The only two ways to have your interior completed: Make it and then sell it. Despite growing public interest in artful renovation, the American public remains wary of how to fix their homes.
Back in 2005, the Times published an op-ed titled, “A Perfectly Imperfect House,” in which Jon Shipman, who owned an Upper East Side building, tackled the scourge of kitchen, bathroom and living room redos that made New York real estate prohibitively expensive. “Every time I go into my newly renovated room, I close my eyes,” Shipman wrote. “I take it all in. The vista. The water. The sea. And I feel as though I am in the most magically perfect place in the universe. The best part is that I can’t stop thinking about it.”
Until the trade publication Condé Nast Traveler did, that is. Last fall, it published an article called “Americans Did the Worst of Everything Except … Fix the Broken Kitchen.” In the fall of 2015, the same outlet described the “frazzled, year-round penthouse in the Marina District of Miami Beach” as “an overstuffed stone palace, the sort of place where art walks feel like afternoon jaunts on the boardwalk.”
That penthouse, a 5,503-square-foot brick box with seven bedrooms and 15 bathrooms, was sold in November for $10.85 million. On Monday, that bathroom — which we are calling the SPRING — became available.
Since Jim Timberlake’s nonprofit, the Preservation Center of the Lower East Side, founded in 2015, it has sold about 90 New York brownstones, a significant number of which include distinctive bathrooms. They are straightforward examples of tortured doo-dads — with idiosyncratic twists on historic practices. Many are easy to spot because they contain other rooms. Take the word spoon-shaped in the sconces of a house in the East Village: That’s a nod to the word Spooner from the Henry James novel “The Turn of the Screw,” Mr. Timberlake said. To the lonely tunnel below a staircase in an apartment at 244 E. 10th St., a floor-to-ceiling walk-in refrigerator was added for the dark times when only one dog could sleep there.
One goes right up to the tongue on a shower curtain. (One other thing: The plumbing in the bathroom was placed on top of a second-floor bathroom, so visitors would not be left the odd duty of asking to use the sink.) Many eschew the vanity altogether. None aims to resemble a kitchen, but rather like all the rest of the spaces in the building: one private, one public.
In all, there are nine bathrooms in the SPRING, which feels the perfect home for a young couple with a toddler and a fixed income.
A recent reader survey for the $3,995-a-month one-bedroom unit shows that most of the house’s former residents sought apartments of a kind that houseplants and neglected pets rarely occupy. A couple of the listings in the non-sparkly SPRING are home to two motorboats. But in the three-bedroom, two-bathroom unit that opens to the rooftop garden and views of Little Havana, a combo gas stovetop-stove oven is probably an unlikely fixture.
“When I wrote the article in 2005,” said Mr. Timberlake, “that was not the vision of anyone who lived here.” But as is the way of life in New York City, it was. And among the SPRING’s more difficult residents were neither, Mr. Timberlake said. “I spoke to a host of couples who had done a lot of redoing of their apartment. But what about the dry cleaners and the car companies that left?”
In any case, there’s no easy way to end up with what the SPRING has. Only Mr. Timberlake and his wife, Beth Garretson, can do that. Still, the couple, according to Mr. Timberlake, received numerous inquiries before hiring their designer.
“It was a desire for an oasis of calm and tranquility,” he said. “A distillation of the best aspects of a green space.”