My 415sqft: Go inside a mini Union Square penthouse filled with Moroccan rugs and collectibles

Posted On Tue, July 11, 2017 By

Posted On Tue, July 11, 2017 By In Features, Interiors, My SQFT House Tours, Top Stories, Union Square

6sqft’s ongoing series “My sqft” checks out the homes of New Yorkers across all the boroughs. Our latest interior adventure brings us to the Union Square penthouse studio of Leonard Shaver. Want to see your home featured here? Get in touch!

When Leonard Shaver moved into his studio penthouse 20 years ago, he never thought he’d be there two decades later. But thanks to a 320-square-foot terrace that not only makes the space feel twice its size but offers sweeping views of the skyline and Empire State Building, resurgence of the Union Square area, and the way his system of “organized chaos” has suited him, he now couldn’t imagine living anywhere else. Admittedly a bit of a “hoarder,” Leonard has an impressive set of Moroccan rugs, along with collections of Limoges Mona Lisa plates, Baccarat crystal, and shoes (yes, he even keeps them in the oven a la “Sex and the City”). 6sqft recently paid Leonard a visit to check out his home and learn about how he makes the small space work for himself and his two dogs Hunter and JJ.

How did you find this apartment 20 years ago?

Back then, you still had to look in the paper, so I came for an open house in the [adjacent] building for a bigger apartment, an alcove studio. It was a nice space, but it just looked out on this building. I had clipped an ad for the penthouse studio, which was out of my budget, but I asked the realtor about it. Even though it was smaller than the apartment I lived in and smaller and more expensive than the one I looked at, with the view and the terrace I thought, “I want this apartment.” I never thought I’d live here 20 years; I don’t think I ever lived any place in my life more than 10 years.

The Murphy bed has been here since Leonard moved in; he just had to have its guts replaced last year

Did you have to do much work when you moved in?

I redid the kitchen, bathroom, and floors and painted. And I realized how valuable all these plants were. The sun was so bright at certain times of day without that them you needed sunglasses. But I don’t like to shop, so after I moved in, I discovered Craigslist.

Have you seen the neighborhood change over the past two decades? Do you have any favorite spots nearby?

It’s funny because when I first moved to New York in 1980, I went out of my way to avoid 14th Street; it was the crappiest street and Union Square was all drug addicts. Now, it certainly has changed, and Union Square is great and it’s so conveniently located. The greenmarket is really nice.

One of my favorite places is a bit of a hike–Eisenberg’s on Fifth Avenue and 22nd Street. And a funny thing, too, Dairy Queen is across the street. I grew up with Dairy Queen in Missouri, but when that opened [in 2014], there was a rope and a line out the door, and I wanted to say, “It’s Dairy Queen, just go anywhere in New Jersey!” And up the street we have the first Trader Joe’s, which I also didn’t go to for a long time because there was always a big line out the door.

The “portrait gallery” where Leonard keeps his library and his collection of Limoges Mona Lisa plates. “It’s all stuff that means something to me,” he says.

How would you describe your style?

I call it “organized chaos.” There’s so much stuff, but it is organized in a way and there’s room for half a dozen people to sit down and have drinks.

Tell us a bit about how you got into collecting rugs.

What got me into rugs is that they’re not only beautiful but practical. It started with a rug from Fez, Moracco, and I noticed that the dogs had peed on it, the cats had scratched it, and it still looked pretty good, whereas other carpet remnants I’d have to throw away. So I thought, let me get another rug, and then another rug, and now they’re everywhere.

Then I had to have some Persian rugs, and Afghani rugs and Pakistani rugs to see the difference. But I found that I was really attracted to the Moroccan tribal rugs, and after a while of collecting and living with them, I was able to tell by looking at a rug if it’s machine-made or hand-woven and its country of origin. Now I just buy them if it’s a really good deal and I have to have it for my collection.

Leonard stopped cooking shortly after moving in (though he does still make coffee!). He calls his wall of treasures his “collage with kitchen implements.” Since he has a shoe fetish, he decided to go Carrie Bradshaw and store some of his footwear in the oven.

You mentioned that you like to entertain; how do you make it work in such a small space?

I get together with college friends who live in the city three or four times a year. We call it our “girls’ night out,” even though there’s as many guys as girls. We like to have it here because people can go outside. But I don’t do much cooking; I’ll usually order pizza.

What’s your favorite part of the apartment?

The balcony. For such a small apartment, it has a really big terrace, and it gives me psychological space. I do most of my entertaining here in the warmer weather, and it’s amazing in New York how much time you can spend outside. I sometimes call it my treehouse, and a friend used to call it a cul-de-sac in the sky since there’s only four apartments on this floor and they all have terraces.

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All photos taken by Brett Wood exclusively for 6sqft.

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