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When a listing is described as being in "white box" condition, it's exactly what it sounds like - a minimally finished space with the most basic of finishes. Some appreciate that, either because it won't compete with sweeping views or because it allows them to more easily put their own stamp on a space. Others, however, find it boring, especially compared to the grand interiors of old.
Grand interiors are on display throughout Academy Award-winning actress Jessica Chastain’s apartment at The Osborne, which was recently listed for $7.45 million. While the home has been refurbished in the years since Ms. Chastain bought it in 2015, this has not come at the expense of period details like bay windows, plaster crown moldings, parquet floors, leaded glass transoms, and multiple wood-burning fireplaces. Such details were certainly on display when legendary composer Leonard Bernstein lived in the apartment – he used it as his family’s home while writing West Side Story in a separate studio on the second floor (h/t The Wall Street Journal).

In this article:

350 East 57th Street
350 East 57th Street Midtown East
133 East 80th Street
133 East 80th Street Carnegie Hill
The Atelier, 33 West 67th Street
The Atelier, 33 West 67th Street Central Park West
425 East 86th Street
425 East 86th Street Yorkville
The Sonora, 770 Park Avenue
The Sonora, 770 Park Avenue Park/Fifth Ave. to 79th St.

The Osborne, #4B (Sothebys International Realty)
Features like these are most commonly on display in prewar residential units, though they aren't impossible to find in the residential conversions of formerly commercial buildings. And it's not entirely true that they don’t make them like they used to – some designers are working popular prewar designs into their new developments so as to offer the best of both worlds. A handful of listings with sunken living rooms proved especially popular at 109 East 79th Street, which is now sold out, and new development condos Arloparc and The Harper have incorporated herringbone floors to add a touch of Old World elegance to the modern interiors.

Below, we look at popular prewar design features, what homeowners get out of them, and listings featuring them. Images from Ms. Chastain's apartment at The Osborne are used as an example unless otherwise indicated.

Crown Moldings

Secondary bedroom with crown moldings
In prewar buildings, S-shaped moldings on top of a cove were installed to hide the cracks between the ceilings and the walls. Today, crown moldings are mostly enjoyed as a feature that adds character to a room.

350 East 57th Street, #15B (The Agency Brokerage)

1025 Fifth Avenue, #10EN (Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices New York Properties)

The Adelaide, #9thFloor (Sothebys International Realty)

Park Avenue Court, #R22C (Corcoran Group)

Coffered / Beamed Ceilings

Living room with coffered ceiling Coffered ceiling in living/dining room (34 West 74th Street, #4C - Douglas Elliman)
In architectural terms, "coffer" means "indentation" and can refer to grid patterns in any shape (rectangles, octagons, or squares were the most popular). In addition to looking extremely dramatic, they have the benefit of absorbing excess sound. However, renovation expert Bob Vila advises that they work best in rooms with high ceilings and can look too claustrophobic otherwise. Modern acoustic technology allows for smoother ceilings in new developments, but they remain eye-catching.

333 East 68th Street, #7E (Sothebys International Realty)

257 West 86th Street, #56B (Douglas Elliman Real Estate)

Philip House, #10C (Compass)

Parquet Floors

Parquet flooring in secondary bedroom
Parquet floors date back to 16th-century France, when King Louis XVI replaced the marble floors in the Palace of Versailles with geometrically paneled wood. Precision is key in such an arrangement, which may explain why wide-plank floors are more popular in new developments. However, parquet designs like herringbone, chevron, and Versailles have the benefits of drawing the eye forward and creating a dramatic effect, especially in a large-scale space.

Arloparc, #2A (Corcoran Group)

The Osborne, #8BA (Sothebys International Realty)

The Ramondo, #8B (Sothebys International Realty)

Step-Down Living Rooms

Step-down living room Step-down living room (205 West 95th Street, #5J - Compass)
Step-down living rooms are also known as sunken living rooms or "conversation pits," as architect Bruce Goff dubbed it when he installed one in an Art Deco house in 1927. Designers and developers eventually came to see them as tripping hazards and stopped including them in their buildings, but their sense of grandeur and appearances on The Dick Van Dyke Show and Mad Men alike have immortalized them in many a New Yorker's imagination.
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36 Sutton Place South, #11A (Keller Williams NYC)

Asten House, #27B (Douglas Elliman Real Estate)

The Century, #5N (Douglas Elliman Real Estate)

Built-in Bookshelves

Library with built-in bookshelves Library with built-in bookshelves (Butterfield House, #11C - Sotheby's International Realty)
In the age of e-books, minimalism, custom closets, and open floor plans, built-in bookcases and shelving are not in significant demand. But decades ago, they had the benefit of adding storage without eating into an apartment's precious square footage.

1 Fifth Avenue, #8E (Ann Weintraub Ltd)

14 East 75th Street, #7C (Corcoran Group)

The Sonora, #2C (Corcoran Group)

Arched Openings

Arched doorway leading from living room to dining room Arched doorway (393 Clinton Street, #TH - Nest Seekers LLC)
For a time, arched doorways and entries were seen as a quaint feature of yesteryear and an indication that an apartment was not exactly new. But what's old is new again, and design enthusiasts appreciate how they add charm and character to an otherwise unremarkable space. Some intrepid DIYers have even gone so far as to add them to their modern homes, but the arches are already in place at many prewar listings.

10 Park Avenue, #7K (Akam Sales & Brokerage Inc)

425 East 86th Street, #11D (Compass)

535 West End Avenue, #172P (Douglas Elliman Real Estate)

Wood paneling and wainscoting

Dining room with wainscoting and wood paneling
For centuries, wainscot paneling was installed in homes for insulation and to protect walls from scuffs and stains. The decorative appeal also contributed to its popularity in the prewar era, and has proven to be in high demand in the present.

The Sherry Netherland, #1911 (Serhant LLC)

Hotel des Artistes, #716 (Douglas Elliman Real Estate)

The Atelier, #6FE (Sothebys International Realty)

Wood-burning fireplaces with ornate mantlepieces

Wood-burning fireplace
Before central heating became widely available, wood-burning fireplaces were used to heat New York’s grander apartments. These were often framed by elaborately carved mantlepieces and found in homes likely to be staffed with servants who were responsible for keeping them, as well as the rest of the home, dusted and polished.

The Courtlandt, #PH14E (Sothebys International Realty)

The Beresford, #15B (Brown Harris Stevens Residential Sales LLC)

133 East 80th Street, #12FL (Brown Harris Stevens Residential Sales LLC)
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Or call us at (212) 755-5544
Would you like to tour any of these properties?