Kind of Feels Like California, Doesn’t It?

Barbara Howard, daughter of Hollywood titan Jack Warner (as in Warner Bros.), once lived in one of New York’s more enviable places: a double-height apartment in the Gainsborough Studios on Central Park South, where she had a view of the rolling green-and-gray landscape of Central Park. For a daughter of California used to seeing lots of green, it worked—for a while. But Howard eventually tired of the cultural no-man’s-land of Central Park South. She wanted to live down in Greenwich Village, closer to friends and the New York Theater Workshop, where she is a longtime board member; she wanted a building that would welcome her Chihuahua, Zorro. But it had to have views and outdoor space so she could garden.

Howard had spotted one ideal place, a penthouse in an old converted hotel on lower Fifth Avenue, while visiting her friends David Kuhn and Kevin Thompson. In 2004, they told her it was about to go on the market.

Perfect. Howard bought it, and she put her favorite designers, M (Group)’s Hermes Mallea and Carey Maloney, to work. Having done houses for her in Palm Springs and Los Angeles, they knew how to transform the modestly sized apartment into something Howard would love: a cross between a Hollywood bungalow and a penthouse of the Rear Window era. To get the former, they painted the walls a pale creamy white from Donald Kaufman Color and brought in furniture from California maestros Paul Frankl and William Haines. For the latter, well, there are endless Greenwich Village views (augmented by a telescope), and three terraces.

The apartment’s haute-bohemian heart is a Moroccan-tiled kitchen that’s her favorite place to be—and cook and entertain. It features a long vintage wooden table and opens on to a terrace that is essentially a giant kitchen garden, planted with herbs, peppers, even an apple tree.

“I always wanted to have a terrace in New York,” says Howard. “Growing up in California, access to nature is just part of life.” But that’s only the tip of the iceberg. What makes Howard’s aerie so compelling are those three terraces—kitchen, living room, and bedroom—each with its own mood.

Howard surrendered the garden planning to Alan Schrier, the Webmaster at the New York Theater Workshop and a prolific gardener, although she adds: “I would like to say that I was in on every blade of grass chosen.” Schrier says, “The terraces just took on their own identities.”

A Mediterranean–cum–Californian feeling was natural for the kitchen garden (which also has a grill and a long dining table), while the south-facing terrace off the living room is more formal; that’s where Howard has guests for cocktails. Schrier decked it out grandly, with boxwood and white geraniums; wisteria and Virginia creeper vines wend their way right up to the building’s prewar water-tower cupola. And for the little gem of a terrace off the bedroom, he planted a privacy hedge of black pines, and put in scented pots of lavender and beach roses. “Isn’t it sweet?” says Howard. “I’ve fallen asleep out there.”

Barbara Howard wanted to be surrounded by greenery to remind her of the West Coast’s light and landscape. Her gardener, Alan Schrier, planted one of the three terraces with wisteria, climbing roses, and Virginia creeper.
Photographs by David Allee

On the small bedroom terrace, a privacy hedge is accented by pots of fern and geraniums, creating a little cocoon for Howard.

Howard cooks dinner for friends in the Moroccan-tiled, marble-countered kitchen that faces north, east, and south. Outside the door is a Mediterranean-feeling kitchen-garden terrace, where she grills and grows herbs and vegetables.

Mallea and Maloney wanted to invoke both the open ease of Howard’s California roots and the sophistication of her Hollywood heritage. The games table is Paul Frankl, and the pair of William Haines low chairs are replicas of ones that Howard’s father had in his screening room. The painting above the Mira Nakashima wood-slab mantlepiece is a Milton Avery.

Kind of Feels Like California, Doesn’t It?