Kate Copeland’s illustration of a classic brownstone façade begged the question: what’s inside? Having heard from our members which interior and architectural features make a townhouse, we commissioned this set of six illustrations – we love how Kate has captured the personality of a typical townhouse with these thoughtful studies. See more of Kate’s work on her site.
“We were enthralled with the scale and the authenticity of the building. But it was the size of the garden that sold us” said onefinestay member Mariza Scotch of her Prospect Place home. A private garden is one of the many rare treasures of a New York townhouse, as is being able to step into it through elegant French windows.
Floor-to-ceiling windows fill a room with light, tempt you with auburn leaves in fall, or at least remind you that you should definitely carry that umbrella today.
A warm welcome
Fireplaces are people magnets. Whether functioning or not, we congregate around them – and many New York townhouses count hearths among their best original features. As well as being the natural focal point of a welcoming living room, the mantelpiece is somewhere to rest an elbow or a glass of wine after a day in the city bustle.
These skilfully crafted features, captured here in marble, make a place memorable. The fireplace is a solid rock, weathering countless paint and decor trends, steadfast and proud. And it’s the ideal spot for a vase of fresh flowers.
History on your doorstep
An original stoop not only makes a handsome first (and last) impression, it’s often a sign that a townhouse has escaped being converted into apartments after the ’20s. Built to elevate occupants from sidewalk undesirables (note: horses were a common feature of the streets in the late 1800s), they are now desirable New York icons.
Like many aficionados, Peter Szule, Principal Architect at Moulin & Associates residential renovation firm, believes the unmistakable townhouse stoop is so integral to its character that removing one is architectural sacrilege. He says “It’s almost like cutting the nose off a face,” “Or the toes, if you will.”
“It might be evident from our home that we are both illustrators, as it has white walls, wooden floors and open-plan design offering a backdrop for our collections” says Steven Guarnaccia of his Lefferts Avenue townhouse. From honey to walnut, wooden flooring is steeped in character yet provides an inviting canvas for eccentric and tasteful furnishings.
“It didn’t need any major renovations when we moved in, just cosmetic accents like painting and sanding” said onefinestay member Kira von Eichel of the Grand Avenue Townhouse. This is the ethos of a townhouse owner, and the value of restored parquet or richly grained boards. It’s the embodiment of beauty and function – evocative of nature, craftsmanship and history – yet that doesn’t begin to explain the unfathomable pleasure of timber underfoot.
Going into details
Old House Journal likens plaster features to a family album, giving insight into history as well as providing an elegant detail. Here the smooth arch and mould-work is a glimpse of the original owner’s taste for European-style interiors. It’s not just pretty – up until the 1940s this technique was often used to accent structural features and has the added benefit of noise absorption and fire resistance.
Charles Eames said “the details are not the details. They make the design” and we couldn’t agree more. Considered plastering not only decorates structural features, but adds character and gives an insight into a building’s history.
On the up
There’s nothing quite like ‘vertical living’, a synonym for townhouse domesticity in the US, to encourage a feeling of mental (as well as physical) space. Ascend the stairs to bed or for a soak in the tub and you really are apart from the excitement of the kitchen, or whatever technology beckons in the living room.
In a city increasingly compartmentalised into apartments, having no neighbours above or below (or more importantly, none of their noise) means a townhouse becomes a sanctuary of calm – or, at least, of your own noise – amidst the metropolis.