Wolf painted the brick facade, updated all the windows and restored the copper roof.
A 1950s screen from Paris hangs on stainless steel brackets, and provides a graphic focal point in the den. Felted wool rock cushions by South African artist Ronel Jordaan rest on a wood floor with a polished marble insert. The high-gloss ceiling adds shine.
When a long-time client told Vicente Wolf there was something he wanted the New York designer to see in Old Westbury, Wolf didn’t hesitate. “We drove up a hill to this old Georgian house which was beautiful but had fallen into disrepair. From the upstairs, you could see through the floor to the rooms below,” remarked Wolf. The client wanted to know what the designer thought. “I said it was going to be a LOT of work.” The client bought the property and demolition started three weeks later, without even a drawing. “It was really like running down a hill in front of an avalanche,” quips Wolf. For the next five years, Wolf and his team lovingly coaxed the butterfly from the cocoon of the grand home.
The house, built in 1890, was truly a white elephant. At the turn-of-the-century, there were many large mansions in Old Westbury, a place where New Yorkers with names like Vanderbilt, Whitney and Woolworth spent their downtime. Eventually, many of the original estates were torn down and the land was subdivided, but this particular house survived on seven acres of property. It sat abandoned for approximately 15 years before being purchased by Wolf’s client. “It started as a restoration project,” notes Wolf, “but the reality of recreating something that was built at the turn-of-the-century was not practical, either financially or functionally.” Some elements, like copper roofing and wood flooring and interior moldings were restored, but says Wolf, “They didn’t want to go back in time.”
The central staircase in the foyer is original to the c. 1890 home, and it cradles a contemporary sculpture by Nick Cave. Vintage chairs contrast with a modern, custom table.
BeforeIn the library, vinyl wallcovering was cut into squares and installed in a checkerboard pattern. The fireplace surround is black granite, and the Billy Baldwin-style etageres are metal and bronze glass. They rest in front of frosted glass panels that let light into the room from the new hallway behind.
Gray-washed, lime-rubbed oak cabinets line the custom kitchen. The counters are Glassos marble, and the large center island is Cenia Azul. The bubble light fixtures are from Artemide, and the counter stools are from Bottega Veneta.
Wolf’s largest order of business was to bring the floor plan into the 21st century. He says, “At the time when this house was built, only the servants would have used the back of the house, the kitchen and pantries. So there were all kinds of cubbyholes and storage rooms, leading from the formal dining room. There was no hallway to the kitchen because you entered the kitchen through the dining room.” In addition to opening up the kitchen area and adding a breakfast room, he added a solarium on the first floor, and a new master bedroom suite above it. In doing so, he maintained the integrity and balance of the Georgian façade, and used classical elements like French doors to bring light into the space. In the areas of the home that were original, the designer used moldings and baseboards, but in the new areas of the home, he went for a cleaner, more modern feel – no moldings, and recessed baseboard. “In this way I was able to delineate the new from the old, but in a very subtle way. Most people won’t even notice it, but it’s a form of subliminal messaging. You feel the change rather than see it.”
In the main entry hall, the centerpiece is the dramatic curved staircase to the second floor. It is original to the house, and Wolf felt strongly about keeping it. “At one point we talked about replacing it, but I love it. It had to be reinforced and rebuilt, but it is such a beautiful counterpoint to the contemporary art, and the custom hall table and chandelier. It’s like a ribbon that has been dropped from the ceiling the way it unfurls.”
Furnishings throughout the home are a mix of contemporary pieces designed by Wolf and midcentury-modern antiques, combined with luxurious finishes and textures. The master suite is richly layered with glamorous elements such as a longhair lambskin rug, and mirrored accent pieces for a touch of whimsy that is the designer’s trademark. “You can’t be too serious in a house like this. You have to float everything up off the ground a little bit.”
Wolf reflects, “This was a massive project and as a designer that is known for contemporary style, it’s not often that I get the opportunity to work in a more traditional space. It was a real leap of faith for my clients, and I was able to take my contemporary design style and use it in a totally new way, on a blank canvas.” He continues, “The house had the integrity of its beautiful bone structure. We were able to give it a facelift and bring it into the present. It was a pleasure to see the transformation.”
Photography Courtesy of Vicente Wolf.
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