You’d Never Believe That This Scandinavian Sanctuary Was Once Sinking into the Ground

oneill rose gramercy park townhouse
From Sinking Ship to Modern Masterpiece Michael Moran

When Devin O’Neill met his clients in 2016, a gut renovation was underway on their 1890s townhouse in New York City’s Gramercy Park neighborhood. But there were problems—major ones. “The person they had originally hired was not a real architect,” he says. “They messed up the foundation, which led to the house sinking a few inches into the ground.” And since Gramercy was built upon Manhattan schist and not quicksand, these dangerous issues were attributable to human error. When all seemed lost, O’Neill, a certified real architect and the cofounder of Brooklyn-based firm O’Neill Rose, stepped in to save the day.

oneill rose gramercy park townhouse
The top floor features spaces with large windows, a sculptural skylight, and a terrace beneath a dramatic oculus.Michael Moran

His goal for the interiors, once the six-story structure was exhumed, of course, was to create a modern look and layout to contrast the facade’s classical aesthetic. First, he conceived the overall scheme as a vertical gradient. “The lower level spaces are intimate and inviting, with an inner focus on socializing with family and friends,” O’Neill says. This includes a garden floor and the parlor kitchen above it, both of which open up to a serene, walled-in backyard area. For furnishings throughout, O’Neill collaborated with Garde Hvalsøe from Denmark, whose custom pieces give these communal spaces a warm ligneous vibe—a signature of Scandinavian design.

Ascending the staircase, spaces begin to open up to the city. From urban oasis to “bright lights, big city,” the transition is measured and gradual, reaching an apogee, literally, on the top floor, which features spaces with large windows, a sculptural skylight, and a terrace beneath a dramatic oculus. “It’s in those areas where you’re now completely open to the outside,” says O’Neill.

Keeping in line with the subdued Scandinavian approach to the interiors, flourishes were kept to a minimum, allowing moments of flare and cheek to pack an unexpected punch. For example, the fragmented patterned floor leading from the family room out into the garden gives the lower level a whimsical energy. “The garden and the family room kind of become the same space at night,” O’Neill says.

oneill rose gramercy park townhouse
In the skylit stairwell, the light fixture is by Apparatus.Michael Moran

Architects have a reputation for being a humorless bunch, especially those who subscribe to the modernist aphorism “less is more,” but O’Neill started his career as a sculptor, which allows him to straddle form and function. “I’m as much a conductor as anything,” he says, “I curate different personalities into a cohesive piece of design.” And this house, after being saved from sinking into oblivion, then renovated masterfully, has formal elements that may seem hidden, secondary. But they’re there in the details. “Overall it’s a piece of architecture,” he says. “But architecture can become art.”

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