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‘The Sweetest Little House on the Most Expensive Street’

Donna Pond and Daniel Bergman lived in this 1826 rowhouse for 47 years, watching celebrities come and go. Photo: Envision Studio Inc./Phil & Noa

Donna Pond couldn’t get the little house on Barrow Street out of her head. It was 1976, and Pond and her partner, Daniel Bergman, had been living on East 6th Street, where the bohemian allure was fading. They missed the comforts of their suburban, childhood homes in Syracuse and Cleveland — but joked that they were unwilling to live above 14th Street. They dreamed of the West Village.

Bergman and Pond weren’t rich. They met in the 1960s working in the back offices of Bamberger’s, the New Jersey department store. Bergman was artsy, always doodling, and he was friends with lots of poets. Pond was levelheaded, a reader who loved to learn and teach. They fell in love over food, spending their paychecks at fine restaurants uptown and making an annual pilgrimage to Louisiana for crawfish season. They didn’t want kids. When they first saw the house on Barrow Street, just off Bleecker, they were put off by how much work it might entail: The 150-year-old home was in bad shape, with chunks of plaster falling from the ceiling. The owners had tried and failed a full renovation. But the couple could see its potential. “We were both drawn to the older places that had a little more character,” said Pond. “We didn’t want to be upscale.” They took out a mortgage for $92,000 — around $475,000 today — and never left; Bergman was in the house until his death last year from heart failure.

The entry hall gives visitors some idea of Bergman and Pond’s ranging interests; as foragers and cooks, they had books on pharmacopeia and global cuisine. “For a number of years we were running over with books.” The 1956 map came from a trash bin at Bard College, where Bergman was working as a teacher when he saved it. Photo: Envision Studio Inc./Phil & Noa

Pond’s broker Gino Filippone describes the place as “the sweetest little house on the most expensive, highly coveted street in the West Village.” It’s one of a small row of wood-framed houses that a group of builders built for themselves and other workers in 1826. While neighbors on the row were renovated to add a full third story, No. 51 kept its peaked roof with a dormer window. Part of the English basement still had a floor of packed dirt when Pond and Bergman arrived. They made renovations without adding frills, stripping plaster to expose beams and restoring wood floors. The primary bedroom was polished to reflect the home’s original, Federal style, with historically accurate wallpaper and a wood-burning fireplace. Small extensions, unnoticeable from the street, added a powder room off the back of the house and raised the ceiling of the back of the top floor, to make a room for guests more comfortable. The couple landscaped the backyard with the plants of the northern Adirondacks, where they hiked and foraged.

When the couple arrived in 1976, a half-finished renovation had left this room in tatters. They restored floors and original details, like a wood-burning fireplace. The marble mantel was as close as they could find, dating back to the late 1800s. Photo: Envision Studio Inc./Phil & Noa

But the most lovingly renovated room is hidden from a casual guest, who enters one floor up. In the English basement, Bergman and Pond turned a homely kitchen into one that would suit two chefs. There are six burners on the stove and a double oven; a marble counter for pastries; and a bar where guests can pull up a stool and watch the action. Friends came here for an annual event: a unique Thanksgiving, dedicated to the traditional cooking of a specific region. “We were just sick of turkey, and we were interested in exploring different techniques and ingredients.” The couple would plan for weeks to build a menu that reflected types of cooking in Spain, Italy, Turkey, Morocco, Algeria, Peru, and Mexico. “We kept coming back to France, because everyone likes French cooking,” Pond said. Guests had to show up early in the week to get shopping lists that would take them to stores across all five boroughs. Then, the day before, they arrived to prep. “We taught them to cook while we were learning to cook.” The dining room seems to lure potential buyers, says Filippone, Pond’s broker. “It screams, Let’s sit around the fire and drink red wine and make a bouillabaisse.”

The dining room takes up much of the English basement, where the fireplace and the beams are original. “When you’re down there, every single buyer goes, Oh my God! says broker Gino Filippone, who jokes that only a few things seem to be missing: “a fire, a snowstorm, and a glass of Merlot.” Photo: Envision Studio Inc./Phil & Noa

Visitors were regularly lulled into Bergman and Pond’s orbit; even the attorney who handled the sale of 51 Barrow became a friend, reaching out decades later to ask a favor. He had become the executor of Joan Mitchell’s estate, and was tasked with carrying out the painter’s wish to support young artists through the Joan Mitchell Foundation. Bergman had retired to pursue a career as a sculptor full-time. He had an innate understanding of artists and a background in management. The attorney tapped Bergman to help, and he served as president of the board, creating programs to help other artists. Some of them came to the home on Barrow Street. “Dan became kind of a mentor for them, in terms of their own artistic careers,” Pond said.

The living room was deployed to host their famous Thanksgiving parties. They would clear out the furniture and replace it with rented tables. The house was a natural place to host, Pond says. “It’s cozy, it’s warm, it’s comfortable.” Photo: Envision Studio Inc./Phil & Noa

Everyone wanted an invitation to dinner and showed up with a bottle to repay their hosts — which caused a problem in the small house. What Pond described as a “world-class collection of after-dinner drinks” eventually overflowed a storage area, filling a shelf by the toilet of the powder room. “People thought that was quite bizarre,” Pond said. “I guess it is.”

But she and Dan didn’t think it was. “We married the right people. It was a truly wonderful life.”

The kitchen was the center of life for its serious chef owners. There are six burners atop two ovens, and a marble slab makes rolling pastry feasible. A bar top (right) means guests can watch the fun. Photo: Envision Studio Inc./Phil & Noa
A sideboard in the dining room. The couple tried to stay true to the aesthetic of the 1826 Federal-style home, built for a working-class family. Photo: Envision Studio Inc./Phil & Noa
Guests repaying Bergman and Pond for a meal would bring a bottle, eventually creating a collection that outgrew these cabinets off the dining room. “We had a world-class collection of after-dinner drinks,” Pond confessed. Photo: Envision Studio Inc./Phil & Noa
Upstairs is the primary bedroom. The wide-plank floors are original and were restored when Pond and Bergman moved in. Photo: Envision Studio Inc./Phil & Noa
The wood-burning fireplace in the primary bedroom is likely original, Pond says, though the couple added built-ins for their books and a walk-in closet. Photo: Envision Studio Inc./Phil & Noa
The fixtures in the bathroom were there when Bergman and Pond bought the home in 1976, though they renovated almost everything else. Photo: Envision Studio Inc./Phil & Noa
Friends thought it was “very exotic” to stay on the top floor in the 1970s. At that time, the garret had little headspace and no bathroom. A renovation in the 1980s raised the roof off the back, adding space for a full bathroom and a small art studio. Cedar-lined closets made better use of the angled space off the floor. Photo: Envision Studio Inc./Phil & Noa
Bergman and Pond spent time in the northern Adirondacks and landscaped their backyard with the plants they loved from the region. The yard also held their firewood and was an ideal place for weekend breakfasts and sunset cocktail hours. Photo: Envision Studio Inc./Phil & Noa
‘The Sweetest Little House on the Most Expensive Street’