Park Avenue Renovation
project name : Park Avenue Renovation
location : Park Avenue, New York City
year of design: 2005
client: Name withheld at owner’s request
architect: George Ranalli
associates: Aaman & Whitney Structural Engineer;
Aaman & Whitney, Mechanical Engineering
design team: Hollace Metzger, Hayden Marrero
photographer: Model Photos: George Ranalli
By the time the owner of this four-story, single-family Carnegie Hill home sought to renovate in 2004, the building had come a long way from its humble origins. Built in 1884–85 as one of four speculative row houses, it originally stood beside the cinder and steam of the Park Avenue locomotive transit. Andrew Carnegie’s 1899 purchase of two-block fronts in the area, followed by the State legislative mandate for electric-powered trains on Manhattan in 1903, repositioned Park Avenue as the Upper East Side’s quintessential residential boulevard. In 1923, an affluent owner hired architect Emery Roth to redesign the exterior façade in the same modern classical style as a neighbor’s house down the street. Removing the porch and street stair made way for a classically inspired, centered entrance and service door in a little courtyard paved to match the new black-and-white marble floor of the interior hall. All that remained after clearing off the decorative brackets, molding, ironwork, window balconies, and multi-pane casements was a simple stone cornice and parapet wall, a sleek limestone façade, and a set of large, square-headed, upper-story windows.
The classical unity of the building’s exterior was no match for the accumulating eccentricities of the interior. Under various owners, including a film star, the building went through a series of renovations and interior conversions that created a hodgepodge of broken- up spaces and gardens. A mid-1930s renovation introduced a four-story expansion at the back to house servants’ quarters and physical plant. French doors leading to a scrolled iron gateway and trellised patio (later enclosed in glass) were added to the second story drawing room. At one time the lower two floors were even connected to the adjacent house.
The clients wanted to renovate the lower floors, converting a barren space beneath an existing solarium into a new dining room, breakfast room, and terrace. While the program seemed simple, the complex structural reality of the building required the addition of columns, beams, and new walls in critical locations to achieve the desired spatial results. The owners also requested a twelve-foot dining table, fabricated in onyx, to host their frequent celebratory events.
The proposal made space for a formal dining room, sunny kitchen with ample pantry storage, breakfast room, upper-story library under a skylight, and an inviting outdoor garden patio. The new exterior façade walls expand the back of the house, incorporating the open space beneath the sunroom-gazebo to shape an open air volume and terrace.
This project explores a return to dense stone construction for both its environmental and architectural rationale. The possibility of an ornamental approach to the stone construction was included in the client’s list of desired results. The new enclosing exterior wall in the rear of the house is made of Valders Buff dolomite with Pietra Serena accent stones in various locations.
The lower-story breakfast room or sunroom enjoys a skylight that admits additional sun. Adjacent to it, the dining room comprises misty green Venetian plaster and pear-wood trim that peels back at the top to hint at a stair rising along a party wall to the second-story sunroom. During the day, the room’s lighting is shaped by the glow from the terrace skylight at the back and by light from magnificent mahogany windows that look out to a garden. In the evening, the smooth Indiana limestone floors and onyx stone tabletop gleam under artificial lights. Finally, a plaster ceiling opportunistically contoured around equipment and an existing steel beam creates an ethereal quality.