House & Garden, February 2006
When a design executive and his family bought the Manhattan
house that architect Edward Durell Stone renovated for his own family
in 1956, they updated it by looking into the building’s past.
When a Manhattan couple with two rambunctious boys moved into an
Upper East Side town house, they wanted to preserve and restore
everything they could of the 1890s building in a landmark district:
dark, elaborately carved mantelpieces; curving banisters worn smooth
by time; and the lacy façade of cast concrete grillage, added
in 1956 by architect Edward Durell Stone when he bought the place.
It was that juxtaposition of sensibilities that made the project
“on the one hand more complicated and on the other hand easier,”
says Philip Galanes, the designer, whom the couple knew through
mutual friends. “It was a Victorian house with a transformative
layer applied to it in the fifties.” That transformative layer
is what persuaded the couple to buy the property, which stands out
(literally, as Stone extended the façade five feet) from
others on the block. The couple—he’s a design executive,
she’s in finance—understood the significance of the
house, which has sparked controversy for almost 50 years. The husband
was excited to find pieces that Stone had designed, such as the
panels for dropped and cutout-patterned ceilings (stored in the
basement by the previous owners) and chain-mail hangings.
“Disparate elements,” the designer says, “created
permission to go into a range of periods. The context was already
laid for a mix.” The clients agreed, and hired architect Hicks
Stone, who had grown up in the house, to renovate and update his
father’s work. The crumbling façade had been removed
in the 1980s, but the Landmarks Commission required its restoration,
so it was in good shape. Discarded elements came up from the basement.
As work went on, the clients edited their art collection, using
pieces they loved to anchor the design of the family house. The
result is a boisterous centenarian seen through a prism of Manhattan
sophistication of a kind peculiar to movies like Auntie Mame and
The World of Henry Orient, a world of timeless repartee, dry martinis,
and outrageous good fun.
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