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Home Design 2002: Renaissance Man

Harlem historian Michael Henry Adams brings his neighborhood's eclectic past to his 122nd Street treasure trove.

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"I'm not interested in trying to evoke some particular period. I try to get bits and pieces of things that reflect all kinds of cultures and sensibilities, and combine them in a way that says something about who I am.”Most of us bring our work home -- which can be dangerous if you're an architectural historian. But Michael Henry Adams can't resist, filling his 122nd Street floor-through with objects from the city's many eras. A plaster cast of fruits and flowers was salvaged from the Audubon Ballroom, site of Malcolm X's assassination in 1965. A brownstone column capital was plucked from a condemned 145th Street tenement. "I don't like to think of myself as a scavenger,” he says, "but I like to take a souvenir of something that's about to be lost.” For the Ohio-born Adams, author of the forthcoming Harlem Lost and Found: 1765-1916 (Monacelli Press), keeping that history fresh is a priority both at home and on the job. "Beauty and elegance once existed in Harlem, and there's no reason for them not to exist in Harlem today.”

Adams's City Guide
Personal styling: "At Brooks Brothers 346 Madison Ave., at 44th St.; 212-682-8800, I buy shirts with detachable wing collars; they make a wonderful tie seem even more wonderful. In the summer I wear a straw boater, and in the winter I wear a bowler hat. They sell them at J.J. Hat Center 310 Fifth Ave., near 31st St.; 212-239-4368. They aren't cheap, but a bowler is something you'll have forever.”

Eating out: "The food's very good at Bayou 308 Lenox Ave., near 125th St.; 212-426-3800. Londel's 2026 Eighth Ave., near 139th St.; 212-234-6114 is a great neighborhood place. Also, a new coffee shop called Settepani 196 Lenox Ave., at 120th St.; 917-492-4806. One of the difficulties of Harlem life is just trying to find a sandwich and a salad.”

Antiques: "On 145th between Seventh Avenue and Lenox are two guys, Earl 212-281-6963 and Akbar 212-283-2190. Earl's is tiny, filled floor to ceiling -- to cheer myself up, I'll go there and look for the perfect $5 thing. Akbar has a great selection and a lot of things that genuinely rank as antiques.”

Opposite: Adams sits in a red leather reproduction eighteenth-century wing chair -- one of his highest-priced items at $75. At right, a plaster cast of Castor stands atop a salvaged capital. At left, a junk-shop chandelier sits on a granite baluster originally from Riverside Park. Behind him, a genuine (though unsigned) Robert Indiana love print.

Above: Adams has turned his front room into a salon, centered on his daybed, covered with American crewelwork, Chinese silk, and Indian mirrored throw pillows. Adams bought the chandelier, center, for $35 from the late Harlem antiques dealer Willy Stone; he has been accumulating the glass drops to hang from it ever since. The Directoire chair, at center, is a twenties reproduction. Visible through the candlelight is a Keith Haring poster, designed for an eighties Bill T. Jones performance.


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