An ambitious developer and world-class designer collaborate on a coveted address on New York’s Upper East Side.
By Roger Grody
Manhattan has many exclusive neighborhoods, but no section of town speaks to a refined sense of elegance more than the Upper East Side. The building at 12 East 88th Street—an address in the historic Carnegie Hill neighborhood steps from the Guggenheim Museum and Central Park—couldn’t have a more splendid location.
The 1931-vintage structure was designed by renowned New York architect Rosario Candela, whose elegant imprint is found throughout the Upper East Side. Simon Baron Development acquired the rental building in 2014, updating and reconfiguring the original 65 units into 24 luxury condominiums.
Recognizing the untapped value in the building, company President Matthew Baron explains, “As a Candela-designed building, it represents the epitome of pre-war New York City architecture, and we saw an opportunity to restore it to its former glory.” The developer also recognized the market demand for condominiums in a neighborhood dominated by cooperatives. Popular in New York, “co-op” owners purchase shares in a building as opposed to traditional real estate transactions, and Baron explains that the rigorous, often invasive approval process is a turnoff for many buyers.
Simon Baron collaborated with renowned interior designer Alexandra Champalimaud, whose portfolio includes luxury hotels like The Pierre and Carlyle in New York, The Dorchester in London and Hotel Bel-Air in Los Angeles. “She really appreciated the history of the building, but gave it a more contemporary feel,” says Baron, who adds, “We wanted it to feel clean and fresh, but still retain some Old World charm.”
“The greatest challenge with the renovation of any historic property is maintaining its signature style and intimate feel while modernizing it,” says Champalimaud, who concedes the difficulty in achieving the perfect balance between old and new. “Our primary goal was to bring 12 East 88th Street back to its original grandeur, the way Rosario Candela would have envisioned, by complementing the existing architectural features,” she explains.
Mindful of those original architectural elements, Champalimaud states, “Our approach focused on accentuating the height of each space and capturing the natural light throughout the property by incorporating a light palette of stones and wood.”
Given the property’s Upper East Side address, she maintained a formality to living and dining spaces while introducing a 21st century appeal through contemporary high-end finishes. “The overall approach is sophisticated, gracious yet modern,” says Champalimaud, who adds, “We also approached each room in respect to framing the surrounding city views and embracing the natural light.”
While 12 East 88th Street’s stately brick façade retains its historic charm, Champalimaud has infused the building’s lobby with a modern look that, thanks to some clever nods to the past, does not feel disconnected from the building’s pre-war vintage. “We kept the lobby design clean and fresh, preserving the original medallion on the ceiling and drawing in features to accentuate the original elements, for example a complementary stone mosaic floor,” explains the designer, whose furniture choices continue that delicate balance of historic and contemporary. “One of my favorite pieces in the lobby is a gorgeous bench by Holly Hunt with bronze legs molded as if they were branches and upholstered with white stingray leather.”
The prices of these condominiums range from $3.05 to $22 million, with current listings commanding more than $3,000 per square foot. “Most of these units are purchased by families, couples looking to grow into the space or empty-nesters moving back into the City from the suburbs,” reports Matthew Baron, who insists, “This is one of the truly great residential neighborhoods in New York.”
“We really try to take pride in the buildings we create, making sure what we’re doing will stand the test of time,” says the developer, who adds, “Alexandra contributed a level of cachet and elegance to the project that resonates with our clientele.”
Predominantly white kitchens feature countertops and backsplashes clad in Covelano Oro marble, which also envelops the top and side surfaces of a waterfall-edge island illuminated by contemporary pendant lighting. Sleek Signature or Dornbracht hardware and a relatively monotone palette practically shout modernism, but does not seem incongruous with the 1931 building. Naturally, chef-worthy Wolf and Sub-Zero appliances are present in the redesigned kitchens, while the original dark-stained floors have been switched out for a less austere bleached wood. Champalimaud’s kitchens are noticeably bright, capitalizing on every square inch of window space she had to work with.
The designer’s crisp edges and generous use of natural stone introduce contemporary sensibilities while still honoring the heritage of the building and its elegant neighborhood. A master bathroom’s counters are sheathed in white Dolomiti marble, replacing the dark wood vanity present prior to Champalimaud’s arrival, while the walls, shower and soaking tub’s clean-lined pedestal are clad in richly striated Arabescato marble. “We treated the marble as its own work of art, incorporating a mirror effect with the veining of the stone,” says the designer. Polished nickel Dornbracht fixtures complete a master bath design that strongly suggests the flavor of a luxurious hotel spa, not surprising given the designer’s history with five-star cosmopolitan hotels.