Since its construction shortly after the Civil War in 1869, the Gilsey House has been reinvented time and time again. Originally a posh hotel whose famous Silver Dollar Bar welcomed celebrities like Mark Twain, Oscar Wilde, and Diamond Jim Brady, the cast iron building was converted into an apparel factory after the Great Depression to supply department stores on Lady’s Mile. In 1979, the dilapidated building was partially restored as artists’ lofts before a more thorough rehabilitation attracted young professionals in the media and tech fields. Today, the building rising above Manhattan’s happening NoMad district—North of Madison Square, that is—is topped by a contemporary glass-and-zinc addition by STUDIO V Architecture. Says principal Jay Valgora, who lives there with his family, "Our penthouse addition is just one more chapter in the interminable life of the building, and we purchased the original loft over 25 years ago, a bridge between the old and new guard."
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"Our penthouse addition is just one more chapter in the interminable life of the building." -Jay Valgora
With the two boys growing up and business thriving, the family’s needs evolved. They wanted more space and the ability to repurpose it when the kids left for college. They wanted to entertain outdoors and capture skyline views. "Manhattan is all about verticality," says Valgora. "We decided to go up. With expanded rooms, gardens, and living spaces on multiple levels, we could achieve our goals and design flexible spaces for different uses." The renovation expanded the one-story loft to three levels, including a double-story living room with a 24-foot tall library and a master bedroom suite that opens onto a garden terrace. Fusing the indoors and outdoors, a second rooftop living room provides seating and dining areas, perennial gardens, and a second kitchen.
"Manhattan is all about verticality."
- Jay Valgora
The proposed design precipitated a "perfect storm" of approvals from the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission, the Board of Standards and Appeals, the Cooperative Board, and the Department of Buildings, describes Valgora. "Of course each of these entities required the approval of the others before they could proceed—a Kafkaesque scenario that required all approvals to be performed both surgically and simultaneously," he says. Structure was another worry, but luckily, the project’s structural engineers discovered that during the factory conversion, additional columns and beams had been added that would support the rooftop addition. The new residence is a melding of opposites: old and new, inside and out, hidden and revealed. The J+K Residence, in fact, brings together two classic New York buildings—a historic loft and a floating townhouse—to offer both open, communal spaces and private, contemplative ones.
"Our ideal for the home must be authentic, flexible, and connected to the environment, even in the heart of the city," says Valgora. A skyward oasis nestled within Manhattan, the J+K Residence embodies the evolution of the times and adapts to fit the changing needs of the family within it.