Reviving a Wreck by Alexander Gorlin Architects

A Vision for Reviving a Wreck


“I have an idea!” said Alexander Gorlin, walking around the small one-bedroom apartment at 140 East 40th Street, a 1931 Art Deco apartment house designed by Bien & Prince only a few blocks from Grand Central Terminal. Strolling through the place—with its peeling paint and the smallest kitchen known to woman—Mr. Gorlin said he was far from shocked. “Actually it reminds me of one of the first apartments I ever did, 15 years ago,” he said. “That had belonged to an agoraphobic and was—like this one—untouched.”

The apartment, which was occupied for many years by a rental tenant, has reverted to the co-op, which plans to list it soon with the Corcoran Group for $575,000, about what others its size in the building have fetched.

To put it mildly, the apartment needs some T.L.C. Mr. Gorlin, an architect based in New York who recently finished the architect Daniel Libeskind’s loft, provided a vision of what it might be.

Of course, the reader should understand that the sketches are a work of the imagination – and, if they were carried out, would not necessarily increase property values, although they just might.

Mr. Gorlin found the apartment to have “good bones.” It was never part of a larger apartment, nor divided. “This was never a family apartment; it might have been an apartment hotel, built with some panache,” Mr. Gorlin said. “At one level, it’s very well designed: it has intermediate spaces and vestibules, so you’re not

just dumped into the living and bedroom spaces, like you are with a lot of contemporary plans. The casement windows are marvelous—thank goodness they haven’t taken them out.”

Making a great home – and maybe a nice profit – often requires the ability to see through what is and understand what might be. We turn to an expert for a little help.

On this first visit, Mr. Gorlin mulled possible solutions. “I could take all these walls and partitions out,” he said, “and make it a 40-foot-long loft. Or I could make it an even more private one-bedroom. Hmmm… this bedroom closet is deeper than it needs to be. The closets in this apartment are going to be a big issue: should I take some of them out to create a bigger space? Or move them? If we want to open up this vestibule, here’s a column that must stay, so we could still create some sense of arrival. The key in any renovation is to enhance the possibilities of the space—not force some notion on it. The space itself will say what kind of person it will best suit.”


One week later, Mr. Gorlin came up with the finished plan for the apartment — and it seemed that the space had spoken loud and clear: the new owner would be a fan of contemporary architecture, maybe “a young and sexy couple, entranced by and involved in the digital age – digerati, in fact,” the architect said, gesturing to the large viewing screen imbedded in both the living room and bedroom walls.

“This is not an apartment for the faint of heart,” he said, with a laugh.

“Our idea was to enlarge the space through an archaeology of the space,” he continued, “excavating the walls and surfaces, as well as allowing the flexibility, which would allow the plan to be used as one large space or as two private rooms.” In Mr. Gorlin’s plan, one large double-pivot door opens up half of one of the bedroom walls to connect with the living room; when opened, the space flows from the front hall to the living room to the bedroom – either for a major party or just for living alone. “In that configuration,” he said, “it feels more like a loft.” The huge door can swing the other way, too, to close off the adjoining room and create a private bedroom.

In this rendition, the impossible kitchen, no bigger than a tiny closet, has broken out of its space and, with a stainless steel and granite breakfast (or nonbreakfast) bar, expanded into the living room, without consuming a lot of space. The wall of the niche where the entire kitchen used to be has been mirrored, to reflect light from the small window and make the apartment look bigger.

In the bedroom, the closet has been moved to the right, to allow for the four foot swinging door. And—like magic—the long wall that joined the bathroom has been punctuated with a 5-by-7-foot section of sandblasted glass, allowing a sultry glimpse of the shower.

And those are just the structural changes. Mr. Gorlin has used afromosia, a dark tropical wood “that just looks endangered—it’s not,” he said, to cover the whole living room wall closest to the front hall, and in it, he has recessed a large flat panel screen. “A media wall,” he said.

Alexander Gorlin, a New York architect, agreed to tour the apartment and figure out a new way to consider the space.

Alexander Gorlin, a New York architect, agreed to tour the apartment and figure out a new way to consider the space.

In a reversal of materials, the wall is covered with wood, the floors with stone. “I’m proposing gray limestone for all the floors,” he said. “Stone creates a more serene surface—I love the feel of cool stone on bare feet. I use petra cerena from Florence in large two-foot slabs.” (For the rendering, Mr. Gorlin and his associate, Gavin Bardes, chose

1950’s and 1960’s furniture: a 1954 Borsani chair found on eBay, and Tibetan rugs sold by Mark Shilen in SoHo.) AIthough Mr. Gorlin’s “sketch pad” is obviously contemporary, he insisted he has not lost sight of the best of the apartment’s historic features.

“I kept the original radiators from 1931,” he said. “I love these, they recall Corbusier’s use of radiators: you don’t have to hide them if they’re 30’s, vintage, if there’s something special about them.”

And although all that stone and wood and sandblasted glass panel is not cheap—the stone costs $37 a square foot and the wood $30—Mr. Gorlin estimates the whole renovation

of the 565-foot one-bedroom would run between $200,000 and $300,000 including all electrical and plumbing work. “All the curtains are floor-to-ceiling parachute cloth,” he said. “You can buy that in a Para-Gear, the place to go—whenever you need a new parachute.”


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