Rethinking Ways to Divide Living Space (NYTimes)

IS there a mismatch between the housing New Yorkers need and the housing that gets built? Only 17 percent of dwelling units in the city are occupied by parents raising children under 25, according to the nonprofit Citizens Housing and Planning Council, but most new homes are designed with such traditional families in mind.

What is missing, housing advocates say, are homes for people who can afford only a little bit of space; living quarters large enough for four or more unrelated adults to share; and “accessory dwellings” for people who want to live close to family members who own single-family houses.

The absence of affordable housing for artists, actors, musicians and writers hoping to gain a foothold in New York is of particular concern. “We’re losing a lot of creative people to places like Buffalo and Berlin,” said Matt Blesso, a developer.

But developers like Mr. Blesso say city and state laws make it difficult to diversify the city’s housing stock. For example, it’s illegal to build units without kitchens and bathrooms or smaller than 400 square feet; and by law no more than three unrelated people are allowed to share a dwelling in the city.

David J. Burney, the commissioner of the city’s Department of Design and Construction, says “the regulatory environment has fallen behind” New York’s diverse population.

Last Monday, several architects presented their ideas for new types of housing for low-income New Yorkers. “We asked them to break the rules,” said Jerilyn Perine, the executive director of the Citizens Housing and Planning Council, which organized the conclave (along with the Architectural League of New York). Five city commissioners were on hand to critique the proposals.

Deborah Gans, an architect from Brooklyn, proposed adding tiny accessory units to a Tudor-style single-family house in Queens, some of them clinging to the original building. (Panelists referred to it as the barnacle approach.)

Rafi Segal, an architect who collaborated with Stan Allen Architect, also of Brooklyn, showed plans for a low-rise building in which prefabricated housing units would cluster around large light wells, with communal kitchens and shared bathrooms. It quickly became known as the urban kibbutz.

And a team headed by Peter Gluck, a Manhattan architect, showed how it might fit 20 small units — dubbed microlofts — onto one town-house-sized lot. Joseph Vidich, a young designer who worked with Mr. Gluck, said of the team members who are recent graduates struggling to find affordable housing, “We are part of the constituency we are designing for.”

Most of the designs were descendants of the once-common (and sometimes reviled) single-room-occupancy hotel. As Jonathan Kirschenfeld, an architect based in Manhattan,  said while presenting his plans for buildings in the Bronx, “This is the S.R.O. redux.”

But not everyone was excited by that prospect.  Robert D. LiMandri, the commissioner of the Buildings Department, said, “We need to enforce existing building codes, to keep people out of harm’s way.”  Mr. LiMandri said that when he looks at some of the designs, “I think to myself, how is the fireman going to get in there?”

Other speakers questioned the viability of communal spaces.  Ted Smith, an architect and developer from San Diego who is known for creating shared houses, said expecting a group to take care of a space is “always a mistake.”

And Mr. Smith was skeptical of the notion that convertible furniture — Murphy beds and desks that become dining tables — would make housing more affordable.  “It costs more to buy the furniture than to make the room bigger,” he said.

Alexander Garvin, an urban planner, said designs involving windowless rooms might require so much electricity for lighting and ventilation that the cost savings would disappear.

But mostly the architects, activists and government officials were upbeat about the possibility of creating new housing types.  “Everyone knows someone who would be well served by one of these designs,” Ms. Perine said.  She said she was hoping to realize one or more of the designs in a pilot program, with government cooperation, and was also organizing a museum exhibition to bring the public into the discussion.

And Mr. Blesso said that if the laws were changed to permit some of the housing models he had seen, “I’d want to be the first to build it.”



A Treehouse Grows In Brooklyn (NYTimes)

“I THINK everyone has this special place in their brain — a primal nostalgia — for a treehouse,” said Alexandra Meyn, bundled up in a sweater on a recent afternoon inside the airy perch she built behind her garden apartment in Brooklyn. “People’s eyes light up when you tell them you have a treehouse.”

Secured to a solid old mulberry, Ms. Meyn’s treehouse conjures up childhood only if you were a really cool kid. The interior is covered in a collage made from the pages of fashion magazines; an electrical cord that stretches from her bedroom powers a string of lights and a record player. There also are pink bats on the wall, and glass windows that dangle on the ground-floor level like earrings.

When she completed the house six weeks ago, Ms. Meyn invited friends over for a masquerade party. “It’s fun to have people up here and talk, talk, talk,” she said.

But its construction also reflects adult realities. Like her desire for a retreat from the hardscrabble surroundings of her Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood. And the reason she poured her creative energy into such a quixotic structure in the first place: since graduating from Pratt Institute in May 2011 with a degree in interior design, she has been unable to find an internship or a job. “I decided to create my own,” said Ms. Meyn, 33, who seems determined to remain upbeat even as she continues to send résumés into the ether.

By building the treehouse, Ms. Meyn thought she could teach herself some practical design skills, and indeed she has. Working with a $400 budget, she learned to source materials on the cheap, finding doors and windows in the trash and buying the floorboards, paint and other items at Build It Green, a nonprofit organization in Queens that sells inexpensive reclaimed supplies.

Ms. Meyn also learned to balance an ambitious blueprint with reality, which meant building the 17-foot-tall treehouse on a sturdy, raised platform instead of suspending it from the tree’s trunk, as she had initially planned. “Since it’s my first one, it’s a little blocky for me, aesthetically,” she said of the conventional, boxlike dimensions. “But I put safety first.”

There were other lessons, too — trickier things like how to get around the city building-permit requirement (make the treehouse just small enough so that it qualifies as recreation space) and how to create sightlines that ensure her privacy when she sleeps in the house on summer nights. “I’m not an exhibitionist,” she said. “I don’t have that voyeuristic thing, either.”

As for enlisting a construction crew, Ms. Meyn discovered another truth: “It’s hard for people to say no when you say, ‘I’m building a treehouse, man.’ ”

The idea of building a treehouse was suggested to her a year ago last summer as a way to brighten her spirits, when she was hanging out with friends, fretting about job prospects. Soon after, Ms. Meyn, who calls New Orleans home and displays that city’s offbeat spiritualism and love of festivity, held what she described as a tree-blessing party. “There was this really special hand-sewn ribbon that had been given to me,” she said, “and I wrapped it around the tree with sunflowers, and we all gave a toast to the tree.”

She checked out a few treehouse Web sites, read a book outlining the basics and had the frame up and a roof on by October 2010. This past summer, Ms. Meyn completed the detail work: creating the wall collages; building a recessed light box for a small shrine; fixing the hinge of a French door so it swings out instead of in.

The cobbled-together structure is a mix of wood and tin, sleek and rough-hewn surfaces, refined and bohemian elements. It’s a style that reflects Ms. Meyn’s personality, said Jason Holmes, a friend who is a carpenter and helped with the construction. He called it “Southern funkiness.”

“There’s an aesthetic in New Orleans that’s rustic and funky and weathered in a way that you only see in a warmer climate,” Mr. Holmes said. “It’s the same aesthetic I see in Alexandra’s work and her treehouse.”

Ms. Meyn’s treehouse may be funky, but it’s proven to be sturdy, too, standing up to a tornado and last December’s blizzard. In recent weeks, she has made the 40-square-foot space waterproof and airtight, and plans to use it as a painting studio this winter.

“It’s a pride issue,” she said. “It’s one thing to say I have a treehouse; it’s another to say I have a space that’s protected from the elements.”

Meanwhile, Ms. Meyn continues to look for a job that will allow her to design larger projects. But while she waits, she said, “having the treehouse helps a lot.”


The House of Annotated Corks (NYTimes)

MICHAEL MENTESANA, the grandson of Italian immigrants on both sides of his family, grew up in a red brick house in Marine Park, Brooklyn, on a quiet street not far from Sheepshead Bay. His father was a dental technician; his mother was a nurse. There was a basketball court in the backyard, along with his mother’s small garden, heavy on roses and mums.

Mr. Mentesana lived in this house while attending Brooklyn College and as a graduate student at Columbia University. Between 1999 and 2002, with a timeout after the attacks of Sept. 11, his home was Battery Park City, followed by what he describes, only half joking, as two years of living in his Volvo. “I didn’t exactly sleep in it,” Mr. Mentesana said, “but practically. I was traveling a lot, staying at hotels and with friends, and I didn’t have a real home.”

Today he has a very real home, the 2,400-square-foot duplex on West End Avenue that he shares with Nancy Schueneman, his fiancée, who arrived in the summer of 2010. The household also includes Derby, his Rhodesian Ridgeback puppy.

Judging by Derby’s multiple beds, she is clearly the apple of her owner’s eye. One suspects that when alone in the apartment, she has also been known to curl up on the inviting-looking sheepskin rug in the living room, even though that’s not really allowed.

Mr. Mentesana, 37, works as a consultant in the field of biopharmaceutical research and development, and his home sometimes does double duty as an office. More important, the duplex allows Mr. Mentesana, an enthusiastic amateur chef and wine collector, to indulge his culinary passions.

Along with an impressively equipped kitchen, the apartment has room for 30 people to gather around his Stickley dining table. He has enough glassware to entertain 140 at a party. And with five Sub-Zero refrigerators — one full-size, three smaller units dedicated to wine, and a bar fridge that fits under a counter — guests never leave thirsty.

His building, at 87th Street, is one of West End Avenue’s Art Deco beauties, and in 2005 he bought a one-bedroom on the sixth floor for $685,000. “It was an utter mess and needed to be gutted,” Mr. Mentesana said, “and I’d just started work at PricewaterhouseCoopers.” But he recalled the words of his grandfather Sabato Siano. “As he always used to say, ‘I’ll sleep when I’m dead.’ ”

Three years later, when an equally disreputable one-bedroom just downstairs became available, Mr. Mentesana bought that one, too, for about the same price, and with the help of his contractor, Jim Prousalis, and his architect, Alexander Gorlin (“my invisible pen,” as Mr. Mentesana describes him), proceeded to create a duplex. The cost of the renovation, including appliances, was $800,000.

The two levels are linked by a handsome open staircase supported by a single steel beam. Every time Mr. Mentesana heads up or down, he passes his treasured “Yellow Submarine” poster, a reflection of his unexpectedly retro musical tastes. Don’t be surprised to hear Simon and Garfunkel wafting from the sound system tucked away in a closet.

Despite his affection for vintage rock, Mr. Mentesana’s aesthetics are very much of the moment, and his duplex is sleek, streamlined and high-tech, right down to LED lights, many subtly recessed behind walls and panels. Finishes are luxurious and come with impressive pedigrees. Along with marble, black granite and powder-coated steel, surface coverings include blue glass tile from Murano, volcanic stone from Pompeii and slate from the Lake District in Britain.

Mr. Mentesana has strong opinions on handles — “I don’t like them,” he said — and that’s clear from the soft-close drawers and handle-free closet and cabinet doors. Nor are these the only ingenious touches that a visitor might not notice unless Mr. Mentesana pointed them out, among them invisible drains in sinks and closets so cunningly designed they’re practically invisible.

As one might suspect from the contents of those Sub-Zero fridges, wine is a huge part of Mr. Mentesana’s life, and his trove includes nearly 1,000 bottles. “Even when I lived like a hobo,” he said, “I collected wine.” Bowls scattered around the apartment hold hundreds of corks — “I expect to be buried in my corks,” he said — and each bears a scribbled notation, such as French Laundry, reminding him where and when the wine was consumed. It’s no surprise that Mr. Mentesana named his dog after a cocktail, the Brown Derby, and he boasts that he can fill any drink request at his bar.

He can also cook almost anything; a recent spur-of-the-moment dinner featured homemade gazpacho, ricotta figs and rosemary bread. Ms. Schueneman, who is more of a baker, lets her fiancé bask in the culinary limelight, or as he sums up the arrangement, “She allows me to be the chef and she takes more of a sous-chef role.”

When not bent over his Wolf stove or one of his two stone farmhouse sinks, Mr. Mentesana is a busy man. He climbed Machu Picchu in Peru — he has photographs to prove it — and he’s a part-owner of a watch company and a bar in Queens. He juggles. He plays the drums. But despite the high-tech décor and relentless schedule, what strikes a visitor is how much these rooms are permeated with a sense of Mr. Mentesana’s family, especially Mr. Siano.

He lived in Middle Village, Queens, not far from where Mr. Mentesana grew up, and played a major role in the family’s life. When Mr. Mentesana’s father died in 1999, that role grew even greater. “He really became the bedrock of the family,” the grandson said.

A framed certificate dated August 1944 and titled “Testament to Neptune: Solemn Mysteries of the Ancient Order of the Deep” hangs on one wall. The document was presented to Mr. Siano when he first crossed the Equator aboard a Navy ship. Mr. Mentesana also has his grandfather’s military discharge papers and his dog tags.

Mr. Mentesana credits his grandfather for his love of cooking, and Mr. Mentesana compiled a cookbook of his favorite recipes after he died in 2007 at the age of 90. A robust-looking Mr. Siano, standing in his backyard and holding two plump tomatoes, beams out from the cover. Inside are his recipes for such dishes as rabbit gravy and Grandma Maria’s pepper cutlets.

“He filled our lives with love,” Mr. Mentesana said. “He was a military officer, a father, a grandfather and most notably our chef. He had a contagious energy which was felt by everyone he came into contact with. Sal always left them wanting more.”



A Minimalist Loft, With Touches of Chipotle (NYTimes)

MARK CRUMPACKER, a branding expert who created the original Chipotle Mexican Grill logo in the 1990s, became the company’s chief marketing officer three years ago. His partner, Tim Wildin, is the corporate director of concept development, a job Mr. Crumpacker helped him land.

“I wanted to join the team really badly,” Mr. Wildin said.

So it’s not surprising that the couple’s loft was designed by Thaddeus Briner of the New York firm Architecture Outfit, the architect responsible for the design of a number of new minimalist Chipotle restaurants, as well as ShopHouse, the company’s experiment with fast-casual Asian food.

The couple bought the 2,100-square-foot apartment, on a commercial block of West 13th Street, two years ago from the actor Benjamin Bratt for $2.5 million.

Mr. Crumpacker, 48, a graduate of Art Center College of Design, sketched the idea for the renovation. “I’m the concept guy,” he said.

Mr. Wildin, 31, is the implementer. In this case, that meant dealing with the contractor and the architect. The latter aspect of his task wasn’t difficult because he already had plenty of experience working with Mr. Briner on ShopHouse.

“I speak Thaddeus fluently,” Mr. Wildin said. For those unfamiliar with Mr. Briner and his philosophy of design, a single line from the Architecture Outfit Web site says it all: “Simple is usually better.”

The renovation, which cost $800,000, took 15 months and was completed in March .

One bedroom was removed to open up the living and dining area (there are now two bedrooms). Soundproofing was installed in the wall adjoining the building’s communal hallway and in the ceiling, where a series of rectangular gypsum board “clouds” conceal recessed lighting and indirect fluorescent tubes along the edges of the apartment.

A row of cast-iron columns that was featured prominently in Mr. Bratt’s home has disappeared into new bathrooms and closets, but the design preserved the whitewashed brick.

“To me, it’s very Mercer Hotel lobby-looking,” Mr. Wildin said.

Mr. Crumpacker insists that their intention was not to create a “luxury Chipotle,” but colleagues have noticed connections, most notably the large walnut-clad volume that sits off-center in the space, stopping just short of the ceiling. It bears an uncanny resemblance to the free-standing plywood forms Mr. Briner designed to contain restrooms and drinks stations at the restaurants.

This volume, however, holds a laundry room, a guest bath, a home office alcove, a pantry and plenty of storage.

The design devotes so much space to storage, in fact, that some closets are still nearly empty. “We’re organized down to the built-in doggy crate,” Mr. Wildin said.

On a recent Sunday, he stood at the kitchen island, which functions as something of a command center for the apartment.

“I live at the counter,” Mr. Wildin said, “chopping and answering e-mail.” A small hole in the statuary marble surface allows him to plug in an iPad, he said, from which he can adjust the room’s lighting and the window shades.

Pivoting, tongs in hand, he pressed hanger steaks marinated in chili-and-fish sauce into the Gaggenau Vario teppanyaki grill behind him.

“Mark, can you get a silver presentation plate, like your Nambe?” he asked.

Then he filled it and placed it in front of guests seated around the enormous Saarinen pedestal table in the dining room.

“It’s a ShopHouse cut,” he said.


In Brooklyn, Space and Light Meet Woodwork (NYTimes)

PROBLEM: You like Midcentury Modern furniture and bright colors. But the dining room in your old house has its original walnut panels. It is formal and dark, and your husband does not want to paint it.

Solution: Punch out part of the wall, add casual stools and let your bright modern kitchen shine through into the dining room.

The Prospect Park neighborhood in Brooklyn is rich with 19th-century brownstones and homeowners who love Victoriana and period detail. Laurie Lieberman, 56, an architect, is not one of them.

What appealed to her about the 1910 town house she shares with her husband and college-age children was not the preserved leaded windows on either side of the foyer or the building’s history (previous owners include former Gov. Hugh L. Carey and the writer Pete Hamill). Ms. Lieberman liked the spaciousness of the rooms, which were much wider than those of classic brownstones, and the light, which she knew would only increase when she got rid of the dark colors the previous owners had painted the walls.

Ms. Lieberman and her husband, Dr. Edward Telzak, an infectious-disease specialist, both like Midcentury Modern furnishings. Two teal Saarinen chairs in the foyer offer an unexpected burst of modern style and color when you enter the house. There’s a Piero Lissoni sofa in the living room, and Fritz Hansen tray tables.

The furniture in the 18-foot-by-19-foot master bathroom is by Greta Grossman and was collected by Ms. Lieberman over the years. (The two side tables she bought on eBay for $700; recently, she said, she saw one on 1stdibs, for $1,600.)

She had not been happy with the narrow galley kitchen, which was 22 feet long and 7 feet wide when the family bought the house 13 years ago, or with what she calls the “overly grand” paneled dining room adjacent to it.

All the kitchen appliances were crowded on one side, along with an unused stairway to the basement rental apartment. The counter space on the opposite wall was narrow. The counter itself had a busy, dark pattern that resembled leopard skin, chosen by the previous owner because it was forgiving of food-prep mess.

And when she was preparing a meal in the kitchen, Ms. Lieberman felt cut off from family and guests in the dark-paneled dining room. She would have liked to paint the paneling white, but her husband objected.

Last year, they finally arrived at their solution. Ms. Lieberman opened and pushed out an 11-foot section of the wall separating the two rooms. The open space, which has a wide counter, was fitted with pocket doors that can be closed for formal dinners. Pushing back a section of the wall also gave the kitchen more counter space, as did demolishing the unused stairway.

Her goal, Ms. Lieberman said, was to create a contemporary look that wasn’t completely incongruous with the period paneling. While she used Marmara white marble for her counters (a soft stone she would probably not choose for a client, she said, because it can easily scratch), she chose medium-toned wood cabinets and blue-green glass tiles to complement the dark wood paneling.

All the cabinets are custom-made, and their glass doors flip open; Ms. Lieberman likes the easy access of open shelving, but not the way it collects dust. The cabinetry, a job that included matching old panels with new in the dining room, was done by W. R. Woodworking and Finishing in Brooklyn, and the total cost of the kitchen renovation, including appliances, was between $85,000 and $90,000.

Ms. Lieberman acknowledges that the cabinetmaker and the contractor gave her special rates because she had recommended them in her work as an architect over the years. (The cabinetmaker, for example, charged $15,000 for the cabinets, the pocket doors and refitting the panels; his usual rate would have been three times that.) Someone without those connections, Ms. Lieberman said, would have probably paid about $140,000.

The makeover isn’t quite complete. Ms. Lieberman would like to replace the blond wood Heywood-Wakefield dining table and chairs. But with children still in college, a new dining room set will have to wait a few years.


Consumer Beware; Information on the InterWeb

What is becoming an increasingly bigger problem on the Internet is the amount of information available.  We live in a country which guarantees freedom of speech, so should the government step in when it can be harmful to its citizens.

Blogs, bank accounts, drivers licenses, pictures, addresses, phone numbers and everything else you can think of is just a click away on the world wide web.

Professor, software developer and author, Herbert H. Thompson decided to run his own experiment ‘to see how vulnerable people’s accounts are to mining the Web information.’  Thompson asked his friends permission to attempt to hack into their accounts.  The results were staggering.  Access to a few simple things such as a Google search, a public blog and online resume he was able to ascertain bank information by logging onto his friends’ email accounts.  “To be clear” Thompson wrote in his article for American Scientific in August 2008 “this isn’t hacking or exploiting vulnerabilities, instead it’s mining the Internet for nuggets of personal data.”

Now, this was in 2008, almost four years ago.  Imagine what people who are just ‘mining the Internet’ are capable of now.

I have always been a fan of regulation.  I am an idealist at heart and want to believe that my government is going to work in my best interests, protecting me every step of the way.  But not everyone feels this way.

When talking about government regulation we walk a fine line of freedom versus security.  If we allow the government to begin to regulate the Internet we will be allowing what countries like China and Russia already do; they censor.  In comparison, countries like Spain, Germany and France use their Internet regulation solely for the purpose of protecting its citizens.  Websites that are seen as an invasion of privacy such as GoogleMaps are not permitted.  As a whole, the European Union is always quick to prevent privacy invasion, where as the United States usually always leans towards “laissez faire.”

One of the biggest problems with this glut of personal information is that we put it out there.  The internet gleans most of it’s information from consumers.  We upload pictures on Flickr, use online banking, put our birthdays on FaceBook and we blog intimate details about our life.  More than that, when we sign up for things online, anything, shopping, newsletters or a new email account, who really reads the ‘terms and conditions’ for all we know we could be selling our souls.  But what can be so bad, everyone else does it, right?


Breaking With Traditional (NYTimes)

Upper Brookville

SECLUDED on almost five acres, on a hilltop at the end of a cul-de-sac, is a cedar-sided contemporary home custom-built in 1987.

Its pewter doors open onto an atrium with a plexiglass dome, a free-standing floor-to-ceiling double-sided fireplace in marble, and a sunken wet bar. Floor-to-ceiling glass across the back of the house offers views across Oyster Bay Harbor and the Long Island Sound to Connecticut. An indoor pool complex has a retractable roof, sliding glass doors, a spa, a wet bar and a cabana with full bath.

The house has four bedrooms and four and a half baths; the master suite is on the first floor. The list price is $2.149 million.

Yet up the street in this posh neighborhood, on lots about half the size of the contemporary’s, two six-bedroom colonials, one built in 1986, the other in 1990, are listed for more money: $2.495 million apiece.

David Brandt Walti of the North Site Realty Corporation in Syosset, the listing agent for the 5,300-square-foot one-of-a-kind contemporary, described it as “architecturally stunning.” And although he knows the challenges of trying to sell a contemporary on an Island where the colonial is king, he took time to extol the virtues of his listing.

“A colonial is a colonial,” Mr. Walti said. “A classic home is a classic home, and there is very little you can do.” But a contemporary gives a buyer flexibility to be “as creative as you want.”

Speaking of creativity, however, brokers often need a lot to sell such properties. They may start out listing a contemporary as a “postmodern, or estate, or two-story house,” said Sandi Lefkowitz, the sales manager of the Glen Head, Sea Cliff and Old Brookville offices of Daniel Gale Sotheby’s International Realty.

While a contemporary on a large North Shore lot might be listed at $2.1 million, she said, a “good-looking colonial” on the same block could be $2.4 million.

Laura Smiros, a partner with her husband, Jim, in Smiros & Smiros Architects in Glen Cove, wrote in an e-mail that unless contemporaries are considered “one of the very special ones,” they “took a beating on resale” and have “been selling for less than traditional homes since the mid-’90s.”

And Ms. Lefkowitz said that because only very specific buyers — including Europeans, Asians and a younger clientele — will consider contemporaries, “the price has to be adjusted to reflect it.” But although the sellers sacrifice a little, the buyers “are going to get a better value.”

She continued: “It’s like fashion. You go with what’s popular. The traditional colonial is what most people want.” Most homes being built, whether for $500,000 or $5 million, “they are cookie cutters; most of the homes are different forms of colonial.”

Similarly, split-levels, like high or raised ranches, have “never been top of the appeal line.” Splits are also “a good deal,” but mostly in the $500,000-to-$800,000 range. Contemporaries, which could be considered “retro art,” don’t have a price limit and  “by and large tend to be over a million dollars,” Ms. Lefkowitz said.

According to the Multiple Listing Service of Long Island, the 191 Nassau County homes checked as “contemporary” under “housing style” on listing forms have a median list price of $1.388 million, and the 23 homes described as “postmodern” have a median of $1.549 million.

Of the 36 homes on the market in Upper Brookville, the 18 described as colonials span the widest price range, from $1.469 million, for a two-acre property, to $10.99 million for one on five acres. The one postmodern, on two acres, is listed for $1.86 million, and the three contemporaries range from $2.149 million, for Mr. Walti’s listing, to $2.399 million for a 15-room 1989 house. Prices on the five expanded ranches, two farm ranches, one split-level and one raised ranch are grouped at the low end of this pricy market, ranging from $1.098 million to $1.875 million.

Some brokers have noticed more interest in contemporaries recently. Donna Marie Chaimanis, a managing director of Laffey Fine Homes’ Luxury Portfolio, said that with 43 contemporaries and 15 postmoderns out of 500 Gold Coast listings on the market over all, in the last two weeks she had had “more showings on my contemporary listings than on my traditional homes.”

Faith Kanen, an associate broker with Shawn Elliott Luxury Homes and Estates, says cash buyers, many foreign, are “drawn to contemporaries.” She is hoping one will pounce on her 7,000-square-foot listing in Brookville for $1.79 million. It has been on and off the market for a few years, and was first listed for more than $3 million.

David Chotan, who started building contemporaries in the 1960s in areas like Kings Point, Kensington, Old Westbury and Brookville, said that though resales had been slow, he believed contemporaries had “held their value.” He may soon find out. He recently listed his own 25-year-old four-bedroom six-and-a-half-bath contemporary with indoor pool in Old Westbury for $2.698 million.

“The last few years it’s been traditional homes all the way,” Mr. Chotan said of his own business, though recently there has been a “resurgence” in contemporaries accounting for as much as 30 percent of his new work.

During the contemporary’s heyday in the 1970s and 1980s, Brian Shore, a Locust Valley architect, designed many. More recently, he said, he built “a modern house in drag” in Old Brookville, clothing the stucco exterior with a more traditional, turreted look, though on the inside the home is strikingly contemporary.

“Doing a modern house is riskier in the sense that there is such an inventory of traditional homes on Long Island,” Mr. Shore said. “There is a familiarity and comfort with a traditional home.”


A Genius of the Storefront, Too (NYTimes)

WHEN the architect Peter Bohlin arrived for his first meeting with Steve Jobs, he wore a tie. “Steve laughed, and I never wore a tie again,” Mr. Bohlin recalled.

Thus began a collaboration that has extended from Pixar’s headquarters, completed in 2001, to more than 30 Apple Stores (and counting) around the globe, all with design work by Mr. Bohlin and his firm, Bohlin Cywinski Jackson — and Mr. Jobs himself.

“The best clients, to my mind, don’t say that whatever you do is fine,” Mr. Bohlin said last week, a few days after Mr. Jobs’s death. “They’re intertwined in the process. When I look back, it’s hard to remember who had what thought when. That’s the best, most satisfying work, whether a large building or a house.”

Just as Mr. Jobs transformed the notion of the personal computer and the cellphone, he left an indelible stamp on architecture, especially the retail kind, traditionally a backwater of the profession.

“No one in commercial architecture has ever channeled a product into architecture for a client the way Peter did for Apple,” said James Timberlake, a founding partner of KieranTimberlake, who is now designing the new American embassy in London. “Most commercial architecture is under-detailed, under-edited and under-budgeted. It’s gross and ugly, and most of it is an eyesore on the American landscape.”

The work of Mr. Bohlin and his colleagues for Apple, by contrast, is sleek, transparent, inviting, technologically advanced — and expensive. In many ways, the retail architecture is simply the largest box in which an Apple product is wrapped, and Mr. Jobs was famously attentive to every detail in an Apple product’s presentation and customer experience.

The extensive use of glass in structures like Apple’s cube on Fifth Avenue, between 58th and 59th Streets in Manhattan, its cylinder in the Pudong district of Shanghai or its soaring market hall on the Upper West Side of Manhattan have become so distinctive that Apple is seeking to patent the glass elements. Mr. Bohlin’s firm has won 42 awards for its work for Apple, and Mr. Bohlin himself was awarded the American Institute of Architects’ gold medal in 2010.

In their years working together, Mr. Jobs and Mr. Bohlin, who is 74, appeared to have achieved a rare chemistry.

Mr. Jobs was “a very public person,” Mr. Timberlake observed. “That’s in contrast to Peter. He’s not a Frank Lloyd Wright or a Philip Johnson. He doesn’t sweep into a room and take over. You go to a design meeting, and it’s more like a fireside chat.”

A  TEAM led by Karl Backus at Bohlin Cywinski Jackson learned early on to approach Mr. Jobs with alternatives. “He liked to be presented with options and would often make very insightful suggestions,” recalled Mr. Backus, who lives in California and focuses full time on Apple work. “We all enjoyed the collaboration.”

The notion of glass as Apple’s signature architectural statement first appeared in the staircase in its store in SoHo, housed in a historic building.

“We had a two-story space, which is a great challenge to get people to go up or down,” Mr. Bohlin said. “So we thought of glass. Steve loved the glass stairway idea. He got it. You make magic. We made these stairs that were quite ethereal.”

Just as Mr. Jobs obsessed over Apple products, he pushed Mr. Bohlin to make the glass structures ever more refined and pure.

“We got James O’Callaghan involved. He’s brilliant, a British structural engineer with offices in New York and London,” Mr. Bohlin said. “Now we’re cantilevering the stairs from top to bottom.”

In the newest Apple store, in Hamburg, Germany, the stairs float in space, attached only at the top and bottom. The fittings are embedded in the glass, “so you get this magical sleek profile when you look up the wall.” Mr. Bohlin said.

“This is the kind of detail Steve wanted,” he added. “We’ve been driving for this, doing more and more with less and less. This has been a vision of architecture since earlier in the last century. Modernism, some people would argue, is doing more with less. Steve wanted us to push the edge of technology, but it had to be comfortable for people. Sometimes that idea got lost in modernism. It’s an interesting challenge, how to marry the two.”

Apple’s use of glass in retail architecture emerged as a design and branding element at its Fifth Avenue store, which opened in 2006. The site had the initial challenge of luring customers into an underground plaza that had been notoriously inhospitable as a retail destination. The solution was a pristine glass cube and staircase flooded with natural light.

“We came to the conclusion it had to feel inevitable,” Mr. Bohlin said. “The adjacent G.M. Building has a tall, narrow facade, and its best aspect is directly across from the Plaza Hotel. Everything in the area is rectangular. So we thought of a square of light. It looks easy, but it wasn’t.”

Customers started lining up 42 hours before the store opened, and lines have formed ever since, with crowd control often required to prevent overcrowding. The building is now being renovated and expanded. In keeping with Mr. Bohlin’s and Mr. Jobs’s never-ending quest to achieve more with less, a new cube will feature larger glass panes and fewer visible connecting elements.

Despite its popular and critical success, Mr. Bohlin and Apple have not simply repeated the glass cube in other cities. The new Apple store in Shanghai is a glass cylinder using huge seamless panels of curved glass. Like the cube on Fifth Avenue, it leads to a large underground space, but in contrast, the area around it isn’t rectilinear, and the most prominent local landmark, a towering television tower, is located at an oblique angle to the shopping plaza.

“We had the idea of a circle,” Mr. Bohlin said. “Steve said, ‘Why isn’t the entire plaza around the entrance a circle?’ I said that was a great idea, but that’s beyond our control. The plaza was already under construction. Somehow he got the developer to agree to redesign and redo it. I don’t know how he did it.”

More recently, Mr. Bohlin has used glass to create what he calls “great market halls,” such as the Upper West Side store at 66th Street and Broadway.

“We’re doing a number of those,” he said. “The glazed lid. Can it be detailed any more delicately? I’m not sure. We continue to press that. Steve was a great client in this regard. He would not discourage innovation that was within his vision of what Apple is or he is.”

FOR someone as fascinated — some would say obsessed — by design and architecture as Mr. Jobs, it’s surprising that he lived in a relatively modest Tudor-style house in Palo Alto, Calif., built by a developer, and never lived in a house he helped to design. That might have changed had he lived a while longer. He and Mr. Bohlin had been at work for years on plans for a new house when Mr. Jobs died.

“He was so busy and, of course, ill, so it was unlikely he’d ever live there,” Mr. Bohlin said. “But he loved the site. It wasn’t a very large house, and we don’t know if he thought we were finished. I remember when Steve first hired us, he said: ‘I hired you because you’ve done very good large buildings, and you’ve done great houses.’ If you’re doing houses, then you’re thinking about the subtleties of a building.’ ”

Mr. Bohlin continued: “I remember that so clearly, and I was impressed that he appreciated that.”


The Slipcovering of a School (NYTimes)

THE old New York School of Printing, on 49th Street through to 50th, west of Ninth Avenue, is a modernistic surprise in the tenement miscellany of Hell’s Kitchen. Opened in 1960, it was designed by Hugh Kelly and B. Sumner Gruzen in two parts, a fluid, guitar-box auditorium set off by a stern, rectangular sweep of glass blocks and steel swing-out windows. Concealed under a plastic screen years ago, the glass blocks were exposed for a while this year, only to be covered up again.

The 1950s was a dry time for architectural design, which made projects like the School of Printing, now the High School of Graphic Communication Arts, stand out all the more.

Jordan Gruzen, a principal at Gruzen Samton-IBI Group, the successor to his father’s firm, recalls that his father became friendly with Charles Silver, the president of the Board of Education, and convinced him that the tradition of in-house design was more expensive than hiring outside architects.

“He said, ‘O.K., Mr. Gruzen, show me what you’re talking about,’ ” the son says.

That led to George Wingate High School in Flatbush, its rounded form suggesting the nickname “the banjo school,” and the New York School of Printing, designed for 2,700 students.

Completed in 1960, it was in harmony with the ethic of the ’50s: a long, industrial-style wing of glass block set back on 49th, connected to a romantic undulating auditorium wing of cool gray brick shaped like a guitar. Other touches are escalators and a 60-foot-long mosaic mural by Hans Hofmann, brilliantly colored, along the 49th Street wall. The magazine Progressive Architecture considered it “a vibrant note on a depressing street.” In “New York 1960,” by Robert A. M. Stern, David Fishman and Thomas Mellins, the school is described as a “bold, imaginative interpretation of International Style modernism.”

But late in 1958, when the school was halfway up, the New York City controller, Lawrence Gerosa, announced that he had been going over the bills for school construction for the past few years, and had discovered $100 million in “waste and extravagance.” He did not mention the School of Printing by name, but he may have been thinking of it when he denounced water fountains in classrooms, and the new policy of installing artworks like the Hofmann mural, which he termed frills.

“What our city needs are good scholars, not statues and sculpture,” he told The New York Times. He did not mention escalators.

The Board of Education, architects and civic organizations howled in protest. Bancel La Farge, the president of the local chapter of the American Institute of Architects, protested to The Times, “Do we want our schools to be mistaken for factories, prisons or warehouses?” Mr. Gruzen the elder also opposed Mr. Gerosa’s campaign. The Board of Education responded that the amount spent on art for any school was less than a 10th of a percent of the budget.

In a letter to The Times, Edwin V. Manchester made sport of Mr. Gerosa, writing that what was needed were “frill committees” for each school, and even subfrill committees. In fact, he said, a citywide “Frilcom” would be good — or better yet, a countrywide “Natfrilcom.”

Mr. Gerosa did not take the bait, and continued to attack the Board of Education — especially Mayor Robert F. Wagner, who had put his prestige behind a $500 million bond issue for school construction. Mr. Gerosa lost interest in the matter only in the fall of 1961, specifically on Election Day. He had been running against Mayor Wagner, and lost.

A nighttime rendering of the school, full of shadowy figures in pairs like tango partners, inspired Progressive Architecture to describe it as “like something out of a René Clair movie.”

But in the daytime, the swung-out windows gave it a light, airy character. No contemporary color photographs of the completed building have turned up, but almost all of the ribbed glass blocks survive on the inside, in that cooling Coke-bottle green.

Perhaps 20 or 30 years ago the windows began failing, and they were replaced with standard aluminum models. At the same time, the Board of Education covered over the glass block with Kalwall, translucent plastic panels, with etched-in lines to imitate the mortar joints of the glass block. The crispness of the industrial windows was lost, and the dreamy translucence of the glass block was replaced with a filmy plastic.

Recently the glass block was exposed again, but just in a progressive striptease. Section by section, the School Construction Authority replaced the windows and the Kalwall with current versions, and the rebuilt facade looks pretty similar to the previous one, although hardly like the original. That makes a second replacement facade for the main building, although the peppery gray brick auditorium has survived just fine over half a century.

One thing does remain, however, and that’s the vivacity of the Hofmann mural, undamaged despite its streetside exposure. With glistening glass tiles in red, yellow, blue, green and black in abstract shapes, it is a particularly happy frill, to borrow Mr. Gerosa’s word. Under the current Percent for Art Program, 1 percent of the budget for new construction is spent on artwork, 10 times the amount of 1960.



One Couple, Two Houses and the Bridge in Between (NYTimes)

MAINTAINING one’s own space after moving in together can be tricky for a couple, especially if they are artists of a certain age, set in their ways. This was the case with Eleanor Lanahan, a 63-year-old filmmaker, writer and illustrator known as Bobbie, and John Douglas, a 73-year-old filmmaker and political activist.

Ms. Lanahan smokes; Mr. Douglas does not. She likes pretty, traditional furnishings, while he is all about simplicity and comfort. She cares about architecture; one of Mr. Douglas’s suggestions, as they were trying to figure out their living arrangement, was that she put up a big billboard of whatever kind of house she wanted — say, something with a big old gambrel roof — and they live in an old galvanized shed behind it.

They shuttled, for 18 years, between his cabin in Charlotte, Vt., overlooking Lake Champlain, and her three-story house in Burlington some 30 minutes away, never able to agree on a home they could share. Finally, skyrocketing taxes forced Mr. Douglas to give up his place. Ms. Lanahan’s house had a rental apartment, and Mr. Douglas might have easily moved into that.

Instead, they built a separate studio for Mr. Douglas, with two bedrooms and a bathroom, that is connected to Ms. Lanahan’s house with a bridge: a 20-foot plant-filled overpass. The cost of the addition was about $366,000.

Mr. Douglas plays the music he likes in his space; Ms. Lanahan plays what she likes in hers. They eat and sleep in Ms. Lanahan’s house and watch the news after dinner in her living room, but tend to watch movies in his space. During the day, they often communicate by phone.

There were a number of factors that led to this unusual arrangement, but high on the list was the need for a room of one’s own.

“We definitely wanted independent space,” Ms. Lanahan said. “He could have had the apartment. That would have connected us completely. We could have opened up a wall. I think he just wanted a place that was a lot like the one he was leaving, and his own domain. This is so similar to what he had in the country, it’s phenomenal. We built the studio to be just like his big room, minus the wall he used for a kitchen.”

Mr. Douglas, who wears a ponytail and has an unsettling resemblance to the actor Nick Nolte, disputes this. This place is not an exact replica, he says. The furniture is not precisely where it used to be. But yes, he admits, he did not buy any new furniture, and it is very similar. He also says that many seem to covet their bridge.

“When it was built, so many people would say: ‘I wish we had a house like this. It would be so great,’ ” Mr. Douglas says.

“Of course, you wouldn’t be able to keep as sharp an eye on your mate,” Ms. Lanahan adds. “If you were having a horrible relationship, you do have your own entrance.”

When you meet a couple who have dated for 18 years and moved in together only because of outside circumstances, it is difficult not to engage in a little amateur psychology. Mr. Douglas grew up in a prosperous family in Lake Forest, Ill., and his mother died when he was 10. He was, he says, brought up by nannies and sent to boarding schools. He has a son and a daughter by two different women, neither of whom he married.

“I couldn’t imagine why you’d get married,” he says, when asked about this. “I had no family experience.”

A politically conscious filmmaker, he made a movie about black farmworkers called “Strike City” in 1966 and a documentary on North Vietnam in 1970. His 1975 film, “Milestones,” about the 1960s generation, was shown at the Cannes and New York film festivals.

At times, work came before family: Mr. Douglas told the Web site Jump Cut that while he was editing “Milestones” in New York, he had ignored (or, as he put it, “rejected”) his 1-year-old son in Vermont. But in later years, he moved to Vermont, and his son and his daughter often lived with him.

The political activism-through-art continued. His antiwar, anti-killing site, the Homeland Security Collection, offers a playful series of images of the naked Mr. Douglas posing with an M-16 assault rifle.

Why is he naked?

“I was trying to put the weapon in a context that made it ridiculous,” Mr. Douglas says. “You put on clothes — you are suddenly one of them.”

Ms. Lanahan, whose mother, Frances, was the only child of F. Scott Fitzgerald and his wife, Zelda, had been a Washington debutante and studied art at the Rhode Island School of Design. She married at 24, in 1972, had twin sons and a daughter and was divorced in 1988.

In her 1995 biography of her mother, “SCOTTIE The Daughter of … : The Life of Frances Scott Fitzgerald Lanahan Smith,” Ms. Lanahan writes about her own marriage, saying that her husband cheated on her with a stepsister and a baby sitter. Her award-winning animated short film, “The Naked Hitchhiker,” made in 2007, is about a woman suffering from a broken heart after her husband has an affair. It opens with a naked woman.“Here’s a feeling filter, just so I don’t show any anger or jealousy,” the brokenhearted woman says. “It provides a positive attitude.”

These days, Ms. Lanahan does not want to endanger her mended relationships by talking about the problems in her marriage. She will say that the minister who performed the wedding recommended a book on open marriage during the ceremony (hey, it was the 1970s) and that late in her marriage, she had an affair herself. She is also guarded about discussing “The Naked Hitchhiker,” in which the protagonist tells her story to a sensitive and insightful truck driver, who, like Mr. Douglas, has a ponytail. Mr. Douglas supplied the truck driver’s voice.

Was the film autobiographical?

“As an artist, you use your feelings,” Ms. Lanahan says. Then, a quick aside: “John was a huge help on this movie.”

Mr. Douglas takes up the thread.

“You know what’s kind of weird?” he says. “It had not occurred to us that we both had been working on these naked things.”

Why is the woman in Ms. Lanahan’s movie naked?

“She is basically just stripped of everything,” Ms. Lanahan says. “It’s an aloneness, an emphasis on the aloneness. Clothes are another layer of protection she just doesn’t have.”

MS. Lanahan and Mr. Douglas met in 1991. Mr. Douglas was living in a simple house on a 20-acre lakefront property he had bought in 1983 for $110,000. One open room included his studio, living room, bedroom and kitchen, with sliding glass doors that looked out onto the lake. On the side was a bathroom and two small bedrooms, which Mr. Douglas added for his son and his daughter, who sometimes lived with him. And at the insistence of a former girlfriend, he had added a second-floor master bedroom in which the mattress was on the floor.

At the time she met Mr. Douglas, Ms. Lanahan was still in the home she had lived in with her husband and their three children. When the two were together, most of their time was spent at his place. Sitting in her somewhat prim living room with its family heirlooms, they both get nostalgic about the house.

“It was very simple,” Ms. Lanahan says. “It was perfectly comfortable. It had a big wood stove — — ”

“There was no siren,” says Mr. Douglas, who is irked by the sounds of Burlington city life. “We used to wake up and put the bed — — ”

“The mattress,” Ms. Lanahan corrects.

“We would put it in front of the window,” Mr. Douglas says. “And just look at the eagles and the shagbark hickory.” (That’s a type of tree, for you city folks.)

“There were eagles especially,” Ms. Lanahan says. “There was an amazing panorama from that bedroom.”

They discussed altering the house so that Ms. Lanahan might move in but could never agree on an architectural solution. Ms. Lanahan had the idea of adding a wing that would have covered up the skylight in Mr. Douglas’s kitchen, which still irks him.

“We had 20 acres to live with,” he says. “There’s no reason to build over the center of my life and flatten it out.”

Ms. Lanahan acknowledges another problem. “I am not a country girl,” she says. “I do a lot of things in town that are easy to do because of time, meet somebody for lunch, do an errand, see a movie. Everything is a project when you live outside of town.”

They also had basic differences about how to use his space.

“The thing that was hard for me to deal with was to build a home for all the children who weren’t living there anymore,” Mr. Douglas says. “It was creating a space I considered excessive for that footprint in the woods.”

Two years ago, Mr. Douglas’s property was assessed at $1.3 million. His taxes were close to $30,000. He could no longer afford to live on the lake. Selling Ms. Lanahan’s three-story house and buying another house together was not an appealing idea: her house was on a large lot, and it would have been difficult to find an equivalent amount of space. They considered adding onto the main house, but that would have meant diverting the driveway.

And so, working with Bob Duncan, an architect with the Burlington firm Duncan-Wisniewski, the couple came up with the bridge house. It is built in such a way that the bridge might one day be removed and, with the addition of a kitchen, it could function as two separate houses — the smaller one being the sort of house Ms. Lanahan says she might want if she eventually found herself an elderly lady on her own.

It remains Ms. Lanahan’s property, but Mr. Douglas has made what he calls a considerable financial contribution.

If the bridge suggests an ambivalence about commitment, the couple insist that is not the case: Mr. Douglas, who has changed his mind about marriage, finally proposed to Ms. Lanahan.

What happened?

“She said, ‘Not now,’ ” he says.

When was this?

“A few years ago,” Ms. Lanahan says. “We got very close. When you have five children and you aren’t planning on having more children, it’s much simpler not to marry. ”

But they feel as if they are married, Mr. Douglas says, and they’ve done living wills that give each of them the power to make medical decisions for the other, and stuff like that. Their separate places just allow them their own creative space.

And if Ms. Lanahan ever decides to sell the place as is, a real estate agent has assured her that there would be no problem. There are lots of dysfunctional families out there who would love it.