working artist leaves Tribeca for … the East Side?? the New York Times hunts for the reason

As with so many searches profiled in The Hunt feature in the Sunday New York Times real estate section, there is a logic to the decision made by today’s Hunt-er (Space Wanted for Living and Painting) that took him from two floors in a Warren Street loft building that he bought and turned coop in 1979 into a 5-story coop to a "small" free-standing house with a white picket fence at an entrance to the Queensboro Bridge. Turns out he needed more perspective than he had in Tribeca, or something….

when 5,000 sq ft with soaring ceilings is not enough
What he gave up are the 4th and 5th floors of the coop he pioneered more than 30 years ago. The 4th floor space he sold in June for $1.625mm is described here; the space he is yet to sell is also on the web, but I am not going to link to it. That 4th floor is “2,200 sq ft”, 25 feet wide, with 11 foot ceilings; trust me that the 5th floor is equally wide, appears to have higher ceilings (“soaring”), skylights, with a rooftop bedroom and roof terraces, “2,800 sq ft” interior, in all. Based on the floor plans, the 4th floor was the studio space, the 5th floor the living space (and gallery).

In the art world I am an uncivilized rube. Tell me if this 5th floor wall does not support big art. Or if the 4th floor listing photo does not show space of great depth and perspective.

even large spaces can be too small
The problem seems unlikely to an outsider, given the scale of these two floors, but here it is:

“the art kept spilling over into my living area,” he said. “As my paintings became larger, I wanted more space and I wanted the living space to be separate from the studio.”

[his agent said] “He wanted something with enough width and depth that he would be able to step back from his work and get some perspective.”

The 25 wide space (about 88 feet long) with 11 foot ceilings in Tribeca just didn’t cut it anymore.

it’s the sky, Mars
The solution (after the twists and turns that all Hunt-ers have to go through before being ready for their close-up in the Sunday New York Times real estate section, in this case name-dropping Frank Stella and Anderson Cooper) is identified by address and photos: 313 East 58 Street, alongside one entry onto the 59th Street Bridge. A two-story house built in 1857 that had done service as a restaurant and as a club. Property Shark shows the dimensions as 22 x 82 feet, or about 3.600 sq ft. But it is the right space at the right time:

When [he] saw the former dance floor, with two skylights — one of them with 16 glass panels in a vaulted ceiling — he began to see possibilities. “There it was,” he said. “A building can encourage you to grow in new ways, and this building clearly told me I could grow with it.” It is, he said, “the perfect reflection of the next stage of my life.”

It is undoubtedly awesome space, especially as he will be working under those skylights. When you compare that new 2nd floor space (click through to image 6 of 9 on the slideshow for it as work in progress) to the 4th floor photos in the sold listing (his former Warren Street studio) you will see that the logic is inescapable.

space, space and space trumps location, location, location
Clearly, it is all about the space. Props to him for focusing on the one thing that really mattered to him, as many people would have DQ’d this house because you can’t pull a car in front to unload (busy, busy bridge traffic), even for a second. So he is resigned to pulling up around the corner (down the block? exactly where to avoid the bridge traffic??) to unload the materials for his larger and larger paintings.

His new home does have a disadvantage: it’s on a busy street with such severe traffic restrictions that he won’t be able to pull up in front of the house, even for unloading.


“But you adjust,” [he] said. “It has always been the interior space that has priority for me. If the interior makes sense, it works.” Buildings like his “are hard to find, and when you find them, you know.”

This is an artist who is used to making physical sacrifices for his art. I am pretty sure that the Warren Street building lacked an elevator when he bought it as a 1979 pioneer. (StreetEasy describes it as “Walk Up Apartments, Cooperative”.) I don’t see a building permit on Property Shark for elevator installation going back to 1991, but you will note that the listing description speaks of a “brand new elevator”, which could be a replacement, or it could be “new”.

My read of the floor plan is that the “new” elevator got added at the front of the building to the most logical space for it, when all shareholders agreed to trade about 80 sq ft for the benefit of a new elevator. (Did the higher floors pay more for this improvement??) So it appears to me that this artist started out humping his materials up three flights of stairs; walking around the corner (or wherever) on 58th Street now seems less of a big deal.

inexpensive renovation?
Probably because most of the high-finish renovation work will be on the first floor of the 22 x 82 foot house, with less intense finishing in the grand upper studio, he is planning to spend only about $350,000 for the renovation of about 3,600 sq ft.

To get a better idea of what he started with on East 55 Street, check out the listing photos and description. Those second floor ceilings are 24 feet. While he auctioned off his old kitchen equipment from Warren Street, including a 120-gallon soup kettle (really??), the “small house” by the bridge came with a “1000 bottle climate controlled wine room” and a “fully equipped commercial kitchen which includes Southbend stoves and ovens, convection ovens, a separate baking area,many brand new stainless steel work stations, 2 huge walk-in refrigerators, and much more”. Did he keep that stuff, or do another auction to raise renovation funds?

And how much of a premium did he pay to have his materials and workers also have to park some distance away and walk the stuff to his No Standing Zone house?

he will tone up his muscles, post haste
Once he gets going, that looks like wonderful space to make muscular art. As he told the Hunt Grunt:

“For me, New York is a sort of oil-painting city,” said [the artist] ( “It is muscular. For watercolor, you use your shoulder, your wrist, but in oil you use your whole body.”

Best of luck to him!

(Although I have a mild twinge of regret that this professional artist did not take a Department of Cultural Affairs certification and buy soaring huge space in Soho. How many certifiable artists can afford $3mm places these days in Soho, to actually do their art?? See my November 12, did the NY Times just write the obituary for the Soho real estate market?, if that is too obscure.)

© Sandy Mattingly 2010


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