I like the juxtaposition of modern furniture with the background of early Nineteenth Century architecture,” says the homeowner.
Judith and John Stonehill bought this Federal style, four-floor brick house with refurbished stable in 1968, and the family has called it home ever since.
“We’re only the eleventh family to live here in 181 years,” says Judith, giving a tour of the place. “The first owners were here about 30 years. “I love this home. There’s something special about it,” she adds.
It’s true. From sun-dappled stoop to hand-crafted cupboards, historic casement windows to striking mantels, the house overflows with character and peace, even in the busiest city in the world. It was designated as a landmark by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission in 1966 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.LIVING HISTORY
The residence was built by a stone cutter, whose thoughtful vision has been lovingly maintained.
The Stonehills were just the couple to take on the task. John was a rising New York City architect (he also collected antique tools of his craft, displayed in the house) and Judith would later co-own New York Bound Bookshop, a beloved stop in Rockefeller Center from 1989 to 1997. Together, the couple stoked the fires of the time-honored home, keeping its simple hospitality and cozy comfort alive.The narrow stairway with banister is still there; every step holding memories of generations, red-cheeked children running up after a horse carriage ride, teens coming home after a high school dance, houseguests arriving to stay in an upper bedroom that feels like a treehouse when the leaves are out.The homeowner points out the ancient, sturdy square nails that keep the planks in place on the handsome authentic floors. But what about maintenance? “The floors have been polished up, but that’s about it,” she notes. When you start with good bones, you have a great head start.
JUST LIKE HOME
The four floors – garden, parlor, third and fourth – are meticulously kept spare and airy. The garden floor is also known as an English basement – so called because it only goes half as deep as a traditional one. That’s where the kitchen and dining room are.
“It’s an old-fashioned kitchen but it really appeals to people,” says the owner. “I’ve had Dutch and Scottish guests say ‘It feels like home.’” The rough-hewn cabinets play off the modern Miele stainless-steel dishwasher. Sturdy shelves hold the family’s pretty pottery from the South of France – dishes and bowls, casseroles and serving platters. The layout beckons you to come in and cook, or pull up a chair and watch as potatoes are peeled and eggs are cracked.
A TREE GROWS IN MANHATTAN
The narrow horse path still runs alongside 131 Charles Street, leading to the carriage house behind, at 131 ½. You can make out the hay loft, bricked over now.
“My husband used to tell the couples who rented the carriage house that it’s a very romantic place,” recalls Judith, author of Greenwich Village Stories and New York’s Unique and Unexpected Places. “Six couples who lived there ended up getting married. The women loved hearing about all the weddings, but the men were a little nervous.”
Between the two homes is a spacious courtyard garden with tall, leafy trees. “Those are ailanthus trees, like in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn,” she explains. “No one ever planted them. A bird may have flown over and dropped some seeds.” Sometimes called the Tree of Heaven, the graceful ailanthus trunk can grow right out of cement and reach for the sky. “Here’s the thing,” says the owner, stopping in the garden. “Can you feel how quiet it is? And here you are in the middle of Manhattan.”
THE MARRIAGE OF OLD & NEW
And even though its home to cherished, time-honored houses, the neighborhood is booming with new energy. Burberry, Brooks Brothers and other uptown legends have added a downtown shop here. The Whitney Museum of American Art – a landmark on the Upper East Side from 1966 to 2014 – just relocated to a hip building on Gansevoort Street, an easy eight-minute walk from 131 Charles. The High Line and Hudson River Park are close by, but you can still travel back in time and shop store to store in the Village like our grandmothers did, buying handmade cheeses and fresh breads.
For more information about this home on the market, visit the official listing.
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Photography by Halstead Property, LLC