Signature Style of Great Cities: New York

Signature Style of Great Cities: New York

Anna Hoffman
Jul 29, 2011

Every block in New York displays a wild jumble of styles, a melding of past and present

Alistair Cooke once described New York City as "the biggest collection of villages in the world." There are so many New Yorks contained within this one metropolis — millions of points of view and places of origin. But most New Yorkers are united by the same common elements that bind most Apartment Therapy readers: small spaces, street-smarts, and a passion for being ahead of the curve.

Mulberry Street, c. 1900

Manhattan's building styles have changed with the eras, and though the city is constantly being reinvented, you can still see evidence of all these bygone styles, sitting side-by-side on nearly every block. There are the Federal-era squat brick townhouses with Classical proportions and elegant stoops; cast iron buildings that were once warehouses and factories and are now loft spaces; grand Beaux-Arts facades with elaborate moldings and the occasional column; Art Deco skyscrapers with decorative friezes and stylized sculptures; sleek black boxes that defined the International Style and imported Bauhaus style to America; and new experiments in glass by Jean Nouvel, Richard Meier and Frank Gehry.

The grand Beaux-Arts facade of the Metropolitan Museum of Art was completed in 1902, a far cry from the bustling tenements of Mulberry Street in the same era

Within all this diversity, New York style does have some identifiable characteristics, beyond merely "eclectic." Furniture tends to be streamlined and practical, even when space isn't too tight. Downstairs neighbors are cranky, so rugs are a must. The city is a (wonderful) barrage of noise and stimulation, so lots of apartments are designed to be serene havens, which either means minimal or cozy (or both), depending on the person. Ceilings can be low and windows can be small and/or facing a wall, so New Yorkers typically try to keep their apartments as light and bright as possible. Walls are usually kept white (to maximize light, but also because so many of us are renters). Lots of people cook in their small galley kitchens, but more people eat out.

West Village townhouses

Everyone has interesting art on their walls, whether it's old posters from museum exhibitions or intriguing contemporary photography — after all, you can't walk down the street in New York without encountering some kind of capital-C "Culture." Most New Yorkers lack adequate closet space, which makes for inventive storage solutions and lots of editing.

New York apartments are an eclectic melange of old and new, repurposed and DIY'd — much like the city itself.

You can see characteristic New York style in a lot of our House Tours (click the captions below to tour the full home):

How would you define New York style?

Images: 1 & 3 City-Data; 2 Mulberry Street, c. 1900, via Familypedia; 4 Level Group; 5-8 Apartment Therapy, as linked above.

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