Completed in an era when safari animals were turned into rugs, jardinières adorned drawing rooms, and whole walls of ornate boiserie were stripped from European estates, crated up, and shipped via ocean liner across the Atlantic, 106 East 71st Street offers a new owner the robber-baron-esque luxury of living in the storied East 70s. Located steps away from 740 Park Avenue, the luxury cooperative of luxury cooperatives, which was designed by Rosario Candela, the architectural darling of those in the market for massive, ten-plus room prewar simplexes duplexes, or triplexes securely surrounded by deep, substantial terraces, and constructed by the grandfather of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, James T. Lee, the location of this private townhouse is first among equals—peerless among glittering, venerable peers. The sizeable townhome neighbors of 106 East 71st Street are also extravagant, stately affairs; 9 East 71st street was designed by the matchless Horace Trumbauer, and transports you to Paris’ Faubourg Saint-Germain with its garishly sophisticated coterie of hôtel particuliers once belonging to the highest nobility of the ancien régime while the Henry Clay Frick House, located, fashionably, at 1 East 70th Street instead of a gaudy 5th Avenue address, spans the entire block width between East 70th and 71st Streets between 5th Avenue, was designed by Carrère and Hastings, the esteemed architects who designed well-known New York City edifices such as the Standard Oil Building, located at 26 Broadway, and the New York Public Library Main Branch Building, located at 476 5th Avenue. While the architectural pedigree of 106 East 71st Street is, shall we say, indeterminable, this home, with its finely wrought iron balcony, will no doubt serve as the central stone of some lucky magnate’s real estate diadem.
Upon being welcomed past the glossy double black doors, you are welcomed into the home’s grand entryway. The broken pediment over mantel, center table, Ionic columns, and black-and-white checkerboard marble floors all signal an abundance of wealth, while not much else. While these materials are to be expected, where is the panache, the individuality, the esprit de corps of the residents of this home with their residence? I imagine an entry space, which, while recalling the baronial past, strikes a different course as it looks to meld the lives of its owners with the building through the layering of different styles, eras, and aesthetic modes.
Similarly, the spiraling stairs, which allow the marble checkerboard to flow throughout the home, is devoid of any personal, interesting style or compositions. Instead, it falls back on old, borrowed forms that only detract from the homes expansive interior and heavenly façade.
Now the living room, or shall we say drawing room, is truly the pièce de résistance of the entirety of this home’s interior spaces: I can just see magnificently structural horse hair sofas mixed with midcentury Italian armchairs upholstered in emerald green velvet and wide Louis XV bergères of only the smartest provenance. While I appreciate the attempt at period detail with the tray ceiling, I would simply cove it all as a subtle homage to the central window.
There is always a time and a place for gilt surfaces, especially those of silver gilt, yet the dining room ceiling is neither the space nor the correct surface to which it should be applied. Why not save gilding or metallics in general for objects, not walls? I am a big fan of including items such as the silver pieces following the dining room picture in compositions as they have personality, durability, and history, both via Christie’s.
A silver, mokume and mixed-metal three-piece tea set. Mark of Tiffany & Co., New York, 1878.
A silver ice bowl. Mark of Gorham Mfg. Co., Providence, RI, 1870.
And, while I am always a fan of simple, clean white kitchens, this one seems to have been cut from the same cloth as the foyer and staircase—marble, marble everywhere, but not a personal touch to be found.
The intimate spaces of this home somehow lack intimacy, a feeling which the Russian tsarinas were even able to create within their imposing stone palaces. Where is the fantastic simplicity the exterior exudes to be found on the interior? Why is it that the public façade is so much more intimate than the interior personal spaces? How, and why, was this effect achieved? The romance of the exterior verandah is static while it should convey the romance of the walls within.
Here, on the rooftop terrace, another highly public space as the neighboring buildings’ windows peer down at it, that the truly spectacular emerges yet again; the balustrade, sectional, boxed trees, and deep green latticework create a truly three-dimensional space that is only attained elsewhere at street level, outside the home, and enjoyable to all, even those who, like me, do not possess either newly minted or generationally hoarded millions. And yet, it is in the large building on the right, the building composed of hanging gardens, 740 Park Avenue, the address of addresses, a place that taste and money most conspicuously intertwine, and it is just out of reach from this house, just across Park Avenue, very much like this structure’s relationship with grace: close but no cigar.
While researching this home, I became aware that it was originally a single family residence, that later was turned into a two unit building, and then reimagined yet again as a 10,000 square foot single family home. This is quite apparent on the basement and bedroom levels of the strcture.
The first time I was ever in New York City it was the tail end of June and I was 15 and walked along 5th Avenue from 59th to 96th Street, darting down each one-way street, sometimes past Park Avenue, like where this home is located, just to marvel at each and every magnificent townhouse. Their facades, floor plans, historic as well as modern interiors enthralled me—I was walking the same streets as the keen, inspired architects of the early twentieth century, a world where bus traffic stopped at 59th street and, until 1913, a world without income tax where limestone buildings with ballrooms and imported libraries spanned as far as the eye could see. It was this, the façade, that I fell in love with, and will always be in love with, no matter the interior.
106 East 71st Street is currently offered at $29,650,000 by Susan Verstegen Nolop and Janice Silver of Stribling. The home encompasses 6 bedrooms and 9 bathrooms all within approximately 10,235 square feet.
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