Anyone who has ever tried to renovate so much as a bathroom knows the process is not without challenges. But turning a historic landmark with equally historic amenities into residences for modern-day living? That takes a project to a whole other level. Through all the obstacles, including a long list of very important people to please, comes the opportunity to bring an important — and beloved — building back to life and create a one-of-a-kind home.
Located in the Carnegie Hill neighborhood of New York’s Upper East Side, the elegant Carhart Mansion was designed in 1913 by architect Horace Trumbauer. (You may know him as the talent behind the Philadelphia Museum of Art, The Elms in Newport, Rhode Island, and many buildings on the campus of Duke University.)
Before it was purchased by developers in 2001, the building served as the home of the Lycée Français de New York and desperately needed restoration after 64 years of students walking through its halls. There was also the unfortunate matter of a three-story brick addition, built by the Lycée in the 1950s, that clashed with the original building’s French Neoclassical architecture.
To tackle these challenges, the developer brought on two award-winning architecture firms from different countries, each well known for their brilliant approaches to buildings with distinguished pedigrees: New York–based firm Zivkovic Connolly Architects and John Simpson & Partners of London. “When we got to it, given its use as a school over so many years, it was basically chopped up internally and generally run down,” says Don Zivkovic, founder and principal of Zivkovic Connolly Architects. The team set out to create an addition that would complement the Carhart Mansion both inside and out.
Modern Residences with a Classic Twist
Simpson and Zivkovic transformed the building into four sumptuous apartments, each seamlessly blending the new addition and the Trumbauer section. While all of the apartments boast elegant details, the duplex claims many of the mansion’s most distinctive period features. The building’s original Beaux-Arts staircase became the polished seven-bedroom residence’s private stairway, and an ornate, wood-paneled room became the grand salon.
“It required a lot of restoration, but interestingly it was one of the few spaces that were still surviving from the original mansion because the school used it as a library,” he notes.
A huge consideration for the interiors was how to preserve period details while making the spaces livable. “Although we wanted the interiors to be consistent with the exteriors, we didn’t want them to be so formal and stilted that they weren’t conducive to modern living,” Zivkovic explains. The soaring reception hall, with its original marble paving, leads into the salon and dining room creating the perfect flow for entertaining.
Even with the historic pedigree, none of the rooms feel stuffy or grandiose. The free-flowing kitchen, breakfast area and family room prove that a historic home can be comfortable and family-friendly. The architects also gave the duplex all the high-tech bells and whistles of a new build. “It’s items like electronic lighting and air conditioning controls, security, audio-video networks and energy-efficient components that really sustain the luxury and convenience of the modern lifestyle,” he says.
The architects ended up pleasing all the parties involved, even the building’s notoriously particular neighbors, who presented the project with the Carnegie Hill Neighbors Enrichment Award for Architectural Excellence. (The design also caught the eye of the architecture industry, winning both the prestigious Palladio and Stanford White Awards.)
Zivkovic is most proud of creating a cohesive structure that successfully blended old and new. “We didn’t want it to be exactly like the original,” Zivkovic explains. “We wanted to give it its own character.” While the future owner of the duplex may not know all the challenges that went into the creation of their home, they will no doubt enjoy the finished product: a piece of New York’s rich architectural history that’s kept up with the times.