New York’s Iconic House is the Brownstone Beauty
The Brownstone is an American icon. The fictional address of "123 Sesame Street," known to several generations of pre-schoolers, was a Brownstone. Holmes and Watson inhabit “The Brownstone” in TV’s Elementary. And Universal Studios’ "Brownstone Street" has appeared in films like The Sting and TV shows such as Murder She Wrote, Seinfeld and NYPD Blue.
Named for its outer construction material (brown sandstone), the Brownstone is typically a fairly narrow row house with a broad front staircase. Most were built between 1880 and 1910, when New York’s burgeoning middle-class created a new kind of residential architecture designed for privacy, comfort and elegance.
“One of the things that’s remarkable about these houses is their livability. Even though they were built then, they work very well for current lifestyles,” says real estate agent Dexter Guerrieri, president of Vandenberg, Inc. and chair of the Brownstone Revival Coalition. This group spearheaded the rescue of these noble homes in the ‘60s, when they were considered antiquated and faced demolition.
“As originally configured, there was a parlour floor where you walk up the stoop into the main floor, with really tall ceilings, beautiful rooms and fabulous woodwork,” Guerrieri says. “The scale of the rooms is simply perfect. There is a formal dining room in the rear, which boasted the finest details, such as shoulder-high oak wainscoting, because this was the most important room in the house. There was a front entry parlour where the grand piano once stood. The entire floor above was reserved for the master bedroom suite. Above that is the fourth and sometimes fifth floor for children and live-in help.”
In real life, celebs like Julianne Moore, Neil Patrick Harris, Madonna, Liv Tyler Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick live in them. Guerrieri estimates that a Manhattan Brownstone starts at around $3 million, with the record-selling price around $60 million. Brooklyn’s brick Brownstones seem a comparative bargain at $1.2 million to $14 million.
“It really is hard to beat this type of living in New York City,” Guerrieri says, “Everybody wants a Brownstone.” Takeaway? Good building materials and livable design are ageless.
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