A few years ago, Naomi Blumenthal was in a position not familiar to very many New Yorkers: she owned two mortgage-free brownstones near Gramercy Park, and they were both empty.
"The tenants had all moved on one by one," Blumenthal recalls, "so I thought, instead of more tenants, let's do something interesting."
Her plan was to restore the buildings to their 19th-century grandeur and turn them into an inn.
"I called my lawyer and he just laughed," says Blumenthal, who owns other buildings in the area. "Then I called my accountant who said, 'Give me the numbers.' I did, and he said 'OK.' "
The Inn at Irving Place, newly opened at 54-56 Irving Place, is the result of three years of renovations -- floors were redone, the roof releveled and the original moldings restored.
"We even discovered a doorway between the two buildings that we didn't know existed," says Blumenthal.
Nearly the only architectural details that are of the 20th century are the modern baths and the small sinks and refrigerators in each room.
Blumenthal furnished the inn herself, mixing styles and periods from Victorian to arts and crafts -- all of which could have been in a turn-of-the-century house. She handpicked each piece by scouring flea markets and galleries from Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn to the 26th Street Flea Market in Manhattan to upstate New York and Connecticut.
"It's mostly Victorian," Blumenthal points out, "but I didn't take the heavy look. I don't think anyone is interested in heavy red velvets and such."
Instead, she had the sofas and chairs upholstered in light airy shades, such as celadon, cream and gold. Needlepoint and oriental rugs are strewn throughout, and Tiffany-style lamps, black Italian marble fireplaces and wrought-iron antiques finish the look. Each of the eight rooms at 54 Irving Place (56 Irving Place is still being completed) has a distinct personality and is named after a person, some fictitious, associated with the neighborhood -- including Elsie de Wolfe, Mme. Olenska and, of course, Washington Irving, who lived across the street.
Although the inn is charming and cozy, and breakfast is served each morning either in guests' quarters or in the drawing room, Blumenthal says it isn't a typical B&B. It's more like a Blake's in London or L'Hotel in Paris, she says, with all the amenities of a Four Seasons or St. Regis: fax machines, lap-top computers, 24-hour room service, in-room massages, hand laundry and full concierge services are included in the $200-to-$275-per-night rooms."I had contacted the Bed and Breakfast Association of New York when I was putting this together," Blumenthal says. "They sent me this form that asked questions like, 'Are you going to sit in the living room with the guests after dinner?,' 'Do you bake your own pies?,' and, 'Will the family pet mingle with the guests?' I thought God, no! That's not at all what this is about."
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