My 500sqft: An art collector from Philly swaps space for amenities at Hell’s Kitchen’s 555Ten

June 11, 2018

6sqft’s series “My sqft” checks out the homes of New Yorkers across all the boroughs. Our latest interior adventure brings us to retiree Andrew Ackerman’s new studio in Extell’s 555Ten. Want to see your home featured here? Get in touch!

A year ago, retired lawyer Andrew Ackerman gave up his long-time home, a 1,300-square-foot duplex in a Philadelphia brownstone, to move to NYC. Wanting to be near his friends, the theater district and art museums, and transportation options, he settled on Hell’s Kitchen, and ultimately found the perfect high-rise apartment in Extell Development’s luxury rental building, 555TEN.

Getting used to the hustle and bustle of the city was easy for Andrew, but downsizing to a 500-square-foot alcove studio was a bit more challenging, especially considering he’s been an avid art collector since childhood. 6sqft recently visited Andrew at 555Ten to see how he made the adjustment, which art pieces made the cut, and why the jump was all worth it.

The sculpture on the counter was Andrew’s parents’ in the ’60s.

You mentioned that you grew up in North Jersey; what brought you to Philadelphia?

I went to Emory in Atlanta and it wasn’t warm enough, so I went to law school and lived in Miami for many years. Then I got a job and worked for 25 years as in-house counsel at Independence Blue Cross. I did healthcare, intellectual property contract law.

In the cutouts above the kitchen island, Andrew displayed some of his Jonathan Adler pieces. He’s had the green fish for 15 years, and when he moved he bought the white fox (seen above) and white giraffe (on the windowsill) because he thought they were fun. Andrew’s parents bought the blue oil painting of a man’s face from one of the Soho art shows in the ’60s. It was the first painting they gave him in the mid-80s to add to his own collection. It’s hung in two of their homes and five of Andrew’s homes over the years.

And what made you decide to retire to New York last year?

I always wanted to live in New York, but I had a great job with a great boss and colleagues, and I didn’t want to give it up. When I retired at 58, I had two close friends, Matt and Tamsen, living in New York. I was always visiting them and they were saying, “You’re going to go to Florida,” since that’s where I went to law school and everything. But then they’d say, “You’re too young, you’re going to be bored.” I thought for 10 seconds and said, “Oh my god, I’m moving to New York.”

So I sold my condo. I’d lived there for 12 years, and within three or four months I was here. The hard thing is you can’t come to New York to look too soon, so I had to say, “Well, I’m moving in a month or something.” But with the newer buildings, they were still opening the floors.

How did you settle on this neighborhood?

I picked this area for a couple reasons. Matt lives in the Village, and Tamsen lives in Midtown West, and I wanted to be equidistant from them. Plus, I knew Hell’s Kitchen had a lot of reasonably priced restaurants. I also knew it was close to the theater, where I really like going. Then you’re not far from Chelsea and the Village and the Upper West Side, and the subways, as well as Penn Station, because I go to visit friends in Philly and Baltimore a lot.

What about the building?

I wanted a high rise with a view. I wasn’t looking for views of Central Park. I wanted blue. I don’t mind looking at cars coming out of the Lincoln Tunnel or other buildings, but I want to look out and see the sky. I also wanted a doorman for packages and safety, and a washer/dryer in the unit; not on the floor and definitely not in the basement.

555Ten has made a lot of headlines for all its amenities.

Yes, it makes your life a lot easier, having a fitness club and the dog run, which I use once a day at least for Sassy’s short runs and socialization. We also have Throw Me a Bone, the grooming and walking company. I have them walk her every day. I never thought I would enjoy the bowling lanes, but you can’t imagine how many friends like to come over, have a drink or two and bowl. Then the roof deck pool and indoor pool are just fabulous; they’re both salt water.

How did you approach downsizing from 1,300 square feet and two floors?

At first, I was overwhelmed. I got rid of all the larger furniture and a lot of clothing. The only thing I kept was [the small dining table], and I bought furniture.

But it ended up being good in three ways. One, it’s a relief because you don’t have as much clutter. Second, you have to keep it clean. If not, it turns into clutter, so you’re forced. And the third thing is, when you go out, you say, “well I’m not going to buy that or that because I have no room for it.” So it ends up being cathartic.

Where did you shop for the furniture?

I got most of the furniture from either Macy’s, Room and Board, or West Elm. I love contemporary and mid-century-modern furniture but sometimes it may not be comfortable or may be very austere. I tried to go for a comfortable feel.

What about the color palette? 

Since I have the dark floors, I thought brown and grays would be soft colors to go with them, and then I’d use my artwork for a pop.

The blue/rust lithograph (top left) hung in Andrew’s bedroom when he was growing up. The one below was done by his friend, Philadelphia-based artist Perry Milou. “It is Picasso-esque in style and I’ve always liked the lines, colors and abstraction of Picasso,” says Andrew.

Speaking of your art, how’d you get into collecting?

My mother collected artwork. She had over 60 paintings, sculptures, and lithographs. My parents started my sister and me when we were 12. They used to take us to local shows in northern Jersey, or we would get in the car and drive to Soho for the outdoor art festivals. They would say, “You each can have $20 to buy something original, no posters. Then we’ll frame it and put it in your room.”

I really hit it with the artwork. So, I now have over 30 art pieces, and that includes paintings, photography, and sculpture pieces. My parents went from abstract to impressionistic. I like the more abstract or contemporary, or photographs. And when I was in Philly, I was on the board of directors of the Center for Emerging Visual Artists for six years.

In the ’60s, your mother made the bronze, stained glass flower vase sculpture near the door. Was she a professional artist?

No. She took a course and did two sculpture pieces, that was it. I gave one to my sister; even though I inherited all the artwork, I thought it was only fair that I share with her. My father said she should’ve pursued that as a career. 

Did you also have to downsize your art collection?

Yes, when I moved here, I realized I could only fit maybe 15 pieces. I probably have 10 paintings still in Philly at friends’ homes. I have maybe five or six in the closet wrapped up.

This yellow abstract painting was given to Andrew by his cousin who lives in West Palm Beach. “The different yellow hues and the raised relief in the painting add a great color blast to my apartment,” he says.

How did you decide what pieces you’d display?

I finally went with colors, the purple, the blues, and the yellows, which I thought it made me smile.
Interviewer: Yeah, it really works.

The oil painting above your bed seems to be a highlight of the studio. Can you tell us about it?

The artist is Tony Lasalle. He recently moved his family from Philadelphia to New Hope. He had pieces like this in a lot of the Philly restaurants. I saw this one hanging in a Mexican restaurant, and I immediately called him and said, “How much is it?” I told him I’d buy it, but I said, “Cn I ask you a favor? I don’t have a car. I’ll pay you; could you drive it to my house?” He said, “No, I won’t charge you.”

This painting was actually given to Andrew’s father, a lawyer, as payment by one of his clients. It’s from Italy.

Switching gears a bit, how has your new life in NYC been treating you?

I have no regrets. There’s nowhere else in the world with this cultural diversity–the museums, the art galleries, the people you meet from all over the world, the food

I mentioned my two good friends here, but I also have a whole network of people I can meet for lunch every day. I’m taking the training course at the Central Park Conservancy to work in a visitor center. Being from Miami, a lot of my friends from Florida are Cuban, so I’m learning Spanish. I go to Berges language institute.

Do you have some favorite spots in the neighborhood now?

Il Punto on 37th and 9th is a great, moderately priced Italian restaurant. Cara Mia has great specials–$9.99 for lunch or $19.99 for dinner for an appetizer and entrée. Room Service is a great Thai restaurant.

Any negatives to living here?

Philly had a lot of BYOB restaurants, which I haven’t found here. And it’s more expensive; the rent is the most expensive.



All photos taken by James and Karla Murray exclusively for 6sqft. Photos are not to be reproduced without written permission from 6sqft.

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