A compact four-level apartment was purchased in 1994 by Huxley Somerville on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, New York. At the time that he found this fixer upper that was purchased for $95,000, he was doing property inspections. He is now a managing director at Fitch Ratings, a commercial mortgage-backed securities division. Mr. Somerville once considered studying architecture, so he saw the potential in this small 425 square foot brownstone apartment, with a kitchen and dining area packing in the vestibule, a small living area up a few steps and a bedroom and bathroom on the top floor.
He thought the space was more intriguing than just the normal four walls, yet the drawbacks were evident, particularly the minuscule sleeping area. The space was very oddly shaped to fit a proper bed and the apartment was a walk-up on the fourth and fifth floors. On the plus side, there was a roof terrace up another flight of stairs off the bedroom and there was nobody above inhabiting space above the apartment. The best aspect of the apartment was the high ceilings, which were just over 11 feet in the living room and just over 12 feet in the bedroom.
After marrying his wife in 1997, they sublet the apartment and moved out of the country. In 2009 the apartment’s longtime tenant was moving out so Mr. Somerville’s impulse was to sell the property. The couple and their teenage daughter were making plans to move into an 18th-century farmhouse in Armonk, New York, yet he had pondered over the years on how to make the nearly 25-foot vertically dimensioned small apartment more livable. He thought the place had a lot of potential and decided to renovate it and use it as a pied-à-terre. Enlisting the help of architecture firm Specht Harpman, whom he had collaborated with in the past, they came up with a solution to create four separate living platforms that would provide enough room for all the essentials and allow the apartment to feel open and light-filled, with no barriers. Via
The living room is furnished with a Gus* Modern Jane Bi-Sectional sofa (about $3,200 at Bobby Berk Home) and a Ligne Roset Pagnon & Pelhaître Crescendo table ($2,270). The baby alpaca throw is from Jonathan Adler ($295), and the Fillsta pendant lamp is from Ikea (about $30).
The bathroom is in the space formerly occupied by the kitchen. The walls are covered in Savoy Ricepaper and Crystal Glass Dew tiles from Ann Sacks.
The sunken kitchen is in what was once the dining area. The backsplash is painted with Benjamin Moore’s Harbor Fog and covered in glass. The Julien UrbanEdge 3647 undermounted stainless steel sink is from AF Supply (about $700). The blue glass candleholders are from C. Wonder.
The new kitchen, as elegantly compact as a ship’s cabin, has two burners and a convection oven, crisp glass backsplashes and a combination countertop-and-breakfast bar. (For formal meals, the coffee table can be elevated to dining height.)
The architect Scott Specht describes the apartment’s principal design element, the queen-size bed platform that cantilevers out over the living room, as the “object around which everything revolves.”
In the living room, the architects demolished the imposing, drywall-enclosed stairway on the eastern wall; the stair they substituted on the west side is lightly screened by vertical cables and resembles a Japanese tansu cabinet with multiple drawers and closets. The exposed brick throughout the apartment was painted a light-reflecting white.
On the third level, the enlarged bedroom contains a queen-size cantilevered bed platform that projects out over the living room. By leaving the space above the bed open to the living area, the architects were able to preserve views and bring in daylight from the windows facing the rooftop terrace.
The bedroom space once felt toxic and is now very soothing and comforting for the owners.
A second tansu-style stair leads to the terrace, on the apartment’s fourth level.
The owner’s of this Manhattan apartment, Rosanne and Huxley Sommerville, stated, “two people could live here full time quite comfortably — almost.”
The renovation cost about $400,000, but a good part of that cost was from being on the top floor and hauling things up, taking things down.
The 3-D model depicts alternating solids and voids, and artfully layered horizontal and vertical planes.
Pictures prior to the renovation:
The living room, before renovation.
The living room, before renovation.
The entry hall, before renovation.
The second flight of stairs, leading up to the apartment’s terrace.
Another view of the living area, before renovation.