The Art House

Proof that it’s possible to have your real-estate cake and eat it, too: This five-story private home, with its expansive views and ample outdoor space, is actually perched on the roof of a nineteenth-century Tribeca building. The developers had started the townhouse (originally four stories) on top of 60 Warren Street but never finished it. “It was a shell,” says the owners’ architect, Andrea Ballerini. “And not even a good shell.”

The owners had been living in Chelsea, but when they saw this property, they realized it had the best of many worlds: great light, outdoor space, breathtaking views south, west, and north, and the feeling of a townhouse with the security of a doorman building. Its configuration and wall space would also let them display more of their significant contemporary-art collection. They agreed to an early closing in August 2001 and began an extensive renovation (they also added the fifth floor, which now houses a gym, wet bar, bathroom, and separate terrace).

Ballerini had already designed two other houses for these clients, so he knew that showcasing the art was paramount to the design. That meant putting Jenny Holzer’s three-story blue LED word display front and center, near the staircase, and adding more pieces of blown glass to the Dale Chihuly chandelier, because the original configuration wasn’t substantial enough. The Gerhard Richter painting recessed into the living-room wall appears as if it were created for the space. At first glance, a life-size Eric Fischl sculpture lurking in the doorway on one side of the master bath looks like the bogeyman looming to get you. Beyond the bath is the Jacuzzi room, where a portrait of Napoleon, rendered in Bisazza tile, surrounds the chrome tub.

Even the notoriously picky artists themselves approve of, and collaborated on, the space. “The blue vertical LED always was to go by the stair,” says Holzer of her installation. “I liked this plan because, however irrationally and optimistically, I thought of Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase and wanted to leave a ghost of that at the apartment.”

The ghost will go to whoever buys the apartment, as will the very substantial Chihuly (there’s a cherry picker stored in the building’s basement, which comes in handy for dusting it). The rest of the art is moving out—unless a prospective buyer really falls in love. “Everything is an option,” the current owner says with a smile. Next: What Went Wrong At Astor Place?

The Art House