Out and About: It’s wrong to gild a (faded) lily

This photo of a brownstone

Because we are moving into August, there will be just one more Out and About before Labor Day.  But you’ll find other posts, published somewhat less frequently than usual, until then.

Have a look at the photo at the left and consider how much you approve of painting over antique woodwork.

Having seen that wonderfully ornate woodwork, I suspect that someone has monkeyed with the photo. In person, I was turned off by many layers of paint that obscured the detail and failed to cover up numerous underlying flaws.  (Unfortunately, the photo doesn’t do the bannister injustice.)

It seems clear that the paint, as usually is the case, was a cost-saving shortcut that, to my mind, only amplified the defects in the woodwork. How lovely that ornamentation would have looked when repaired and polished. But how expensive the project would be.

Such corner cutting is typical of what I see in turn-of-the-century brownstones that have been divided into apartments, and I think that the measure is a short-sighted shame.

This lily obviously has not been painted.

I took the photo at the right, and I am sorry to say that it doesn’t come close to conveying the beauty of the brownstone’s interior. However, to my way of thinking, the authenticity of even faded glory is far superior to the artificiality of the gloss that too many antique interiors have had to suffer.

I suppose it is understandable that those who resort to wielding paintbrushes likely are inclined to act more out of a sense of economy than of aesthetics. While they seem to have little regard for historic preservation, perhaps they are less avaricious than pragmatic about their limited resources.

So, uncharacteristically, I don’t and won’t condemn them.

I just wish it could be different, you know, like I long for no more war, poverty or demagoguery. I can wish, but I’m realistic enough to know that the kind of changes I favor just ain’t gonna happen.

Below, you’ll find other listings I encountered on my rounds of open houses held by various brokers:

  • In Lincoln Square west of Broadway, an underwhelming one-bedroom apartment in which the owners fell in love with the same slate for its 12-year-old interior kitchen and bath.  This co-op in a full-service 1974 building sort of overlooks Lincoln Center, has standard-height popcorn ceilings, long and narrow living room, interior kitchen and a balcony.  Its twice-reduced asking price, from $750,000 in December, with high monthly maintenance of $1,624 and 40 percent cash requirement is in line with the market.
  • A two-bedroom, one-and-a-half-bath apartment in the mid 80s between West End Avenue and Riverside Drive.  With unusually attractive woodwork, gracious entry and views from the master bedroom and living room north over the thoroughfare below, this co-op has otherwise unpleasant courtyard exposures, a formal dining room and a dark galley kitchen in need of an upgrade.  In a 1924 pet-friendly doorman building, this unit was aggressively listed at $1.295 million with maintenance of $2,007 a month.  As of last week, a contract was about to be signed following two price cuts, finally to $1.195 million in June.
  • A beautifully designed studio apartment being marketed as a 600-sf one-bedroom in the low 100s between Broadway and Amsterdam Avenue.  Renovated three years ago by its owner/architect with supremely clever built-in storage, a rolling island for the stylish kitchen open to the living room and a sleek look bordering on glamorous, this ground floor unit in a 1938 building lacking a doorman has a dividing wall that seamlessly contains closets, TV and bookshelves.  But the so-called bedroom has a window opening into an airshaft, falling short of the window required for a bedroom.  After bouncing among four prices as high as $495,000 since February 2009, the listing has stabilized since April at $399,000 with maintenance of $851 a month and found a buyer last month.
  • On West End Avenue in the mid 90s, a classic-six-room apartment in excellent condition.  There are a handsome and practical kitchen open to a dining room suitable for casual entertaining, maid’s room, washer/dryer, two-and-a-half sensitively updated vintage baths, plenty of extra storage space, well proportioned rooms and northern exposures toward other buildings reasonably far away.  In a doorman building designed by Rosario Candela in 1920, this approximately 1,600-sf unit is well-priced at $1.595 million with monthly maintenance of $1,870.  Unsurprisingly, it went under countract in June.
  • An inviting 204-sf patio attached to a renovated duplex with two rooms used for sleeping in the basement.  Among the interior’s assets are exposed brick walls, high ceilings, top-end (albeit tight) kitchen, glowing hardwood floors and one and a half baths, the half being downstairs.  On the minus side are a spiral staircase, difficult layout for the living and dining rooms and, of course, those illegal bedrooms underground.  Including the basement, the apartment contains 950 square feet.  The co-op, which is in a 1910 building with 20 apartments in the high 70s west of Broadway, is offered for $799,000 with monthly maintenance of $1,339, and it is conceivable that someone will spring for as much as $750,000.
  • In the low 100s west of Amsterdam Avenue, a 900-sf corner co-op.  With one bedroom, inexpensively updated kitchen, partially blocked views across somewhat higher roofs, sunken living room and a dining area near the entrance, this basic apartment in a 1940 low-rise that has liberal policies and no doorman was offered for approximately $50,000 too much at $499,000 with monthly maintenance of $1,012 before being yanked off the market earlier this month.

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Malcolm Carter
Licensed Associate Real Estate Broker
Senior Vice President
Charles Rutenberg Realty
127 E. 56th Street
New York, NY 10022

M: 347-886-0248
F: 347-438-3201

Web site

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