Out and About: Vintage spaces worth preserving

Kitchen of relatively recent vintage that needs not be preserved.

When I glance into some baths or kitchens that retain their original character and their nearly original condition, I confess turning a shade of green.

Not all buyers have the same reaction, however.

They see “old” when I see preserved.  They see potential to be realized when I see authenticity to be celebrated.

Kitchen that betrays its beginnings many decades ago.

They can’t wait to rip out the old tile in hues that have nothing to do with trendy colors.  They are eager to replace the sturdy old stove with an industrial-looking behemoth, a nicely enameled sink with one of stainless steel, handsome old cabinetry with solid cherry or maple, and beautifully aged and worn marble countertops with — well, you get the message.

As for the baths, out with the claw-foot cast-iron tub and in with a glass-enclosed Euro-style shower!

Search for “old bathtub” on the Internet and you’ll find on the first page numerous sites with information on the removal of same.

The thing is, there’s vintage and there’s just plain old, outdated, unworkable and unalterably ugly.

Kitchen that respects and evokes its past.

Sometimes, the only way to spruce up a vintage feature is to get rid of it.  Sometimes, the best course also is the most expensive: restoration.

I’m not one of those committed preservationists who believe that everything old ought to go untouched at all costs.  Nor do I believe that things — whether buildings or scarred and energy-hogging refrigerators from the ’50s — must be saved just because they have survived.

Some things are just too unexceptional or unbearably grotesque to merit saving.

Vintage makes me envious when it reflects time gone by, a worthy aesthetic and a usage that remains practical.

So, please don’t mindlessly slap a coat of Benjamin Moore on century-old mahogany woodwork just because it needs attention.  And don’t thoughtlessly excavate that old bath only if it offends your sense of today’s trends.

Happily, many share my point of view, from what I observe in the numerous properties I visit.  But many do not, and they are the ones whose short-sightedness betrays their lack of vision and appreciation for the past.

Below are some apartments that I have visited and that are listed by various other brokers:

  • In the mid 60s west of West End Avenue, a junior one-bedroom estate sale.  Its galley kitchen shown at the top, this co-op demands a gut renovation.  The apartment’s floors are execrable, the kitchen clearly needs to be gutted, the unit is on a low level, and the bath . . . well, the bath has to go.  On the plus side are the apartment’s 750 square feet, including the dining area that makes the co-op a junior one-bedroom, through-wall air conditioners and a balcony that is not suffocated by surrounding buildings.  In a large 1961 building that has a garage, nursery, garden and full-time doorman, this unit is offered hopefully for $499,000 with reasonable maintenance of $1,067 a month.
  • A classic seven-room co-op on Riverside Drive in the low 80s.  With three oversize bedrooms, formal dining room, three-and a half baths, sprawling eat-in kitchen, washer/dryer and views of the Hudson River from a low floor, the apartment also has great space, hideous décor, condition that is generally poor and plenty of potential in a  pet-friendly 1926 full-service building.  But no buyer is likely to believe the potential is worth realizing at the asking price of $3.955 million with monthly maintenance of $3,054.  This spread is temporarily off the market, probably for the rest of the summer. 
  • Between Broadway and Columbus Avenue in the low 70s, a handsomely renovated duplex condo that has two or three bedrooms, two of them in a glass-enclosed loft, and an excess of short staircases into most of the rooms.  There are a 20-foot ceiling in the living room; a wonderful kitchen with soapstone countertops, breakfast bar, very good appliances and cherry cabinets; a stylish bath up and down; oversize windows facing south on a low floor; and considerable closet space.  At $1.85 million with common charges of $1,327 and an ongoing assessment of $223 a month, the 1,683-sf apartment is fairly priced in a full-service 1926 building of unusually rich architectural interest and therefore changed hands at the end of May.
  • A 1,600-sf co-op in the low 100s between West End Avenue and Riverside Drive.  This three-bedroom, two-and-a-a-half-bath apartment, which had a necessary $100,000 price cut in April, has a somewhat awkward use of space.  But the modern kitchen open to a basically interior dining area that extends into the living room beyond is pleasing.  Although the baths have been upgraded, they don’t dazzle.  Exposures south are sunny, though walls block those from the west, including from the third bedroom.  There is a washer/dryer and the closets are more than adequate.  After the asking price of $1.899 million with monthly maintenance of $2,403 was cut by $100,000, the unit went under contract last month.
  • On a Central Park block of the mid 90s, a two-bedroom co-op with exposures south that are obstructed by nearby buildings.  Floors have been refinished, though imperfections remain, the layout is odd, closet space is barely adequate, there is a washer/dryer, cabinets in the otherwise okay eat-in kitchen are natural wood on one side and painted an unnatural yellow on the other, and the single bath has been updated unglamorously.  Offered originally at $925,000 with maintenance of $1,896 and an assessment of $226 per month, this apartment in a pet-friendly 1929 building with doorman and roof deck had a price reduction to $899,000 last month.  It should not sell for more than $850,000.

Tomorrow: Lookin’ good

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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

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