Apartment Envy: A Son Builds His Mom a TriBeCa Dream Loft
4,200-square-foot loft. 14-foot ceilings. $2,300 maintenance, landmark building.
She wanted the impossible. After selling her spacious Westport, Conn., home, Doreen Grayson yearned to live somewhere as quiet and roomy as a large house -- in Manhattan.
In 1998, five years after the death of her husband, Doreen wanted to move to be near her son, Neil Grayson, a 32-year-old artist who owns a loft and art gallery in SoHo. At first, Doreen spent months shocked that the money earned from the sale of her Lexus of a Connecticut house could only buy a Honda of a Manhattan apartment. But then she found a rusted pick-up truck of a loft with Rolls Royce potential. "The place was a total dump," she said. It was a second-floor, 4,200-square-foot TriBeCa loft in a building dating from 1867. The space had rusty tin ceilings, old pipes hanging down and huge holes in the floor. It would be a ton of work. Luckily for her, Neil is a self-taught builder, and at $1.1 million, it was a steal. "I looked at the space and light and windows [and decided to] go for it," said Doreen.
|The kitchen, pre-renovation. (Courtesy of Neil Grayson)|
|The kitchen now. (Valerie Reiss for New York Today)|
"It was a total gut renovation," said Neil, who did most of the contracting himself. "We did everything from electrical to plumbing to the sprinkler system, you name it." Because it was so extensive, the speedy six-month renovation -- begun after six months of obtaining building permits -- uncovered all sorts of surprises. One day as builders were clearing out 2,000-square feet of junk wood, which had been stashed above the tin ceiling for perhaps as long as 130 years, a 95-pound ship cleat fell out -- a reminder of TriBeCa's history as a port. Despite gaps in the historical record, 17 White Street must have had a nautical use at some point. The cast-iron building was first a warehouse; in the 1890's, an office space for dry goods workers; and in the 1940's, a mirror factory. Just before Doreen bought it, her loft had been used as an artist's studio.
A foreman Neil admired, Yui Koon Yee, agreed to do the job in exchange for Neil's help in establishing Koon Yee's own contracting company. Neil had only to supply materials and pay for at-cost labor. The whole renovation -- including plumbing, central air conditioning and herringbone floors -- cost around $350,000. According to Neil, this is a third of what it would have cost otherwise. Neil also kept costs down by visiting places like United House Wrecking -- an emporium of antiques salvaged from demolished estates -- where they scored gems like solid mahogany doors for $200 apiece. He estimates that the loft's value has now doubled and it could now sell for around $3 million.
|Through the extra-high windows you can see the TriBeCa Grand Hotel. (Valerie Reiss for New York Today)|
As son and overseer, Neil said he tended to dozens of "little details that make everyday living easy." The prize "little detail" is the two-story, walk-in closet. At 8 by 16 feet, it's as big as "a nice-size one-bedroom in lower Manhattan," he says, and it is also ventilated so the clothes don't get stale. The floors of the loft contain strategically built outlets for easy mid-room TV watching; the walls are wired for cable Internet; the laundry room is a homey size; and a Murphy-bed ironing board folds out of a discreet hallway cabinet and swivels so as not to block the hall.
The little things rest on a solid foundation. "The guts of this place are built like a tank," said Neil. "I'm always thinking about the next generation in this place. Like whether they'll appreciate that all the doors are still perfect and hanging straight and that the floors last." There's a double-size hot water heater, a floorboard radiator to balance out unpredictable building heating, soundproofed ceilings for muting the three boys upstairs and wood-lined dividing walls for long-term art-hanging. And the walls, whose corners are rounded, curve seamlessly -- a labor-intensive detail long abandoned in today's insta-house market.
|"Birds, Birds, Birds," Ingo Maurer's 6-foot, flying-lightbulb chandelier. (Courtesy of Ingo Maurer GmbH)|
Now complete -- save a few finishing touches -- the loft is a sweeping, "Architectural Digest"-worthy home. Light bathes everything and quiet fills the space. The furniture and art are an eclectic mix of contemporary and late-60's styles, brought mostly from her previous home. There are Robert Hartman sofas, a Joe Colombo card table and Standick chairs reupholstered with bomber jacket leather. The most striking piece is a chandelier by German lighting designer Ingo Maurer called "Birds, Birds, Birds" composed of a flock of angel-winged light bulbs reaching toward the sky. Of the Maurer, Doreen said, "Some people say he's in the Museum of Modern Art. I don't know. I just know that this is my chance to put in a six-foot tall chandelier. Where else could I do that?"
Some people might have hesitated to create a luxury apartment on the second floor, so close to the hubbub of the streets, but Doreen said, "I like that I can look down and see people and action. If I were very high up I'd look at ants. Maybe I'd see a view of something, you know, a river. [But] I had lots of view in Westport. For 25 years, all I had was view."
BACK TO WRITING CLIPS INDEX
WRITING CLIPS | BLOG | BIO | CONTACT