Ode to Central Park
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Elizabeth Brooke Murray is a former contributing writer to The New York Times and features editor of Town & Country. She is the managing director of John B. Murray Architect, a New York firm specializing in city and country residences within a classical framework. She is the writer of Contemporary Classical Architecture: John B. Murray. The following is an excerpt from the book.
Urban archaeology. We are becoming known for our dexterity and ingenuity in making two apartments one with a stunning statement of a staircase. In this case, there were actually three apartments in an architectural icon on Central Park South designed in 1926 by A. Rollin Caughey and William F. Evans Jr. and completed in 1938. Because of the Depression, the building was constructed in fits and starts, depending on available funding.
We have taken many estate-condition apartments back to the bare systems in order to construct the vision of our clients, but in this instance, it was extremely complicated. And that was where the unexpected urban archaeology “presented” itself. As we prepared for construction, we learned that the lower floor must, at some point in the building’s history, been the very top floor. What did that mean? It meant that mechanical and plumbing systems were housed horizontally, which clearly was not in keeping with the vertical vision. With some patience and much team problem-solving, numerous hurdles and challenges were navigated to allow us to execute our clients’ vision.
Their concept for this New York City aerie was multilayered, rich in detail, always artistically considered. Within the horizontal and vertical 5,000 square feet of interior space, we were asked to establish a private suite for the owners as well as a graceful floor plan for entertaining family, friends, business colleagues. With a generously sized gallery, natural rift-cut oak library, study, and bar as well as the master bedroom suite, the lower floor can be a private enclave, or a space ready for the transition from office mandates to the business of serving as host. The library is warm and comfortable with deep honey-finished custom millwork. Flanking the hearth, the two paired Harmon hinge doors to the master suite have a refined design that, when closed, meet our clients’ request for privacy, yet, when open. permit an easy flow from the master bedroom to the library, which can serve as a sitting room.
Photo credit: Simon Upton (and featured image)
We are known for the design and installation of truly memorable staircases, but the unique history of this building posed unusual challenges. To make the vertical connection and install the staircase, we were forced to reconfigure a web of steel girders and beams. Then the magic of client and team creativity took place. The compositional genius was finding solutions to make a staircase that is remarkably gracious in scale, shape, and form and also works with the bones of the building. The staircase now serves as a strong interconnection of space as well as a very artful element with a play of curving stair stringer and bronze balustrade designed to flow with the elliptical curve of the wall. In order to draw light from an east-facing window into the stair hall and give the family room a truly unique central focal point, we designed an operable, bowed oval window in handblown glass with a patinated-bronze frame. Constructed as a complex curve, it follows the curvature of the stair hall wall and provides a distinctive visual connection as well as a series of thought-provoking internal views.
The Central Park views from this apartment are poetically breathtaking. How gratifying it was to work with our clients to transform a rotting, water-damaged terrace and balustrade into a lovely space with a basket-weave patterned stone floor! We inserted two sets of bronze French doors and a custom-designed glass-and-bronze balustrade to acknowledge the gift of the enchanting views. Our clients were so inspired by the luxurious greensward at their doorstep that they and interior designer Tammy Connor asked muralist Scott Waterman to paint intimate Central Park views to wrap around the lower gallery and up the staircase. Recognized with a Stanford White award, the finished architecture and art statement here is indeed a visual ode to Central Park.
Through a presentation of fifteen residences in Contemporary Classical Architecture, John B. Murray demonstrates the successful juxtaposition of classical elements in a contemporary context. It is available now for purchase everywhere books are sold.