buy it for the architecture

You Can Still Buy It for the Architecture

Photo-Illustration: Curbed; Photos: Compass, Bank Neary Inc, Douglas Elliman Real Estate, Sotheby’s

Pristinely preserved modernist homes are Instagram darlings, but architectural provenance is a thornier issue for luxury buyers. These older houses, for all their artistry, tend to lack the expansively renovated kitchens, overabundance of bathrooms, and bedroom-size closets that the $2 million-and-up crowd generally want in a home. “There’s a challenge to selling this kind of home,” a broker who’d sold a Frank Lloyd Wright in Connecticut told Mansion Global. “People look at them like a sculpture, not necessarily a place to live.” (To be fair, even some of the people who built the homes found them challenging to live in. A woman who’d commissioned a Richard Neutra home in Los Angeles told The New Yorker that the celebrated architect so despised storage that “it was a fight to get one bookcase.”)

Still, in a market awash in forgettable beige condos and indifferent glass towers, it’s a delight to see these stunning, original properties go up for sale from time to time. Below, a few of the best ones that Curbed has written about in the past that are, we might add, still currently available.

A Myron Goldfinger in Chappaqua

Photo: Compass

This modernist mansion in Westchester listed in August, asking $2.495 million. While this geometric, ash-gray exterior looks quite austere — the owners told Curbed they never had any trick-or-treaters in the 33 years they lived there — it was designed to maximize the comfort of the family that commissioned it. The couple had three daughters, two of them teenagers, living at home, so Goldfinger, a disciple of Louis Kahn, designed a “fragmented pinwheel” with four separate wings upstairs and a united living space downstairs. It also has a sauna and an en-suite bath off the primary bedroom, as well as a saltwater pool, hot tub, and tennis court on the property.

Very little has been changed since it was built in 1989 — the family replaced a spiral staircase with an elevator and took out a steam shower. But the mauve-and-gray wall-to-wall carpeting, dramatic ceilings and passageways, and even many of the original furnishings are still in place.

A William Lescaze on the Upper East Side

Photo: Douglas Elliman Real Estate

The gray-brick townhouse at 124 East 70th Street, built in 1941 and only one of three Lescaze townhouses in Manhattan, has been on and off the market since March 2022. And while the other properties have suffered from neglect and unsympathetic renovations over the years — the Kramer house on East 74th, for example, is now a three-family home with shiny herringbone floors and Home Depot backsplashes — 124, also known as the Norman House, has been meticulously preserved. Not only does it retain the original built-in cabinets and shelves, the rift-sawn oak doors, custom light fixtures, and art rails that Lescaze designed, but the current owners went to the trouble of collecting samples to precisely match all of the original paint colors.

But like the other Lescaze houses, this one has had some trouble finding a buyer — New Yorkers may love a Le Corbusier chair, but they apparently hew to more traditional tastes when laying out more than $10 million for a townhouse. The owner of the Kramer House on East 74th Street eventually gave up trying to sell; two of the three apartments in the building are now listed for rent. And the Norman House, once asking $13.5 million, was recently reduced to $10.75 million. Which may have something to do with the kitchens and baths, which, while lovingly restored and lovely in their own right, are not in the preferred style of the modern luxury market. The primary en-suite bath, for example, does not appear to be double-sinked — shocking, really, even for an upper-middle-class buyer.

A Chelsea one-bedroom designed by Ghiora Aharoni

Photo: Bank Neary Inc

Chelsea Gardens is a perfectly nice Art Deco building dating to 1940, but it’s nowhere near as exquisitely detailed as this one-bedroom apartment in the co-op. Designed by Ghiora Aharoni for the current owner, the design, which is completely custom down to the furnishings, required “a research trip to the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris,” as reported by the Cut. But while Art Deco is usually quite showy, this apartment channels the design movement’s essence with its shapes and sentiments, without the over-the-top ornamentation it’s also known for. Listed in September, the one-bedroom is asking $3 million.

Andrew Geller’s Antler House in the Springs

Photo: Compass

This playful, Bauhaus-inspired 1968 home designed by Geller is widely beloved and, with its peekaboo views and hideaway nooks, seems like a perfect place to while away a summer vacation. But these days, the buyers of Hamptons vacation homes demand hulking mansions, not whimsical two-bedrooms clocking in at 1,200 square feet. (A taste that has led to the destruction of many other modernist gems in recent years.) The fact that the Antler House is located slightly inland in the Springs, where prices were also historically lower, likely helped it escape the fate of its beach-dwelling cousins. It’s not like it’s all that far from the water, though — the bay is just two blocks away.

The recently renovated house, which sits on slightly more than an acre, was first listed for $2.49 million, since reduced to $1.99 million.

A Richard Meier mansion — with two pools — in New Jersey

Photo: Sotheby’s

Hearing stories about real-estate deals that went down in the early 1990s is always painful (unless, of course, you were a party to one). So brace yourself for the fact that the couple who bought this 7,370-square-foot Richard Meier house in Chester, New Jersey, paid just $650,000. (Although they probably could have done better, investment-wise, hanging onto the Carroll Gardens brownstone they were living in before that.) Still, if you’re going to leave New York, you’d want it to be for a house like this one, which was built in 1966 and sits atop a hill on a five-acre parcel. There’s six bedrooms, built-in furniture, and not one but two pools — one outside and one indoors — decorated with what appear to be homages to Meier’s friend Frank Stella.

The home, however, has been a bit of a hard sell. The current owners were talked into listing it in 2019 by their kids, one of whom is the real-estate developer and Million Dollar Listing cast member Zach Vella. But it’s been on and off the market ever since — in 2020, it tried for $2.8 million, now reduced to $2.3 million. As we pointed out back in 2021, the house, a bracingly modern stucco-and-glass structure, is located in New Jersey horse country, in a town where the median list price is about $750,000 and local vernacular tends toward ranches and Colonials.

You Can Still Buy It for the Architecture