There are certain buildings in New York with such extraordinary provenance that they evoke sighs of envy in any conversation about the city’s residential real estate. In the case of one such building in Manhattan’s Midtown East, the sighs are very loud indeed: The magnificent limestone edifice was designed by architect Harry M. Clawson in 1929 as a hotel and later converted into a co-op. Current residents of this prestigious address include boldface names in the architecture and design community.
There is a certain responsibility that goes with being the custodian of one of these architectural gems, and this has been the task of Dorothy Berwin, a Londoner who moved to New York some two decades ago. Berwin, a passionate filmmaker, art collector, mother, and philanthropist, says that when she saw a 3,500-square-foot duplex in the building for the first time, it was “literally love at first sight!”
She wasn’t the first one to fall in love with the apartment: A late U.S. senator lived here since the 1970s, and the interiors—first decorated in the Art Deco style by Austrian architect Joseph Urban in its 1930s heyday—hadn’t been touched in well over 40 years. The apartment was in a less-than-pristine state, but, remarks Berwin, “you knew that underneath were the bones of something very majestic and humble at the same time.”
Maintaining the integrity of the original design was a priority for both Berwin and her architectural designer Sandra Arndt of Studio AKTE. The original ’30s details included spectacular casement windows, tongue-and-groove wood floors secured by timber dowels, an enormous marble fireplace, and two monumental round mirrors facing one another in the living room. “One of my absolute favorite things,” notes Berwin, was an original Bakelite-and-brass bannister that leads upstairs.
In addition to respecting what was there, Berwin wanted to create a comfortable, casual, and inviting home for herself, her family, and friends (a fabulous cook who loves to entertain, Berwin has a constant flow of international guests and family members). She also sought to highlight her very personal contemporary art and design collection as well as include quieter, more private spaces. This brief necessitated a few significant tweaks to the floor plan, including the addition of a foyer, another bedroom and bath, as well as an eat-in kitchen and a slightly larger dining room.
Installing the art was a separate challenge entirely. To get the lighting just right, the entire living room ceiling needed to be opened for rewiring to install the proper luminaires. A work by Roni Horn proved so large that hoisting it inside the apartment required two street closures and the removal of one of the double-height windows. Other items in Berwin’s collection didn’t require quite as heavy a lift: A large Gregory Crewdson photograph found a sensational home in the kitchen, and a Florian Maier-Alchen landscape was perfect for the dining room.
Equal care went into the furnishings, many of which Berwin has owned for years and brought to the U.S. from her native England, like a pink resin dining table designed by Sabine Marcelis. “I’ve never had a home without a sofa from Francis Sultana,” she notes, and in the case of her new abode, it “had” to be orange. She leaned on her friend designer Sybille Schneider to help her find the perfect red-orange for the sofa, the perfect whites for the walls, and just the right window treatments. “Everything I live with I really love, and I choose carefully,” Berwin adds.
A wonderful example is in the media room, affectionately referred to as “the Sarah Lucas room.” It includes two photographs from the YBA photographer, gifts from Berwin’s brother to celebrate two milestone birthdays. The latter celebration, a combined Oscar party and 60th birthday bash, was an extraordinary fete with family and friends, one made all the more extraordinary by her spectacular new home.
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