March 30,2022

Robert A.M. Stern Revived This 1847 Townhouse for His Son’s Family

by David Stewart

This article originally appeared in the November 2014 issue of Architectural Digest.

When Courtney and Nicholas S.G. Stern set out to redo their New York City townhouse, there was little question about who would be on the renovation team. Nicholas is the head of Stern Projects, a high-end residential contracting company, and Courtney is an interior designer with her own firm, while Nicholas’s father is renowned architect Robert A.M. Stern. "It’s nervous-making to work for one’s son," admits the elder Stern, "especially since he’s a contractor. You’re not just building a house, you’re making a home for family."

The couple bought the four-story 1847 Greek Revival building in an estate sale in 2002, not long before they married. Despite its somewhat ramshackle condition, the structure was situated on one of the most charming blocks in Greenwich Village and had a number of winning features, not least its expansive 25-foot width, twin parlors, and large garden. After developing a master plan, the Sterns refurbished the garden and parlor levels for their own use while drawing rental income from the upper floors. However, in a few short years, after the birth of the first of their three children, the Sterns decided to complete the remodel of the house as a single-family residence.

Randy Correll, a partner at Robert A.M. Stern Architects who has known Nicholas since he was a boy, served as project architect. "Nick and I weren’t entirely sure how to approach the house at the beginning," he recalls. "There were many physical issues but also historic ones, and we wanted to make something that would respect history yet not feel like a period home."

The first phase of the remake dealt with some fairly major structural issues. Party walls with missing patches of brick were rebuilt, and the cellar was excavated about a foot to gain height for a basement rec room and laundry. A portion of the rear façade was also demolished and reconstructed several feet out, adding space on the garden level for an expanded kitchen as well as a dramatic new double-height sitting area that was created by removing a section of the parlor floor above.

"Words cannot describe the insanity of renovating an old house like this," says Nicholas with a chuckle. At the outset, he remembers, "There was an undercurrent in every conversation: If it’s old, we must save it!" Yet elaborate moldings, ornate marble mantels, and other ostentatious decorative elements didn’t sync with the couple’s unfussy tastes and casual lifestyle. Then one humid summer day—the home’s central air had not yet been installed—a chunk of ceiling came tumbling down. "I called my dad and asked, ‘Do we really have to save the moldings?’ He said, ‘No. They’re horrible. Get rid of them,’" Nicholas recounts. "That moment proved liberating for us—we decided we could do something that was sympathetic to the original structure and also attuned to our family."

  • David Stewart
  • March 30,2022

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