After Sandy, an NYC Designer Rehabs His Ruined Apartment—and Lends Neighbors a Hand with Theirs

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By Dwell / Published by Dwell
The perks of having a designer in the co-op.

Daniel Ian Smith spent October 29, 2012 racing to get his prized furniture to higher ground. As Superstorm Sandy bore down on New York, Smith, who lives in a garden apartment near the Hudson River, lugged Noguchi lamps, a Panton coffee table, and other collectibles to safety in upstairs neighbors’ units.

While some said he was overreacting to the news warnings, it turned out Smith was right to take precautions. When the storm hit, his home filled with several feet of water, wreaking havoc on the walls, fixtures, ceiling, masonry, flooring, heating, and electric. Anything that wasn’t instantly soaked eventually sprouted mold. Not only was his ground-floor unit affected by the flooding, but 32 other tenants of his co-op reported damage also.

After Sandy, an NYC Designer Rehabs His Ruined Apartment—and Lends Neighbors a Hand with Theirs - Photo 1 of 4 - After Superstorm Sandy in 2012, architectural designer Daniel Ian Smith revamped his garden apartment in Manhattan’s West Village over nearly two years. The original George Nelson lamp is an heirloom from his great aunt. The Soviet-era theater poster is from Poland. 

After Superstorm Sandy in 2012, architectural designer Daniel Ian Smith revamped his garden apartment in Manhattan’s West Village over nearly two years. The original George Nelson lamp is an heirloom from his great aunt. The Soviet-era theater poster is from Poland. 

After the storm clouds cleared, Smith had a chance to repay their earlier neighborliness. As an architectural designer, he was invited to sit on the co-op board to figure out how to navigate construction codes and rebuild more resiliently. Smith recommended common-sense fixes, like relocating through-the-wall air-conditioners higher off the floor, and connected other residents with his preferred contractor, MZZ Construction. 

After Sandy, an NYC Designer Rehabs His Ruined Apartment—and Lends Neighbors a Hand with Theirs - Photo 2 of 4 - The 650-square-foot apartment has a galley kitchen with checkered black-and-white tile. 

The 650-square-foot apartment has a galley kitchen with checkered black-and-white tile. 

Only after the others’ apartments were on the road to recovery did Smith turn his attention to his own home. He had lived in the building for decades, but never renovated before. "In a sense, I was really lucky I hadn’t done any work," he says. "I had a really clear vision of what I would do if I could gut the entire apartment." 

After Sandy, an NYC Designer Rehabs His Ruined Apartment—and Lends Neighbors a Hand with Theirs - Photo 3 of 4 - A living room vignette includes a 1950s batik Boy’s Day banner from Japan, Czech pottery, and a framed costume presentation from the estate of late opera diva Beverly Sills.

A living room vignette includes a 1950s batik Boy’s Day banner from Japan, Czech pottery, and a framed costume presentation from the estate of late opera diva Beverly Sills.

 

Smith took his stroke of bad luck as a blessing and redesigned the apartment as a vibrant showcase for his eclectic collection. Accent walls and different color tile enliven the 650-square-foot space, which doubles as the office for his practice, Village West Design. It’s an appropriate showcase for his collection of midcentury furniture and curios inherited from his great aunt, which has at long last been restored to its place. 

After Sandy, an NYC Designer Rehabs His Ruined Apartment—and Lends Neighbors a Hand with Theirs - Photo 4 of 4 - The living room includes two Noguchi lights, an Organic chair by Charles Eames and Eero Saarinen for Vitra, and a Nelson Eye clock. 

The living room includes two Noguchi lights, an Organic chair by Charles Eames and Eero Saarinen for Vitra, and a Nelson Eye clock.