GRT Architects renovated an apartment in a storied East Village building known as Onyx Court.
The six-story corner structure was designed by Harde & Short best known for landmarked structures like The Alwyn, a terracotta masterpiece with a playful tromp l’oeil courtyard.
When Onyx Court was completed in 1902, Second Avenue was a thriving district of theater and arts, sometimes nicknamed The Yiddish Rialto.
The building was long home to émigré opera singers, Oscar-winning composers and others before being turned into a co-op in 1983.
GRT’s renovation completely rethought the apartment’s layout while preserving its turn-of-the-century disposition.
The space is neither more open nor closed than when the team found it.
“We created a new collection of rooms, organized by a corridor, demarcated by decorative parquet, with sightlines, adjacencies and program tailored to our clients’ lifestyle.”
At the entrance, the team straightened a previously cricked corridor to offer a view thru an east-facing window from the front door. To create and frame this sightline they added a shallow arched opening in a bearing brick wall, the only structural change called for in their design.
The journey down this corridor celebrates the building’s irregularity with asymmetrical niches and rounded openings in thick plaster walls.
The corridor delivers you to the kitchen, which they relocated diagonally across the apartment. The kitchen previously made do with the least desirable windows and did not communicate with other spaces, per nineteenth-century custom. GRT reversed this but took care to recreate three discrete rooms – kitchen, living, and dining – each with its own mood.
GRT used functional elements to create a semi-open kitchen.
A low cabinet on brass legs provides modesty to the entry corridor while a suspended storage system demises the kitchen from the dining room.
“We mixed simple materials in varied textures and colours to create a playful and functional kitchen.”
A white satin counter helps blur the line between cooking and living spaces, playing nice with adjacent walls. Cabinetry, including custom oversized pulls, was made locally from white oak.
All hard surfaces are two-inch mosaics, a nod to the exuberant original tilework that graces the building’s public spaces. A sculptural island is home to all-electric appliances and creates an abstract backdrop to the dining table.
A linear brass pendant and decorative parquet further imply the dining room, while a gently curved plaster cove brings the spaces together.
The living room is demised by a herringbone threshold in a framed opening and reinforced with a new material palette. GRT organized this space around a full wall of built-in shelves, including a sliding panel that conceals a television.
A series of complementary colours emphasise the relief of this composition while oak pulls tie it back to the kitchen. The largest such pull is mounted to a sheet of textured glass which allows east light to reach a small office without compromising privacy.
The team of creatives created a principal suite where the kitchen was formerly located. They revised the corridor to develop a sense of privacy between the sleeping area and the bathroom to make as gracious a sequence as possible between spaces.
Custom built-in closets were installed throughout, including one in the footprint of an inoperative dumbwaiter. The adjacent bathroom expands on ideas from the kitchen, mixing textures and scales of hard surfaces with soft forms in oak.
A small guest room doubles as a second office when its murphy bed is tucked away.
GRT were able to add a powder room. The space was found for this small room by greatly reducing circulation space without compromising privacy.
The team’s work also included infrastructural upgrades such as replacing all windows brick-to-brick, allowing for larger daylight openings.
Read more on our Interior Design section here.
Photography: Nicole Franzen