Staying In Character
by David Hay, New York Times
The Canadian actors Paul Gross and Martha Burns had long fantasized about buying a place in New York, but it took an old clothing factory on Orchard Street to convince them.
“We instantly fell in love with its look and feel,” Ms. Burns said of the 2,400-square-foot loft space, which they bought in 2008 for $2.2 million. “Even its smell. It was a New York we had never known.’
The wood floors still showed the dents made by sewing machine treadles nearly a century earlier; the tin ceiling was original and looked it; much of the plumbing was exposed. That history was what appealed to Mr. Gross, who was amazed that so much of the surrounding Lower East Side neighborhood remained unchanged as well.
“The tailors still run after me when I go out,” he said jokingly.
And at a time when they were dealing with the prospect of an empty nest in Toronto, that kind of stability held a certain appeal. So did the location.
The couple’s daughter, Hannah, who is now 23, had just left to study at New York University, and their son, Jack, now 19, would soon be going away to school in New York, too (he is a second-year student at Columbia College).
“The loft became a way of us staying together,” said Mr. Gross, 54, who played opposite Kim Cattrall in the recent Broadway revival of “Private Lives,” although he and Ms. Burns, 56, are probably best known for their roles on “Slings & Arrows,” a Canadian television series about a fictional Shakespearean company.
But traditionalism only goes so far: After a couple of years of living there, the couple had to face the reality that the makeshift kitchen and bathroom weren’t functional and the general dilapidation of the space was dispiriting. Suchi Reddy, the designer they hired to make the loft more livable, had done a modern renovation of another space in the building, but that wasn’t what they had in mind.
As Ms. Reddy put it, the loft “needed a gut renovation, but they wanted everything to stay exactly as it was.”
The first step was replacing the plumbing and wiring, and Ms. Reddy made sure the contractor moved slowly and carefully to preserve the existing surfaces and materials.
To maintain the sense of authenticity, Ms. Reddy exaggerated some of the original features of the space, adding more than a foot to the height of four of the windows. She also had the brick walls and tin ceiling meticulously patched and cleaned, exposed the old iron beams running down the center of the ceiling and repaired floorboards to eliminate creaking.
She also wanted to preserve the openness of the former industrial space, so instead of building a separate master bedroom, she created what she called a “cocoon” at one end of the living area: a bed surrounded by translucent linen curtains that hang from a circular track.
Many of the furnishings were also chosen to play up the period sensibility. The 18-foot dining table is made from salvaged wood and steel, the dining chairs are covered in vintage Turkish ikat and the sofa is upholstered in fabric that mimics the color and texture of the brick walls.
Now that their $350,000 restoration is complete (and their romantic vision of New York is intact), the couple have set about creating some traditions of their own. Last month, they held their first big feast here: Canadian Thanksgiving.