Park Avenue Residence

Completion: 2011 Site: New York, NY Size: 2,500sf

The clients – a renowned cardiologist, Dr. Francis X. Claps and his wife, acclaimed Australian-American artist Denise Green – wanted to convert this 2,500sf Ground Floor physician office spaces back to its original residential use to serve as their primary home following the closing of Dr. Claps 40-year practice. The decision to retire to Manhattan was a significant one. At 86 years of age and with a tremendous work ethic, Dr. Claps had easily spent more hours in the space practicing medicine over the years than in his other residences combined. For Denise Green, this choice allowed her a much more convenient commute to her downtown studio where she continues to actively paint and write.

The doctor’s primary goal was to restore this historic, landmarked, Rosario Candela-designed space built in 1930 back to its original elegance. Important to him was to maintain the grand scale of the formal front rooms along with their classic moldings. For Denise Green, whose body of work is a study in color, a warm but neutral palette with simple but crisp detailing was critical to create a backdrop for the couple’s extensive art collection, including her own work. A lover of books, places to read and store many large format art books was also paramount.

A range of design elements, from carefully constructed spatial frames to the choice of sophisticated but subtle materials and colors inserted into this pre-war shell – with its brick courtyard and elaborate wrought iron gates – conspire to make the renovated space a true example of stunning architecture.
A series of framed openings, accented in deeply articulated moldings in the formal spaces and “outlined” in clean, modern reveals at the more intimately scaled spaces, focus the eye on objects and artwork collected by the couple over many years, including pieces by Jene Highstein, Tony Smith, Alan Turner, David Headley, Joseph Beuys, Keith Sonnier, Duke Ellington and Denise Green herself. Additionally, the various scale relationships between the grand Gallery with its archway and stair, and the more delicately-scaled and detailed rooms that extend off of it, heighten the contrast of programs and uses. Finally, the extremely high-quality plaster and paint finish really make the spaces sing.

However, the use of sophisticated but subtle materials and colors probably best represents the project’s luxurious aesthetic. Random-length Honduran Mahogany wood flooring that runs throughout the apartment in a clear finish, which brings out the graining, is truly striking. The selection of a variety of natural stones, much of which is installed in full slabs, creates a rich yet soothing aura in the Art Deco Entry Vestibule [a combination of polished Absolute Black Granite, Corinthian Beige and Crema Bianco], the Kitchen [soft Rosa Aurora veined marble] and the Master Bathroom [full slabs of exotic green-brown Madreperola].

When asked which elements of the design LUBRANO CIAVARRA ARCHITECTS is most proud of, Lea Ciavarra responded: “The way the framed views throughout are created by either a presence or absence of molding, depending on the relative formality or informality of a given room.” Anne Marie Lubrano elaborates: “Highly volumetric traditional moldings recalling the original 1930 details are abstracted and reversed in the more intimately scaled private spaces that receive a tall, but flush wood baseboard, and 3/4” thick hardwood frames at door openings and bookshelves, all articulated with a 1/2” deep reveal creating shadow lines.” This complex detailing was extremely well executed by the General Contractors, “Interior Alterations, Inc”.

For the clients, many things come to mind when questioned about their favorite design elements! Most important for Denise Green: “I love the way in which the design is so elegant in its understatement. You gradually perceive the subtle and highly pleasing decisions as you move through the space, which is a true pleasure.” Equally important for Denise is the “delight of walking barefoot throughout the apartment, whether on the gorgeous mahogany floors or the wondrous tile of the bathrooms”. For Dr. Claps, Italian by heritage, the Kitchen is especially pleasing: “Lea did a terrific job. It is designed to be a good place to do cooking” he comments, with respect to the arrangement of the appliances and the quality of the lighting. For both, the Master Bathroom is a highlight, especially Denise notes, in terms of “the sensual combination of stone and wood, in their sophisticated colors”.

Dr. Claps is extremely proud of his own personal history in this building. As mentioned, while originally built in 1930 as a private residence, until the renovation was completed this past year, the space has been used as physicians’ offices continuously since 1943, first by another doctor, and then by Dr. Claps himself. Despite the fact that he rarely talks about this aspect of his practice, emphasizing that he gave everyone the same care, Dr. Claps saw many very famous people in the space, including General MacArthur, Duke Ellington, Joan Crawford and Franchot Tone, Elizabeth Arden, General Sarnoff, Mike Wallace and Jimmy Coco.

Photography: Frank Oudeman