The Wielanders’ Amalgamated Dwellings apartment had all the benefits of a pre-war structure, and they renovated the rest.
by Margaret Mitchell
The Amalgamated Dwellings is different from, and arguably more charming than its sister co-op buildings up and down Grand Street and East Broadway. It starts with the two entryways from the street level, which descend down a flight of stairs into opposite semicircular, cavernous passageways. This is nothing like the frontal metal and glass doors of East River Housing and Seward Park. And even compared to Hillman’s better concealed wood and glass front doors, the Amalgamated scores big on mystery and style.
The eight buildings of this settlement are each only eight stories high, grouped around a spacious courtyard with meticulously tended grass lawns, bushes and paved paths, and a huge empty fish pond that we thought could accommodate sprinkler happy toddlers in the summertime. The eight buildings are also distinct from one another, enduring nothing like East River’s and Seward’s modernist sameness, where you can’t escape your own apartment even when visiting your neighbors.
The downside of a pre-war building is that it was built some 75 years ago, and even with good maintenance the way the living space itself was put together requires an adjustment.
Enter - one year ago - Eric and Maureen Wielander, both young public relations professionals, with their two little daughters, Melanie and Meadow. “The home is a work in progress” is their family motto.
They didn’t mind the older feel of the place and, in fact, decided to commit to a retro kind of look, the clearest example of which is the way they handled the kitchen. It is long and rather narrow, with a very large window overlooking the courtyard. “We played around with the layout and tried to create an eat-in kitchen environment,” reports Eric. “So we put in a counter with diner stools.” A pantry fits snugly underneath the counter, and two kids and one adult fit equally snugly over breakfast cereal bowls.
“It’s definitely a pleasant little space,” says Eric, although to pose for the kitchen group picture he must settle for a seat on the floor, near the sunny window. Otherwise the Wielanders decided not to expand the original kitchen cabinet space. And they adorned the new cabinets with vintage handles and kept the Formica countertops, yet another homage to the mid-20th Century.
The vestibule and living room are painted faded green pastel. “We tired of having white apartment walls,” confesses Eric, “we really wanted a splash of color here. And we’re fans of the Miami South Beach texture and design. We wanted to create something fun and soothing.”
Storage is one of those perpetual issues in Manhattan apartments. Maureen confides that a lot of their stuff is still in boxes in Manhattan Mini Storage. She says they’re going to design shelving for the vestibule, but it won’t be enclosed. “We find that most of the stuff we don’t have space for are display things,” she says. And bikes and baby carriages will just have to fend for themselves near the entrance. The original living room had an additional wall, which formed a dark and narrow hallway leading to the bedroom section. It offered a greater sense of privacy, perhaps, but it also made for a small and dingy feel. “It looked like a lot of really small rooms,” says Maureen.
By knocking down this needless wall they created a wider, better lit living area, and the bedrooms are still reasonably concealed. They opted for an arched top for the entryway from vestibule to living room, in keeping with the more stately character. They also sealed what used to be the front entrance to what is now their master bedroom.
They think the original apartment was a two-bedroom with a dining room. Their choice was to make it a three bedroom with a dining area at one corner of the living room. The result is very spacious rooms for the girls and a big master bedroom.
It gets very bright in the kitchen and two of the bedrooms in the middle of the day, in an apartment with a northern and a southern exposure. The South side overlooks the quaint courtyard, the north offers a gritty view of the Williamsburg Bridge, with ample train spotting opportunities for the girls. A work in progress, indeed.