Welcome to Urban By Design Online! This blog is a notebook of my travels as a city planner, historic preservationist and nonprofit advocate. It's a virtual collection of the many things that I adore, featuring cities, the arts, architecture, gardens, interior design, and retail. Enjoy! - Deena
I ♥ to daydream- inspirational city images

Entries in Manhattan (6)


Living with History: Gracie Mansion

Gracie Mansion, New York City

Last weekend, I attended an outstanding program at the Museum of the City of New York entitled, "Living with History: Restoring, Redesigning, and Reviving New York’s Landmark Interiors."  It was a half-day symposium that highlighted several extraordinary projects that have successfully managed to bring historic buildings back to life.  It was presented in conjunction with the New York School of Interior Design.

The museum staff did a superb job of selecting some of the liveliest speakers that I’ve ever heard talk about historic preservation.  From start to finish, the presenters were passionate about their projects.  Each gave solid evidence as to why some of New York’s most iconic buildings are truly incredible gems that must be protected and celebrated.

Donald Albrecht, the museum’s Curator of Architecture, and Design, stated that the museum decided to host a symposium to showcase, “preservation as a living tradition. How do you take interiors and bring them up to date to modern times? How do they change in the broader sense?”

Originally I was going to write a general post. However, due to the depth of each project, I’ve decided to write a series of separate entries that will appear over the next several days.

Jamie Drake's Gracie Mansion

Jamie Drake of Drake Design AssociatesJamie Drake, a celebrated New York City based interior designer, gave an illustrious talk about his work on the renovation of Gracie Mansion in 2002.  The ceremonial residence of the Mayor of the City of New York was built in 1799 by Archibald Gracie, a shipping magnate.  Over the years the house was expanded by Mr. Gracie, and Mr. Drake jokingly referred to it as “the McMansion of its day.”

Overlooking the East River, the 11-acre country estate was appropriated by the City in 1896, and incorporated as a part of the newly built Carl Schurz Park.  The mansion was used for a variety of purposes, including the first home of the Museum of the City of New York, from 1923 until 1932.  

Eventually Parks Commissioner Robert Moses convinced city authorities to designate it as the official mayoral residence.  Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia and his family moved into the home in 1942.  Nine mayors have lived in the mansion.  However, the current mayor Michael Bloomberg does not reside there. For the first time, the building is open to the general public, and about 40,000 people visit annually.

The home had not been renovated since Mayor Edward I. Koch’s administration in the 1980’s by interior designers Mark Hampton and Albert Hadley.  Mr. Drake was hired by Mayor Bloomberg.   There were $7 million secured in private funds to complete the renovation of the four-bedroom, seven-bathroom home which was his first historic preservation commission. While doing the project, Mr. Drake said that he learned what it meant to be a preservationist, by doing in-depth research about the home, and its former occupants.  Mr. Drake said some of the challenges included the fact that there was little information about the Gracie family, and only one room in the house had maintained all of its original moldings to do paint analysis.

Sitting Room, Gracie Mansion

Mr. Drake chose a Brunschwig & Fils striped wallpaper, with an overprinted border, for the foyer, which is furnished with antiques from the collection of the Gracie Mansion Conservancy.  Previously the fireplace had been covered up.  Mr. Drake said that the floor was restored by members of the Alpha Workshops.  The nonprofit organization trains people with HIV/AIDS in a variety of the decorative arts.  Trainees learn gilding, decorative paint finishes and faux finishes, color theory, and wallpaper design and production.  Mr. Drake is currently the chairman of the board.


The Parlor, Gracie Mansion

Mr. Drake showed this photo of the home’s parlor.  The John Boone chairs are upholstered with Green Schumacher velvet.  Brunschwig & Fils rosette-patterned silk on drapery swag, open-arm chair and sofa.

He described the room:

The house is a living, breathing house.  It is open to the public, but it is not a museum.  The furniture arrangements are still contemporary for usage and conversation. We did purchase many pieces for the house’s collection that were period antiques.  All of my decorative schemes were based on historic precedent.  This patent yellow was popular at the beginning of the nineteenth century. The wallpaper borders in this room, and the wallpapers throughout the house were based on documents from the Nancy McClelland historic wallpaper company. The fabrics were woven to order, and those off the rack were all historically correct. The carpets were woven to order from a mill that has been in existence since the 19th century on original looms.

The Dining Room, Gracie Mansion

The scenic Zuber Les Jardins de Paris wallpaper was installed during the mansion’s 1984 restoration by Albert Hadley.  Most of the lighting throughout the house is either English or French, which would have been typical of the nineteenth century. 

A circa 1810 French chandelier, from H. M. Luther Antiques, was added to the dining room to complement the wallpaper.  There is also Scalamandré trim and silk taffeta drapery.


The foyer of the Susan E. Wagner Wing leads to the ballroom and reception area.

Mayor John Lindsay had a wing added to the home in 1966 that was designed by architect Mott B. Schmidt.  Mrs. Wagner requested the addition to meet the concurrent space needs of entertaining and raising a family.

Mr. Drake decided to use a blue runner to compliment the faux limestone gold walls.   A blue-and-gold wool carpet by Patterson, Flynn & Martin highlights the space.

Gracie Mansion is open to the public on most Wednesdays by reservation. For more information visit their website here.

Additional Links:

Alpha Workshops

Brunschwig & Fils

Jamie Drake

Museum of the City of New York

Photos: Architectural Digest


10 Minutes in Grand Central Terminal

 12.08.09: Grand Central Terminal, New York, NY.  A brief snapshot of my commute home.

  • 8:50 pm- After taking the M1 bus, which was at a slow, steady crawl down gloriously sparkly Fifth Avenue, I arrived at Grand Central Terminal.  Sadly, it was 10 minutes too late for my train (8:40 pm).
  • 8:52 pm- To ease the pain of missing my train, I went to Junior's and bought a too delicious cheesecake to take home.  Nice excuse.
  • 8:55 pm- As I walked by Hudson News, I noticed the following message: "WINTER'S ON THE WAY...FIERCE STORM."
  • 8:56 pm- A quick glance at the magazine display revealed that inquiring minds still have an interest in unfortunate public drama, and want to know.
  • 8:58 pm- Does everyone in New York wear black? Nods head.  Welcome to the season of mourning.
  • 9:00 pm- After a short walk, I reached my final destination, track 15.  The first words that the conductor said over the PA: "Make sure that you're right, this is the 9:10 New Haven-Line local train to Stamford, Connecticut.  Again, make sure that you're right." 

New Amsterdam Village at NY 400 Week

NY400 Week honored the 400th anniversary of Henry Hudson's arrival in New York Harbor. There were a series of cultural events that celebrated the friendship, between New York and the Kingdom of the Netherlands.  I had a chance to visit the New Amsterdam Village, which was a temporary pop-up installation of 12 replica Dutch canal houses, a windmill, and various kiosks with Dutch crafts. In addition several people sampled traditional foods like cheese, beer, herring and "dollar" pancakes. Here are several photos from my visit.  The village was set up at the entrance of the National Museum of the American Indian, which is an incredible, free Smithsonian Museum on Bowling Green in Manhattan.

I watched Jacques Coolen of Erkend bloemsierkunstenaar make beautiful candy flowers!

Yes, the wooden shoemaking demonstration was quite intriguing.  The festiveal also featured Delft blue painiting, and glassblowing demonstrations.

The view of New Amsterdam Village with the National Museum of the American Indian in the background.

There were even greenhouses to showcase the Dutch innovations in greenhouses, and solar energy. There were also several displays of Dutch bulbs.


Winter Pampering Deluxe in the West Village


It is always great to report about small havens of sunshine that takes me away from the gray, less than glamorous days of dreary winter. Soapology, a six-month-old beauty apothecary provides that glimmer of hope with the promise of DELUXE pampering. It is a small West Village wonderland of soap, lotions bath beads, sea salt scrubs, and every fantabulous indulgence imaginable.

I've visited the store twice in the past two months, more mesmerized and converted by the experience each time. Soapology doesn't product test on our furry friends, and it prides itself on using all natural with organically based ingredients.

The old fashioned alabaster walls, the graceful chandelier, large soaking tub sink, and wooden shelves are reminiscent of a small country cottage. The super friendly and exceptionally accommodating staff members immediately made me feel like I was at home, as they gave an in-depth introduction of their fantastic product line.

A complimentary in-store demonstration of their products immediately sold me. My weather cold stung hands were treated to a warm water wash with gentle exfoliating salt scrubs, shea butter soap, a walnut polishing scrub followed by sumptuous lily of the valley scented body butter. It made my hands look so bright and renewed! I will return!

Here's the scoop: Soapology
67 Eighth Avenue, New York


A Night in New Orleans up North in New York

(l to r) Wycliffe Gordon, Don Vappie, Victor Goines, and Ken Drucker

This year marks the tenth anniversary of my inaugural visit to New Orleans. After I graduated from Tulane, it took me a full five years to return to the scene of the dazzle, the glitter, the charm, the excitement of the Crescent City.

Whenever I miss New Orleans, I usually manage to find a musical surrogate to guide me through the longing. Fortunately in New York, the jazz scene is deep and varied to include some of the best New Orleans musicians who manage to appear here on any given weekend. I recently had what I consider to be one of my best concert experiences ever, right at the House of Swing, Jazz at Lincoln Center.

Click to read more ...


Jacques Torres Chocolate


The calorie-free experience that you have been waiting for! LOL.

Yes, a sure cure for the winter blues is a fast trip downtown to enjoy something delightful.
One of my favorite new occasional spots is Jacques Torres Chocolate.  It is the quintessential New York experience, as it celebrates the city’s industrial past, and its richly decadent present. The retail store, combined with an active chocolate candy manufacturing plant, is a sweets enthusiast’s delight.  Chocolate is processed from the bean to a finished product onsite. luscious%20vhocolate.jpg

The elegantly appointed 8,000 square feet of space, has numerous shelves of chocolate covered treats, including cereal, malt balls, and marshmallows.  The individual pieces of chocolate come in squares, hearts, and a dazzling assortment of shapes and artistic patterns.  Chocolate is served up with adorably infectious names like Love Potion No. 9, and Hearts of Passion.  The drink bar offers eight flavors of hot chocolate.  One popular flavor is called Wicked, which is spiced with a hint of chili pepper.  I opt for the Classic, which is far too modestly described as “ a traditional velvety hot chocolate.”  Yes, I highly recommend taking a direct hit of the delicious sweet Classic Hot Chocolate, coupled with a chocolate tart with a shortbread crust, and I can guarantee that it will amaze for days.

350 Hudson Street at King Street, New York

Official Website