Our ongoing series “My sqft” checks out the homes of 6sqft’s friends, family and fellow New Yorkers across all the boroughs. Our latest interior adventure brings us to the heart of Greenwich Village. Want your home to be featured here? Get in touch!
Sylvia Jacobson used to walk around Greenwich Village’s winding, leafy streets, admiring the old buildings and dreaming that one day she’d live in the picturesque neighborhood. And 38 years ago, she did just that. When she and her husband moved into their fifth-floor walkup they had a lot of work to do–from putting up shelves and drawers in the little kitchen, to creating a multi-purpose room that could serve as a den as well as a studio for Sylvia’s writing and interior design careers, to creating a usable terrace on an empty rooftop space. Now, almost four decades later, the apartment has withstood the test of time, bringing together clever design ideas and classic decor.
We were lucky enough to get a tour of this 1,000-square-foot home and its stunning 500-square-foot terrace, complete with views of neighboring buildings and even One World Trade Center. Join us to see how elegant, tasteful design never goes out of style.
Do you feel the Village has been transformed for the better over the years?
It hasn’t gone through that many changes over the years. Greenwich Village is an historic district, so changes to the built environment are monitored to preserve the existing appearance. What I do notice, though, is that there are lots and lots more students here, mostly from NYU. They dominate the sidewalks, making the Village much more crowded than it used to be.
Speaking of the Greenwich Village Historic District, you mentioned that you researched the history of your home. Can you fill us in?
This building was built in 1888 as apartments. At that time, most people had servants who lived on the top floors, since it was hotter in the summer and colder in the winter. My top-floor apartment was once divided into nine maids’ rooms if you can believe it.
What local spot can you not live without?
One of my favorite spots is the Union Square Farmers’ Market. I shop there often and treasure it.
The white lacquer bar and the dutch door leading to the terrace.
Has your apartment changed a lot since you first renovated and decorated it?
Yes. It’s a rental, so I never renovated it in the sense of moving walls, but I did sand the floors—on my hands and knees with a block of wood and sandpaper—and put some molding up. My husband designed and built a wall unit for storage, music, bar and display area, and I think that’s one of the wonderful pieces here. He taught me how to paint in order to get a lacquered finish, and I did it on that wall unit. I put in a dutch door to the terrace so I can open the top for air and leave the bottom closed to keep out dust and anything with legs.
I also opened the wall above two closets in the bedroom to create storage space and redesigned the interiors of the closets below. I designed and had built a big bookcase/cabinet unit for the studio. I made a wainscot to delineate the dining area, installing a chair rail there and hanging wallpaper below it. Every room has been redecorated, some more than once in the 38 years (!) I have lived here.
The stove and the sink are 55 years old, but they’re still in great shape.
Every inch of the kitchen is thoughtfully laid out and organized. Did you design it as soon as you moved in or over time as you saw what was missing?
I did not design the kitchen. I moved here long before I studied interior design, and I was completely overwhelmed by the kitchen. I wanted a washing machine, a dryer and a dishwasher and had no idea how to fit them in. I didn’t know that kitchen sinks can be moved, or that stoves can be moved, or that radiators can be moved. All of them were. So was the fridge. A friend of mine who has a superior sense of design came up with the solution. She suggested a portable dryer—I had no idea there were such things—and an 18-inch dishwasher—I didn’t know about those either. And because there was no cabinet space for serving pieces, she suggested shelves for the better-looking crockery. I had been using a pegboard for pots and pans in two previous apartments, and it solved the storage-space problem once again here. My friend came up with the redesign of the kitchen within about 15 minutes of trance-like concentration, and it has worked beautifully ever since.
Sylvia designed the dining table herself to fit perfectly in the space and had it built according to her plans.
The gallery wall features seven generations on Sylvia’s mother’s side and six on her father’s side. The photo in the top center is a wedding photo of her great grandparents, taken in 1864 before the Civil War. The oldest person displayed is her mother’s grandfather, in the bottom center, who was born in 1814.
Gallery walls are so popular right now. Any tips for how to get the perfect layout?
I had a whole system to get this display just right. I took a piece of brown paper and put it on the wall to cover the area where the frames would go. I then took it down and arranged the frames on the floor. Once I decided on a layout, I drew outlines around each one and put a dot at the highest part of the wire where the nail would go. I also wrote what each picture was in the outlined space. I put the paper back on the wall and drove nails through each dot. Then I ripped the paper off, hung the pictures up, and voila.
After moving in, Sylvia’s husband built the terrace shed (in the far right of the photos above) and together they installed decking (which has since been replaced) and put up the lattice and railings. At one time, the brick wall was whitewashed, but it proved too bright when the sun was out.
Your terrace is incredible. How much time do you spend outside?
I don’t actually spend a lot of time outside. On mild days I’ve taken some work out there, but the papers blow around and the light is too bright for a computer monitor. Sometimes when it’s warm enough it can be too hot—I’ve clocked 120 degrees F. there—but in the late afternoon if I have time to read I sometimes read out there. And I have people to dinner a lot in the summer because we can eat outdoors and because I think it’s a shame to keep it all to myself.
Among Sylvia’s beautiful plantings are a lemon tree, strawberry plants, plenty of herbs, and a mix of annuals and perennials.
Did you always love gardening, or did having the terrace inspire you?
I never gardened before this. When my late husband and I moved to New York, I did a little arm twisting to get him here. He loved to garden, and I thought one way to sweeten the transition for him would be to find a place with a terrace. Now that I’m alone, I do love having it, and I enjoy gardening, but it is sometimes a chore and always hard work.
The studio, which includes a table for drafting, computer desk, sofa bed that allows the room to double as a guest suite, library, and spot for watching television.
As an interior designer yourself, did you find it more or less challenging to decorate your own home?
Decorating this apartment was mostly a pleasure and not challenging. I knew what I wanted and where to find it. I made the window treatments myself and did some of the upholstery and slipcovers as well, which kept the costs manageable.
A friend of Sylvia’s painted the mural on the right. It’s modeled after a Charles Willson Peale painting, and Sylvia says the idea was “yet another flight of stairs.” At first, the girl was painted nude, but Sylvia decided it was better to err on the conservative side and have her friend paint clothes on her.
Do you have a favorite piece of furniture or art work?
No. I love them all.
- My 425sqft: Tour a Bubbly Packaging Designer’s Boerum Hill Studio Filled with Eclectic Finds
- My 800sqft: A Cute Design Couple Fill Their Ridgewood Railroad Apartment with Whimsy
- My 780sqft: Inhabitat Editor Yuka Yoneda Invites Us into Her Quirky Greenpoint Love Nest
All photos taken exclusively for 6sqft. Photos are not to be reproduced without written permission from 6sqft.
Tags : outdoor space
Neighborhoods : Greenwich Village