In New York City, successful real estate outcomes are mostly a result of three qualities: sheer luck, patience, and nerve. George Fares, 56, a producer of television commercials, seems to have all three going for him.
In the early ’90s, after moving from a 300-square-foot studio located in Yorktown (rent: $265) to a one-bedroom home on the Upper West Side (rent: $1,100), he began looking at town houses.
Fares thought, vaguely, that he would like to live in a town house someday and that, in any case, it would be a good investment, particularly if he found a multi-family property.
It took five years before making a bid, for this late-19th-century home in Chelsea — a bid he lost. Six months later, the property was up for sale again, and he purchased it for just over a million dollars.
The house had five apartments, but its details — deliriously floral, marble fireplaces, moldings as intricate as the icing on a wedding cake, etched glass pocket doors — were all intact.
Fares’ own apartment had gone condo when he met a young architect, Julian King, now 44, who had worked for Richard Meier and Rafael Vinoly who practiced a kind of thoughtful, sensuous modernism that appealed to him.
King designed a sleek bachelor pad for Fares using white maple and concrete touches throughout.
As apartments in the town house became vacant, Fares asked King to spruce them up for the next tenant. Then, three years ago, the parlor-floor and ground apartments became empty, and Fares moved in. He and King planned a renovation that scooped out the contemporary mistakes but left all of the original 19th-century details.
On the parlor floor, a small tan bedroom with painted-over window transoms became a dining room and an airy open kitchen. The original kitchen, a cramped tiny box on the ground floor, morphed into the perfect master bathroom.
A glass wall onto the garden is practically invisible. Now, the “wall” is a sliding door that disappears, opening both the bathroom and the bedroom to the garden.
Everything was repainted white; the rough wide-planked pine floors were bleached; and the rooms were only modestly furnished, to give the details (those glorious moldings!) top billing.
Now there are all sorts of unique flourishes. The master bathroom has a solid-stone sink cantilevered out from the wall.
But unlike many versions of this minimalist fantasy, where the pipes are hidden in a wall which can be a nightmare to fix when the inevitable leak or clog occurs, King tucked the pipes into a slim teak bench with a mitered access panel. And when you open the medicine cabinet, you can see the brick of the wall between his town house and the next, a satisfying archaeological reveal.
King also pushed the kitchen wall out an additional 18 inches and hid all the ductwork inside it — a trick he learned while working for Mr. Meier on the Getty Center. The air now flows out from behind the gorgeous, floral molding, which was recreated by Architectural Sculpture and Restoration, a Brooklyn company that specializes in ornamentation.
Outside, the parlor floor deck is connected to the garden by a steel-and-teak staircase, alongside a stucco wall that masks the mechanicals. Topped with a planter of luscious ornamental grasses, it’s a lovely, spare volume.