A Traditional Manhattan Co-Op with Vintage Furnishings


In Manhattan, epicenter for some of the world’s most gracious, exquisitely wrought apartments, three simple words equal trepidation for the illustrious design professionals who transform them from outdated to dazzling: summer work rules. “Construction is noisy and disruptive, so they’re short and strict. You get four or five months in the summer, and the hours only go from nine to four so you don’t disturb the residents when they’re home,” explains interior designer Noel Jeffrey, who is known for his luxurious soup-to-nuts projects.

Given such restrictions, large-scale jobs can sometimes take more than one summer. “I’ve seen people wait two or three years to move into a place because they can’t get the work done in five months,” he says. But one young family who hired Jeffrey to overhaul a newly purchased vintage co-op in one of the city’s most prestigious Park Avenue buildings didn’t have time to spare.

And of course, the place needed “everything” to transform it from “old school into something with classical roots but a fresh, youthful demeanor,” says Jeffrey. A down-to-the-studs demolition? Check. A family-friendly floor plan with a larger kitchen? Check. Architecturally significant millwork and trims? Check. And everything else, from luxurious furnishings to important, right-sized art.

Complicating matters, “this was one of the city’s strictest buildings. They let you in for just four months and have overtime penalties of $50,000 a week,” says general contractor Christopher Clark. Still, he and Jeffrey were far from daunted. “We’ve done several projects like this together and have the routine down to a science. Everything starts with process and organization,” Clark says.

The most taxing work comes first. “You have to get the drawings done immediately for board approval before you can even get started,” Jeffrey says. But he isn’t talking about your typical blue- prints. “These documents run 50 pages or more and leave nothing to the imagination—they cite every single outlet, bit of molding, fixture, finish and cabinet.”

Such in-depth drawings made the project possible because “everything has to be sourced, ordered and delivered before the summer work hours begin,” Jeffrey explains. Prefabricating the millwork from drawings “is especially demanding because every element has to fit perfectly when we get in the building. We can’t lose time redoing things,” says Clark.

Even with all the exacting prep work, the build out was a race. “We probably had 80 people working in every corner of the apartment on some days,” estimates Jeffrey. But as expected, everything was a perfect fit, right down to the rigorously crafted cabinetry and sofas, which had to be extra-long for the impressively proportioned living room. Four months to the day, the team finished construction and all the “heavy lifting,” and Jeffrey used another few months to paint and install the rest of the furnishings and art.

The couple were able to move into a impeccably completed home long before the year was out. And despite the chic interiors Jeffrey crafted for them—complete with glamorous touches such as high-gloss dining room walls and a slew of elegant pieces of his own design—he is proudest of the fact that “they didn’t make a single change during the entire job or reject one thing.” He adds, laughing, “The drawings made it possible.”

—Lisa Skolnik