HOUSE & GARDEN
Annabel & Jos White
Situated on a leafy street in Manhattan’s West Village, Jos and Annabel White’s six-storey town house has been substantially remodelled to create an open-plan interior tailored for family living. Lucie Young goes to visit.
‘We drove the neighbors mad,’ laughs Jos White talking about the three year renovation of the family’s townhouse on one of the most desirable streets in Manhattan’s West Village. It was the Whites’ friends Anna Scott Carter and Graydon Carter, editor of Vanity Fair, who live a couple of doors away who probably experienced the worst of it. In a 2013 interview with Graydon, a journalist complained of the constant ‘bang and whirr’ from nearby gut renovations. The most embarrassing moment, recalls Jos, was when the street had to be closed to crane in hardware for his rooftop office. ‘I heard one of the neighbors mutter: “God. Who are these people?”’
Jos is a successful British tech entrepreneur. He and his wife Annabel moved to New York in 2001. At first they lived in a classic Manhattan loft, which Annabel says she found cold. ‘I didn’t know how to make it cozy’. But after Jos sold his tech firm MessageLabs for £397 million in 2008, the couple bought their dream home in the village and hired the Carter’s architect Basil Walter to do the renovation. The resulting house is an enchanting mix of grand and practical, of open plan and intimate; of English and American; of playful whimsy (a mirrored disco ball in the master bathroom and a stuffed peacock in the master bedroom), bright colors and relaxed neutrals.
The lobby sets the tone with its custom wallpaper by London artist Marcus James. Rabbits, deer, horses and other English wildlife race over the top of ‘STOP’ signs, bridges, West Village cafes and other Manhattan imagery. From this small compressed space, guests step out into an opulent 40-foot long living/entertaining area with its Christopher Howe sofas, huge tapestries by contemporary artists Kara Walker and Julie Verhoeven and a wall of modern windows opening onto the terrace overlooking the garden.
Most evenings the Whites chill out in the ‘snug’. ‘I get so excited to sit here and watch TV, flip a magazine or be on the computer,’ says Annabel. This cozy little room is lined with 17th century wood panels bought on L’Isle sur la Sorgue (‘It didn’t all fit quite right, so there are a couple of faked pieces,’ says interior designer Poonam Khanna who helped Annabel realize her vision). The snug overlooks the tree-lined street and can be opened up to flow into the main space for parties. But most nights, the pocket doors are closed so the Whites can have some adult time away from their three young children.
‘Annabel and Jos are in their early 40s. They wanted a house that felt youthful, which had a lot of open community spaces,’ explains architect Basil Walter. To achieve this, he pulled the house apart, stripping it back to its exterior walls and then painstakingly reassembling everything with subtle differences. Being a landmarked building, the1840s façade had to look identical to the others on the street. But elsewhere there was room for improvement. Floors were put back at slightly different heights and on the backside of the house two new terraces were added and large modern windows (whose muntin bars echo the original windows) to bring in extra light. Inside, Basil removed the old zig zag staircase (a space hog) and created a sculptural oval stair that acts as a light well, channeling light down from the rooftop home office.
The resulting house has the charm of the original, but it is essentially a modern six-storey layer cake. Perched on top of the original roof is Jos’s 125 square foot home office. ‘We’ve set a precedent,’ brags Jos. ‘It is something none of our neighbors have done yet.’ Because of the building’s landmark status no additions can show from the street, not even a single brick. So Jos’s office had to be set back 13 and a half feet from the parapet. On the garden side, it has an angled wall of glass windows, which cantilever up using a hand crank. The design is inspired by Basil’s favorite building, Pierre Chareau’s Maison de Verre in Paris. The interior was inspired by Jos’s favorite place, the Apple store. Although, he grumbles: ‘It seems to be getting more and more cluttered every day.’
On a tour of the house, Annabel, who was largely responsible for the decorative choices, says: ‘I like my wardrobe black, but my life colorful.’ As the former director of The Rug Company in New York, she says it was all about the floors. A lot of the color comes via the rugs. Her boldness often shocked her friends, for example when she said she wanted a red stair runner. ‘They thought it would look very Oscary,’ she says. But the Christine Van der Hurd red silk dhurrie has a sensuous liquid feel. ‘I love that it looks a little worn.’.
The fifth floor is the children’s floor, with bedrooms for Sammy (21 months), Ophelia (three and a half), and Fred (five and a half), plus a guest bedroom (a favorite with Aunty Flora). The floor below is devoted to the master bedroom suite. The couple’s bedroom is decorated in restful neutrals and has its own terrace (‘Its lovely to sit out and read or have coffee,’ says Annabel). The master bathroom with its shimmery interior; glitter ball, silvery de Gourney wallpaper and floral mirror by MJ Ateliers, perfect for a modern-day Venus on the Half Shell. Annabel laughs: ‘I don’t close the blinds. I probably should. I’ve been standing nude at the sink and seen my neighbor across the street.’
Underneath the main entertaining floor is the heart of the house, a huge family room devoted to eating, playing and lounging that opens onto the garden. ‘I’m always working at the breakfast bar, says Annabel. ‘ My kids are lined up here in the morning. We have lunch in the nook (which gives a nod to old fashioned American diners with its curved green banquette and neon sign) and dinner at the table. ‘ For the kitchen, Jos (the main cook in the house) and Annabel were inspired by the fittings in their friends restaurant The Fat Radish. And by the street entrance, the children’s play nook was designed to give them a dedicated rumpus room but also to keep the clutter at bay. ‘I walk into a lot of my friends homes and there are toys everywhere,’ says Annabel with an eye roll.
Standing in the grand landscape of the living room, Annabel looks like she might need to pinch herself. ‘I never in my wildest dreams imagined I would be living in a home like this. I grew up in Wisbech, a small town in Cambridgeshire.’ But here she is now one of the driving forces behind this elegant, colorful home with its clever balance of grand gestures and cozy spaces (Annabel’s favorite tiny nook is ‘the secret loo’ concealed behind the grey paneling in the entrance hall). The Whites couldn’t be happier with the result. ‘We really use it all,’ she says. ‘To me that’s a testament to a really good design.’