A Lesson in Restoration

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Carriage houses in the Village were once as common as town houses and walk-up apartment buildings are today. Few carriage houses have stood the test of time, but there is one noted exception on West 4th Street.

Given the predilection New Yorkers have for real estate, it should come as no surprise that a recent presentation by architects Anne Fairfax and Richard Sammons on how they restored the West 4th Street carriage house, where they live today, was standing room only.

Over a decade ago, in 2000, the couple was married and living in the roughly 300-square-foot second floor of a town house. One day, while Sammons was out of the country on business, a friend who worked in real estate convinced Fairfax to look at a home near Washington Street.

What Fairfax found was 183-5 West 4th St., a carriage house and adjacent studio in a terrible state of disrepair. When she arrived, Fairfax was sure the listing was a prank. But the estate of Armand Hammer, the American business tycoon, was eager to sell the property, as a deal had recently fallen through.

When Sammons returned home, the couple looked at the property together. The state in which Sammons and Fairfax found the house on their initial inspection reads like a 19th-century novel. The walls were riddled with holes, as if someone had been searching for hidden valuables. The home was laid out in an odd wedge shape, making a renovation tricky, and several personal belongings had been left behind.

The good news was that the two buildings, the carriage house on the right and the studio on the left, were already linked, connected by a door and walkway.

The "carriage house," which Fairfax theorizes may not have been a carriage house at all, since the front entrance has a set of stairs, and horses, as she noted, are not in the practice of walking up stairs to their stables, was a two-story building, while the studio was a single, one-story room. Both homes were equipped with kitchens, a fireplace and an outdoor area.

Whereas others might have run in the other direction, Fairfax and Sammons decided to tackle this architectural conundrum. In the studio, the pair kept the kitchen but added a bedroom.

For the carriage house, they brought in T and L Contractors, who worked on the space for a little over nine months, creating a new dining room, living room and second-floor guest suite.

After a slightly lengthy gestation period, the couple's little piece of architectural heaven was complete, giving them a new perspective on the renovation process. Sammons remarked, "Now I knew how my clients have felt all this time."

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