Monday, January 18, 2010

Totally in His Element

AFICIONADO Donald Albrecht, a curator of architecture and design, in his prewar apartment.

Published: January 14, 2010

SOME New Yorkers long to live in spanking new apartment buildings outfitted with sleekly designed lobbies and basement health clubs. To many other New Yorkers, nothing is as desirable as a prewar apartment, with its artfully arranged rooms and walls so thick that some latter-day residents have trouble getting wi-fi service.

And it would be hard to find a more passionate admirer of this type of housing than Donald Albrecht, 58, the curator of architecture and design at the Museum of the City of New York, who also works as an independent curator.

“Prewar apartments had well-defined spaces,” he pointed out, “along with interstitial spaces off the main spaces, such as foyers and hallways, that gave the illusion of even more space. And when it came to one-bedroom apartments, there seemed to be the feeling that they had to have lots of amenities, like closets, fireplaces and large kitchens.”

Given his affection for such structures, Mr. Albrecht considers himself supremely blessed to live in Southgate, a set of five Art Deco buildings on East 52nd and 51st Streets designed by Emery Roth that is considered one of the city’s signature prewar apartment complexes.
HOUSE OF MIRRORS Donald Albrecht uses mirrors throughout. A glass door to a closet-turned-library creates an illusion of greater space. More Photos »

Shortly after Southgate opened in 1930, the architect Philip Johnson and Alfred Barr Jr., the first director of the Museum of Modern Art, lived in 424 East 52nd Street, which is Mr. Albrecht’s building. The book “New York 1930” includes a photograph of Johnson’s apartment, which was designed, natch, by Mies van der Rohe.

Mr. Albrecht was so taken with this image that the other day, in a conversation about Southgate’s lustrous pedigree, he pulled out the doorstop-sized volume, opened it to the page with the photograph and accompanying floor plan, and shifted it this way and that to point out the resemblance between Johnson’s space and his own.

Mr. Albrecht, who bought this one-bedroom apartment five years ago for about $500,000 and spent nearly $50,000 in renovations, seems almost regretful that he wasn’t around during those years. Because of his deep affection for the period, he has filled the space with furnishings and decorative accents that vividly conjure the golden age of the Manhattan apartment house.
His aesthetic is evident the moment you walk through the front door more.

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