Striking Eight Story Townhouse in the Upper East Side, NY

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Upper East Side Townhouse was a renovation and re-decoration project carried out by Steven Harris Architects in collaboration with interior designer Rees Roberts + Partners, located in Manhattan, New York. The process took four years to complete, which involved excavating granite bedrock to create a basement pool, wine cellar, gym, and workshop. In this home, there is more than meets the eye, with a classic facade and building footprint that extends to the rear property line. Comprised of 8,500 square feet of living space, spanning over eight stories. There’s no central stairwell, as one might expect; each floor connects with the next at a different point.

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The building’s depth gave the design team a unique opportunity; rather than a traditional rear garden, the landscape architect created four distinct green spaces. There is a courtyard garden on the main floor; a terrace off the breakfast room, just big enough for alfresco dining; the rooftop lawn, complete with outdoor fireplace; and the very private viewing garden, meant to be observed but never entered. On this, the architect collaborated with Shunmyo Masuno, a Zen priest and noted garden designer, who flew in from Japan to install rocks chosen from the same quarry where Isamu Noguchi found the material for his sculptures.

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The colossal sized home began with a major gut renovation with even the joists being replaced. From there, the architects turned it over to the designer’s. At the time, the owner’s lived in Asia, so influences were carried over into this home. The townhouse was revamped in a baroque extravaganza of the late 1900s, with lots of columns, moldings, gilt and festooned drapery. Each space showcases its own character, informed by one of the family’s various passions. The master bath suite, for example, boasts a giant inlay of black and white stone polka dots reminiscent of Dorothy Draper; the floor of the wet room beyond is carpeted with spongy moss evocative of a Zen garden.

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Some rooms nod to interests as diverse as the quiet refinement of mid-20th-century Japanese design and the work of the designers Gilbert Poillerat and André Arbus, who were active in France during the same period. There’s not a recessed ceiling light in evidence, not a flat-screen in sight.

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 Photos: Scott Frances

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