Bruce Buck for The New York Times
A Mondrian-like stairwell.
WHEN Ellen Weiman and Dubi Silverstein began dating, they often went for rambles through Lower Manhattan, killing time before a movie or just meandering for the fun of it.
The house’s Federalist facade, left, hides a modern, family-friendly space. The glass rear facade, right.
As they walked, they peered into town houses and brownstones without envy or resentment, with no expectation of ever living in such places.
“It was like window shopping,” Ms. Weiman said recently. “It was only about the thrill of the glimpse.”
Ms. Weiman had grown up in the lower-middle-class neighborhood of Gravesend, Brooklyn, and worked as a spokeswoman for a city agency. Mr. Silverstein, the son of a New Jersey building superintendent, was starting a software firm from his apartment on East Fifth Street. What they saw on those walks seemed as distant as Narnia.
Seventeen years later, Mr. Silverstein, 51, and Ms. Weiman, 52, are married with two daughters and living in a West Village town house that is striking enough to draw any passer-by’s nose to the windowpane. It is modern in a casual midcentury manner and warmed by collections of furniture, housewares and vintage posters that reflect the couple’s past lives.
They married in 1993, and would have moved to the Upper West Side had they been able to afford it. Instead, pooling money from their salaries, they made a down payment on a $375,000, 2,000-square-foot loft on the tattered stretch of Broome Street between Greene and Mercer Streets, a space that Ms. Weiman says was larger than all her previous homes combined.
SoHo was at a tipping point when they moved in, with galleries beginning to give way to shoe stores. The nearest dry cleaner was six blocks away. After a few years, the small nonprofit opera company next door to their building was replaced by a Jonathan Adler boutique. The slow erosion of the neighborhood was disheartening, and they were perpetually wary of the endless stream of cars heading for the Holland Tunnel a few steps from their door.
“I was always worried that some car racing to make the traffic light was going to whip around the corner and run over me and my stroller,” Mr. Silverstein said.
So when he and his partner sold their software company, Systems/Link, for $32 million, in 2000, he and Ms. Weiman decided to consider alternatives. “We realized with a shock, and some mutual convincing, that we could have a house in the city,” he said, an idea that seemed to them “the greatest oxymoron” they could imagine.
After a deal fell through on their first choice, a town house on West 24th Street, Mr. Silverstein found an unprepossessing town house for sale on a stretch of Grove Street made famous by Arthur’s Tavern and the building where Chandler, Monica, Ross and Joey lived on the TV series “Friends.” The house was a blemish on an otherwise impeccable block, with a pink stucco facade and a missing stoop as conspicuous as a knocked-out incisor.
Conditions were no better inside, where one of the house’s owners lived beneath a warren of battleship-gray rooms rented to exchange students attending New York University. A dilapidated plexiglass greenhouse moldered in back. “It was a very sorry apartment building,” said Gilles Depardon, an architect whom the couple had hired, along with his wife and partner Kathryn Ogawa, to renovate the 24th Street house.
In fact, Mr. Silverstein was relieved to find no original details left inside. “It was perfect for us because we wanted a place that we could gut and rebuild in our own image,” he said. He and Ms. Weiman bought it for $2.3 million and embarked on a $1 million renovation.
Rebuilding meant family-friendly modern. The design that Mr. Depardon and Ms. Ogawa had drafted for the first town house translated almost exactly to the new one, with minor adjustments for width and depth.
The couple obliged the Landmarks Commission by restoring the 1890 facade to something close to its original condition, in exchange for some latitude at the rear of the house. However historically faithful it may appear from the street, the town house is now more like a loft on the inside — David Byrne dressed as Benjamin Harrison. One climbs the scrupulously restored stoop and steps through the properly Federalist entry to find midcentury furniture arranged among white walls lighted with unexpected sunshine.
This parlor floor, with its open kitchen and sitting area, is “almost a re-creation of our living space in SoHo,” Mr. Silverstein said. The further back you go, the more midcentury the disposition; at the back is a double-height living area and a rear facade made of rigidly geometric window panels based on those in the Los Angeles home of Charles and Ray Eames, the darlings of American modernism.
Mr. Silverstein, now the editor of Blueshirt Bulletin, a magazine about the New York Rangers, and Ms. Weiman, now a freelance publicist, were self-taught students of midcentury design. “We go way back to the beautiful 26th Street flea market — the way it was, the way it used to be” in the early 1990s, Ms. Weiman said. “It was the thrill of the hunt, the thrill of the find.”
Together they combed 26th Street and the cluster of flea markets around Adamstown, Pa. They looked together, but always for different things. Ms. Weiman collected Heywood-Wakefield furniture, Russel Wright tableware and the Bakelite jewelry that recalls her family home in Gravesend and her Grandma Yetta’s apartment, also in Brooklyn.
A living area with midcentury furniture.
“I wanted to surround myself with things that I remember from my rose-colored childhood,” she said.
While Ms. Weiman collects to preserve family memories, Mr. Silverstein collects vintage travel posters out of sentiment for the days when he journeyed from the Arctic Circle to Israel, from Florence to Fiji. He has acquired more than 4,000 posters, many of them produced by airlines or railways to destinations like Chamonix and Monaco.
The three posters of France in their bedroom include an illustration of Côte d’Azur by Roger Broders, a master illustrator for French railways in the 1910s and 1920s.
Mr. Silverstein has his own archive room downstairs, where he keeps thousands of posters in flat files.
He is not immune to childhood remembrances. He keeps a stack of vintage board games — Mary Poppins, Patty Duke, Hollywood Squares — near his ground-floor office. The crown jewel is a Captain Video game with Sputnik-era graphics that he bought for $20.
About 10 years ago, the couple transferred their efforts from the flea markets to eBay, where they can sift for specific pieces more efficiently. “The flea markets now just have the dregs, just the things that aren’t even worth shipping,” Mr. Silverstein said.
Mr. Depardon and Ms. Ogawa kept the architecture understated so the collections could stand out. The white walls of the stairwell, for example, are lined with travel posters of New York, and the balustrade has panels of perforated steel and plastic laminate in honor of the storage units the Eameses designed for Herman Miller in 1950. The open kitchen and dining area has open shelves of tan anigre wood filled with Russel Wright pitchers and Community Silver flatware from the 1940s.
What is most remarkable about the house is the way it recreates the easy, comfortable grace that was the true tenet of midcentury modernism. Several visitors during the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation house tour last May remarked that they thought the family must enjoy living there.
As design-minded as she and Mr. Silverstein are, Ms. Weiman said, “it is a home first and foremost, and a place where people should feel welcome.”