Triplex apartment with sleeping loft in 1902 former hospital

Location: Stuyvesant Square

Rent: $3100 (market)

Square feet: 1150

Occupants: Charles Thanhauser (architect, Thanhauser & Esterson; projects include Gay Men’s Health Crisis, Martha Graham School of Dance); Will and Bart Thanhauser (sixth graders, Grace Church School); Etta James (dog)

You live in the huge 1902 brick-and-limestone building that used to be the Lying-In Hospital, where seamstresses and washerwomen went when they were with child. There were iron beds and everyone was in crisp white linen or maybe it was cotton. The building is classical revival with stone carvings of chubby babies holding out their hands. This is a very strange building. There are a lot of people from other countries—Japan, Italy, a lot of British. Lately Queen Latifah looked at an apartment and also one of Puff Daddy’s girlfriends. Which one? One of millions. He’s probably going to come after me and hit me with a bottle for saying that. The building was converted to 120-some apartments in the ’80s.

You moved here in 1996. Before, you lived in Liberty Tower on Wall Street, a former office building. FDR had an office. I read a German spy ring was headquartered in the building during World War I. When I first came to New York, in 1977, I lived in one of those big white buildings from the 1950s. I’d just got out of graduate school in Cambridge and traveled around on a motorcycle in Europe.

The floors are so orangey wood. Downstairs is a living/dining space, an Eames chair, a bathroom, your bedroom with a Navajo blanket, and the boys’ refrigerator magnet collection, including miniature French baguettes and plastic
Let’s go upstairs to the boys’ room. I have joint custody—they’re with me half
the time. Hold on to the railing.

Ouch, my head. This is the lowest ceiling I’ve ever seen in my life. If you’re 11 years old, it works.

I knew a dental assistant who hit her head five times a day because she had a low ceiling. She was afraid it would affect her brain. Do other people in the building live like this? I couldn’t say; all the units are different.

Standing up here, your head is bent at a right angle to your body. You almost look medieval. It’s like the men building the Brooklyn Bridge who got the bends from working in the caissons—all that air pressure. They couldn’t stand up straight. Some of them died. I don’t really come up here that much, just in the morning to wake the boys. I’m starting to get a crick in my neck. Would you like to go to the park?

Oh, yes! How refreshing. I’m usually stuck inside apartments. Now we’re sitting across the street on a park bench in Stuyvesant Square. With all the white and pink flowers and the circular fountain, it looks like the Hofgarten in Munich. There’s a statue of Peter Stuyvesant. I didn’t know he had a peg leg. He had silver studs in it. He lost his leg in a war. He was a horrible man. The Dutch East India Company had a policy of religious tolerance, which he refused to enforce.

You look so European, smoking your cigarette and wearing your dark glasses and suede loafers. Why, thank you. [A wide-ranging discussion ensues.] Paris has the greatest architecture….Berlin has a lot of fantastic architecture going on because of tax incentives….The political impact on architecture is enormous….Yes, I do primarily public projects. I don’t want to sit in two-hour meetings over what sink and toilet fixtures people want….Architecture in New York is a joke. Name a great building in the last 40 years. The system here is so economically driven. No value in civic virtue….There is an architecture mafia here. Philip Johnson is in every show at MOMA. They showed a dog house he did….Let me tell you, if this economic situation keeps up, Manhattan is going to be a wasteland of young stockbrokers in $5000 apartments….

Now Philip Johnson is going to hit you over the head with a bottle.