NEW YORK TOWN HOUSES
Situated on a leafy street in Manhattan’s West Village, Jos and Annabel White’s six-storey town house has been extended, gutted and completely renovated to create open-plan interiors tailored for family living.
‘We drove the neighbours mad,’ says Jos White, talking about the three-year renovation of the family’s town house on one of the most desirable streets in Manhattan’s West Village. The Whites’ neighbours Anna Scott Carter and Graydon Carter, editor of Vanity Fair, who live a couple of doors away, were among those who experienced the worst of it. In a 2013 interview with Graydon, a journalist com- plained of the constant ‘bang and whirr’ from nearby building work. The most embarrassing moment, recalls Jos, was when the street had to be closed to crane in hardware for his rooftop office. ‘I heard one of the other neighbours mutter, “God. Who are these people?”‘
Jos is a successful British technology entrepreneur in his early forties. He and his wife Annabel, who is the former director of The Rug Company in New York, moved to Manhattan in 2001. At first, they lived in a classic Manhattan loft, which Annabel says she found cold: ‘I didn’t know how to make it cosy.’ But after Jos sold his technology company MessageLabs for £397 million in 2008, the couple bought their dream home in the West Village and hired the Carters’ architect Basil Walter to do the renovation. The resulting house is an enchanting mix: of grand and practical; open plan and intimate; English and American; playful whimsy – a mirrored disco ball in the main bathroom and a stuffed peacock in the main bedroom – bright colours and relaxed neutrals.
The entrance hall sets the tone with its custom-made wallpaper by London artist Marcus James. Rabbits, deer, horses and other English wildlife race over the top of ‘STOP’ signs, bridges, West Village cafes and other Manhattan imagery. From this small compressed space, guests step straight into an opulent 12-metre-long living area, with its Christopher Howe sofas, huge tapestries by contemporary artists Kara Walker and Julie Verhoeven, and a wall of modern windows opening on to the terrace overlooking the garden.
Most evenings, the Whites relax in the snug. ‘I get so excited to sit here and watch television, flick through a magazine or be on the computer,’ says Annabel. This cosy little room is lined with seventeenth-century wood panels bought on L’Isle sur la Sorgue – ‘It didn’t all fit quite right, so there are a couple of faked pieces,’ says interior designer Poonam Khanna, who, together with Annabel and her British interior-designer friend, Sarah Russell, was responsible for the decorative choices. The snug overlooks the tree-lined street and can be opened up to flow into the main space for parties. But most nights, the pocket doors are closed so the cou- ple can have some adult time away from their three young children, Sammy, 21 months, Ophelia, three and a half, and Fred, five and a half.
‘Annabel and Jos wanted a house that felt youthful, which had a lot of open community spaces,’ explains Basil. To achieve this, he pulled the house apart, stripping it back to its exterior walls and then painstakingly reassembling everything with subtle differences. Being a landmarked building, the 1840s façade had to look identical to the others on the street. But elsewhere there was room for improvement. Floors were put back at slightly different heights and at the back of the house two new terraces were added, along with large modern windows with muntin bars to echo the original windows and bring in extra light. Inside, Basil removed the old zigzag staircase and created a sculptural oval stair that acts as a light well, channelling light down from the rooftop home office.
The resulting house has the charm of the original, but it is essentially a modern six-storey layer cake. Perched on top of the original roof is Jos’s 11.6-square-metre home office. ‘We’ve set a precedent,’ says Jos. ‘It is something none of our neighbours have done yet.’ Because of the building’s landmark status, no additions can show from the street, not even a single brick. So Jos’s office had to be set back four metres from the parapet. On the garden side, it has an angled wall of glass windows, which cantilever up using a hand crank. The design is inspired by one of Basil’s favourite buildings, Pierre Chareau’s Maison de Verre in Paris. The interior was partly inspired by Jos’s favourite place, the Apple store in New York. Although, he grumbles, ‘It seems to be getting more and more cluttered every day.’
On a tour of the house, Annabel says: ‘I like my wardrobe black, but my life colourful.’ It’s no surprise, given her connection with The Rug Company, that she says it was all about the floors. A lot of the colour comes via the rugs. Her boldness often shocks friends, for example when she said she wanted a red stair runner. ‘They thought it would look very Hollywood,’ she says. But the Christine Van Der Hurd red silk dhurrie has a sensuous, liquid feel. ‘I love that it looks a little worn,’ she says.
The fifth floor is the children’s floor, with their bedrooms plus a spare room. The floor below is devoted to the main bedroom suite. The couple’s bedroom is decorated in restful neutrals and has its own terrace. The main bathroom has a shimmery interior: disco ball, silvery de Gournay wallpaper and hand-painted floral mirror by M J Atelier & Construction. Annabel laughs, ‘I don’t close the blinds, though I probably should.’
Underneath the main entertaining floor on the ground floor is the heart of the house, a huge basement family room devoted to eating, playing and lounging that opens on to the garden. ‘I’m always work- ing at the breakfast bar,’ says Annabel. ‘My kids are lined up here in the morning. We have lunch in the nook – which gives a nod to old- fashioned American diners with its curved green banquette and neon sign – and dinner at the table. ‘For the kitchen, Jos and Annabel were inspired by the fittings in their friends’ New York restaurant The Fat Radish. And by the street entrance, the children’s play nook was designed to give them a dedicated playroom but also to keep the clutter at bay. ‘I walk into a lot of my friends’ homes and there are toys everywhere,’ says Annabel with a roll of the eyes.
Standing in the grand landscape of the sitting room, Annabel looks as though she might need to pinch herself. ‘I never in my wildest dreams imagined I’d be in a home like this. I grew up in Wisbech, a small town in Cambridgeshire.’ But here she is now, one of the driving forces behind this elegant home with its clever balance of grand ges- tures and cosy spaces. The Whites couldn’t be happier with the result. ‘We really use it all,’ she says. ‘To me that’s a testament to good design’.
Architecture by Basil Walter and interior design by Poonam Khanna at BWArchitects bw-architects.com