studies and a sitting room. The apartment has a total of five and a half bathrooms.

Rice said that he conceived the project as an alternative townhouse: “There are a number of families with two or three or four kids looking for space in New York, and the natural place to look is a townhouse,” he said. “But [townhouses] have several disadvantages, including the absence of the amenities you can get in a doorman building.” Plus, he added with severe understatement, the triplex “is 50 feet wide, and there aren’t that many 50 foot-wide brownstones in the city.”

Still, he wanted to recreate the charm and intimacy of a house. He did this, he said, by anchoring the floors with a central staircase. (The floors are each serviced by an elevator, too.) And he included a wood-burning fireplace in the dining room.

The lowest floor of the apartment is dedicated to entertaining. The elevator opens onto a large foyer that overlooks the terrace; the entertaining floor also has a formal dining room, large library, and an eat-in chef’s kitchen, along with two south-facing balconies. 

The master suite is located on the middle floor, Rice said, because “assuming you’re entertaining, one argument is that you want the kids’ rooms furthest from the noise.” (The counter-argument, which Rice considered, was that the kids’ rooms should be closest to the kitchen, but he accounted for that by putting room for a maid/ nanny on the children’s floor, insuring that someone would be able to provide late-night snacks, regardless.) Along with the children’s rooms, the top floor also includes a south-facing terrace.

The building, Rice said, was a labor of love. “It’s probably the longest-running project I’ve ever worked on in the city,” he said, citing the project’s painstaking demolition (“you can’t just knock it down, it has to be deconstructed piece by piece”), and the equally drawn-out process of Landmarks Committee approval.

The process, while arduous and subject to multiple revisions—“the market changed over time, and what you might think is the right arrangement for apartments in 2011 might have changed,” he said—resulted in an apartment with unusual amounts of outdoor space, gracious northern and southern light, and an historic, intimate feel. “It was like a puzzle,” he said. “And it’s ended up fairly unique.”


To contact the author of this story: James Tarmy in New York at jtarmy@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Chris Rovzar at crovzar@bloomberg.net.

©2017 Bloomberg L.P.

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