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A Gramercy Park Apartment With Two Private Terraces (and a Key to the Park)

The 11th floor of 44 Gramercy Park North was originally built for the owners of the 1929 building. On the dramatic, detail-stuffed floor, Jaan Whitehead combined two apartments. Photo: Eitan Gamliely

When Jaan Whitehead was looking for a pied-à-terre in 1991, most of the one-bedrooms she saw were dark, pushed into the back of buildings. She wanted light and air and a sense of history, and told her broker that she’d like a terrace, a fireplace, and moldings — not expecting to get all three. Then she saw 11B. “We walked into this room, and there were high ceilings and moldings and a fireplace and doors coming out to two terraces and a summer breeze coming through,” she said. “It was in my head, and then to walk into it was like a miracle.” Also miraculous: 11-foot-high ceilings, Monticello-style parquet floors, and a key to Gramercy Park. She took it.

44 Gramercy Park North is a 1929 neo-Gothic 16-story building, with a brick façade, stained-glass windows, and pointed stone archways — a love letter to medieval ornament built just before the stock-market crash. Everything about it feels special, but the 11th floor, which has only one other unit, is extra, says broker Kaptan Unugur, who believes the floor was designed as a single apartment for the building’s owner, who invested it with more detail than on lower floors. “It feels like you’re walking into Buckingham Palace,” he said. “It’s very grand.”

Not only that: It was owned by the Tony-nominated director Stephen W. Porter. This felt fortuitous; Whitehead needed a place to stay because she served on the boards of two New York theater companies. After their meetings, she would head back to Washington, D.C., where she worked as a professor of political philosophy at Georgetown. But in 1997, she was named the executive director of Theatre for a New Audience. The job pulled her to New York full-time. And when her neighbor in 11A announced plans to leave, she made an offer and got another bedroom, living area, terrace, and a grand kitchen that became her preferred place to cook: It’s much bigger than the kitchenette that served apartment 11B. (No wonder: Her neighbor had been Dana Cowin, the Food and Wine editor.) Whitehead renovated the two units to make moldings consistent throughout and turned a second living area into a cozy library, walling it with built-ins. Over the years, she used it often for informal potluck parties with her theater colleagues and filled the shelves with the books that fed her study in economics; her work as a professor of political philosophy; and her second career in theater.

There was still some room left on those shelves, so her mother asked if she might want her grandmother’s collection of antique bells to display. She did, and found herself distracted by them to the point that she was researching bells. There wasn’t much out there. So she wrote the definitive book. In that sense, the library has become the theatrical representation of her own mind. “I come home and I come home to myself,” she said. “It’s a nourishing room.”

The entryway leads to the great room of 11B, a former one-bedroom that Jaan Whitehead bought in 1991. Parquet floors, a marble fireplace, and an original chandelier are probably original. The French doors open onto two terraces. Photo: Eitan Gamliely
This library was once the main living area of the neighboring apartment, 11A. When Jaan Whitehead bought the second apartment, she turned the room into a library with custom bookshelves that served her studies. Photo: Eitan Gamliely
The shelves hold her collection of books about economics, political philosophy, and theater. And they also antique bells, which her grandmother collected and which she wrote about in Bells: Music, Art, Culture, and Politics From Around the World. Photo: Eitan Gamliely
This terrace, which looks south over Gramercy Park, is wide enough to host dinner parties and grill. Photo: Eitan Gamliely
It’s also a lovely spot to read. When Whitehead bought the apartment, she was a professor of political philosophy at Georgetown University. She later published articles on theater and aesthetics and a book on the culture and politics of bells. Photo: Eitan Gamliely
A second terrace faces north, which means when one gets too sunny, Whitehead can walk to the other. Photo: Eitan Gamliely
The view back to the entryway in the great room. Whitehead plays piano, but she also loves this room so much she eats most meals here. Photo: Eitan Gamliely
Ornate carvings in the moldings and the fireplace speak to the room’s past. Broker Kaptan Unugur learned that the 11th floor had been designed as a single apartment for the building’s original owner. Photo: Eitan Gamliely
The apartment actually has two kitchens. The main kitchen was once part of the neighboring apartment owned by Dana Cowin, who went on to become the editor of Food & Wine magazine. Photo: Eitan Gamliely
An informal breakfast nook off the kitchen. Photo: Eitan Gamliely
The primary bedroom. Both bedrooms and the library look over Gramercy Park. Along the wall that isn’t pictured, built-in shelves match the arched shelves of the library. Photo: Eitan Gamliely
A guest bedroom. Whitehead has hosted family and friends. Photo: Eitan Gamliely
Gramercy Park is, of course, a private park, and the owner of this apartment gets a key. But who needs that when you have two private terraces, with one overlooking the treetops? Photo: Eitan Gamliely
A Gramercy Park Apartment With Two Private Terraces