Pei Partnership Architects was commissioned to renovate an existing townhouse; a property that had once been the home of sail makers, cabinetmakers, furniture dealers, real estate operators and one of the famous Peter, Paul and Mary trio. The Federal-style townhouse dates from 1806 and is one of New York’s oldest buildings, which was recognized by the New York Community Trust in 1966. The façade is featured as the backdrop of Peter, Paul and Mary’s Album entitled “Album 1700″, and is the subject of “The House Song” on that album. The urban building site, a trapezoid, occupies 1,279 sq. ft.

The client wanted to increase the building’s usable area without changing the character or scale of the exterior, which was also a requirement of the Landmarks Preservation Commission.  Modest volumetric increases were offset by the rigorous restoration and reconstruction of the brick façade facing the street. Approval by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission was accorded in record time.

The strategic additions of new building volumes permit the house to organize itself into three distinct zones. A basement was excavated, resulting in two guest rooms and service areas. The small rear garden was lowered to this level as well. The first and second floors are the public zone. A dining balcony overlooks the two-story living room. Tucked below the balcony is an office. The owner’s art collection can be viewed from a wide range of perspectives.

A dramatic flying stair leads from the dining balcony to the private zone above. The third floor contains the master suite, with a generous sitting area and exquisitely detailed master bath. The top floor is the owner’s private studio with a small terrace overlooking the street.

The original 1806 house is preserved even though nothing remains of the interior—its footprint is recreated through the two existing exterior walls and the dialogue that forms within.