An uptown overhaul. Renovation turns a dowdy Victorian town house into a dream house
New York — `THE space seemed delicious to us,'' says Carol Bommarito, speaking of the Upper West Side town house to which she and her husband moved after several years of cramped living in a one-bedroom apartment. They purchased the four-story Victorian town house in 1983 for just under $200,000 and moved into the parlor floor. The six rental apartments on the three upper floors of the turn-of-the-century house, produced by a 1950s renovation, would help with mortgage payments.
The couple immediately began to plan the transformation of the parlor and basement (or ground) floors into what they hope will be their permanent home. Their first ``building improvement'' was the replacement of an old coal-burning boiler and giant flu with a trim new gas burner and hot water heater.
To gain basement ceiling height, they later dug out 30 inches of soil in order to give easy headroom to Carol's husband, Harvey Mirsky, and his college-age son, Sam, who lives with them part of the year, both of whom are over six feet tall.
They hired a structural engineer to supervise the necessary steel beam work, and what emerged from the basement space was a cherry-paneled office for Harvey, a marketing sales consultant who works at home; a dining room; a spacious, all-white modern kitchen with worlds of storage; and a ``garden room'' that opens out to a patio set with interesting brickwork and rimmed with foliage and flowers.
For two years they lived on the parlor floor as it was, with a hodgepodge of earlier furnishings. Then they began to acquire a few antiques - an 18th-century English linen press, an Edwardian bookcase, a Chippendale chair, a Pembroke table for the living room, and a French armoire and an American bow-front chest for the bedrooms.
Carol, an independent interior designer who has been with both Lord & Taylor and Bloomingdale's, was already working out their long-range decorating scheme.
``We decided,'' she explained as we strolled through the now-complete renovation job, ``to go for the traditional 18th-century look. I thought it suited the house. Harvey loved it, because he had specified `something American, homey, and very comfortable.' He also wanted lots of color, so he had a definite hand in selecting all the Waverly and Bloomcraft fabrics used in the rooms. Many of the fabrics he chose were brightly patterned chintzes.''
It was last January that the couple decided they were ready to take the plunge of total rehabilitation of their own two floors. Carol drew up all the architectural plans, hired a general contractor, and the work began on the recarving of space to suit their needs and tastes better. ``The contractor said it would take three months. I figured four. It actually took more than eight months to finish the job,'' Carol recalls. She worked closely with the contractor, checking and supervising much of the work.
The parlor floor now houses son Sam's room, which is actually a small, self-contained apartment with its own kitchenette, bathroom, and separate entrance.
The colorful living room with new mantel is in the center of the floor-through area, and the master bedroom suite is at the back.
``My aim was easy maintenance,'' says Carol, ``so wall coverings are washable, floors are finished with polyurethane, fabrics are all protected against soiling by Scotchgard finishes, and windows swivel in for easy cleaning.''
Since the family had long been short on storage space, she did some careful calculating to make sure that all possessions had their own place and space. Behind a row of white doors in the passageway between kitchen and garden room there are several 30-inch-deep closets. One houses a workbench and tool storage. Another is a ``root cellar'' for food storage. Another is for large, hard-to-store items like ironing boards, cleaning equipment, and seldom-used big party appliances.
For Harvey's wood-paneled office-at-home, Carol planned a computer closet that he can easily reach by swiveling around from his big desk. She also gave him a clothes and file closet, and plenty of both open and closed shelves for books. His office also accommodates a tailored leather sleep sofa, which can put up an occasional guest.
The most innovative room in the house is the little garden room off the kitchen, with its ceiling fan, wicker furniture, rag rug, and baskets, books, and rockers. ``It's where we relax and read, and have meals and morning coffee. It is a constant delight, snug in cool weather, and open in summer.''
Carol's advice to others who may be contemplating a similar rehab:
Don't get discouraged. Don't listen to people who say you are biting off too much or that it can't be done.
Whatever time span you are given by the contractor, double or triple it.
Ditto for the budget you expect to spend. Realize that you will have to compromise on some things. And do have a reserve fund for those last-minute things that come at the end.
Don't live in the place while you renovate.
Don't think it will ever be totally finished. It won't. But that is part of the fun.
Hope fervently that you will never have to do it again!