This East Village apartment reinterprets New York’s architectural history
GRT Architects has designed the interiors for an apartment in the 1902 Onyx Court building, in New York’s East Village, inspired by local architecture history and featuring a series of rooms, each defined by a different mood
Manhattan’s East Village neighbourhood might be best known for its punk rock history and grunge aesthetic, but a historic apartment building known as Onyx Court nods even further back than that. Built in 1902 by Harde & Short – an architecture duo also behind other lavish New York apartment buildings, such as the landmarked Alwyn Court in Midtown – Onyx Court is a six-storey corner structure with decorative flourishes aplenty. Originally designed to house performers of Yiddish theatre (Second Avenue was nicknamed The Yiddish Rialto), the building was home to émigré opera singers, Oscar winning composers and other creatives before being turned into a co-op in 1983.
It’s from this rich, cultural landing point that the locally based firm GRT Architects built upon when renovating an apartment within the building. ‘Before we took on this project, we were only familiar with Onyx Court as passers-by,’ say founders Tal Schori and Rustam-Marc Mehta. ‘Engaging New York’s architectural history motivates us as designers, so we took the opportunity to educate ourselves about the building and [its] architects, and to take a close look at its interiors.
‘The building features beautiful mosaic work, not just in the lobby but also in the upper corridors – a somewhat unusual and delightful indulgence for a fairly humble East Village building. We had this on our minds as we designed the kitchen and bathrooms, using fun and unexpected mosaics laid out with contrasting colours, patterns and borders.’
Rather than draw literally from the building’s history, GRT Architects completely reconfigured the apartment’s layout with a new collection of rooms, organised by a corridor, demarcated by decorative parquet. ‘Our clients were looking for a home composed of a series of comfortable rooms, rather than a single open space,’ the pair say. ‘We made a number of changes that we felt supported this mood, while improving adjacencies, shared natural light, sight lines and spatial efficiency.
‘For instance, we straightened the entry corridor slightly so that it still retained its idiosyncratic character, but allowed for east-facing views from the moment you step inside. The kitchen previously made do with the least desirable windows and did not communicate with other spaces, as per 19th-century custom. We reversed this, but took care to recreate three discrete rooms – kitchen, living, dining – each with their own mood.’
The result is a harmonious environment filled with exquisite details. Asymmetrical niches and rounded openings in thick plaster walls honour the building’s idiosyncrasies, while in the semi-open kitchen, a low cabinet on brass legs and a suspended storage system blur spatial demarcations. Cabinetry, including custom oversized pulls, are made locally from white oak, while all hard surfaces feature two-inch mosaic, a nod to the original tile work in the building’s public spaces. The living room is elegantly connected to the adjacent dining room by a gently curved plaster cove. Here, a herringbone threshold, a full wall of built-in shelves that includes a sliding panel concealing a television, and a textured glass door that closes off a small office all work together in eye-catching unison.
‘More than anything, we wanted to select a palette in a way that felt intuitive and process-based, rather than aim for a certain look or period style,’ the duo sum up. ‘We and our clients love searching for and combining materials of different textures, scales and provenance.’ §