Judy Holliday’s Old Home in the Village Deserved a Renovation


Jarrah al-Buainain, 35, moved to New York from Berkeley in 2019 because of his work as a lawyer. He wanted to enjoy the city. When his work as a lawyer brought him to New York from Berkeley, Calif., in 2019, he just wanted to enjoy all that the city had to offer.

“I wanted something that was more or less turnkey, and just done,” said Mr. Al-Buainain, 35.

At the same time, he added, “I didn’t want a glass box or a very modern building — I wanted character.”

Finding those two qualities in the same place turned out to be more difficult than he anticipated. He decided to go with a two-bedroom apartment in a building built in 1839 in the West Village because he wanted character. “I was really in a bad mood. It was strange to feel so comfortable. It was cozy. It just grabbed me, and I had butterflies.”

The 1,500-square-foot railroad-style apartment had a peculiar layout that forced him to pass through the living room, dining room, sitting room, back corridor and kitchen to reach the primary bedroom. Many of the rooms had floral wallpaper in vibrant colors. “It felt like ‘Alice in Wonderland.'”

It was clear that the apartment was going to need some work. He couldn’t get rid of the feeling that this was his home. So, in February 2020, he paid $2.6 million for it. Leah Solk was the architect he chose to renovate the apartment. She shared his desire to modernize the space without erasing the history. The bones of the apartment were what gave it the ‘wow factor’. You could just sense what a special history the building and the unit had.”

But the apartment — which was once home to the actress Judy Holliday, who won an Academy Award for her role in the 1950 film “Born Yesterday” — was in bad shape.

“The plaster ceiling was about to start coming down,” she said, “and there were a lot of things that just weren’t working anymore.”

While Ms. Solk took care to preserve the original floors, windows and trim, she moved some of the walls, reconfiguring the layout. She moved the front entrance door and transformed the dining room to an entry hall with wallpaper in an Alice in Wonderland theme. This was a reference to Mr. Al-Buainain’s first impression of the home. Ms. Solk created a sinuous, curved banquette to replace what they had removed. The new piece by Atelier Delalain has seating on both sides, by the kitchen table and by the fireplace, and also includes a planter with a rubber-tree sprouting from it. In the wall that separates the living room from a den, which is also a guest room and home office, she built a cabinet with shelves. The cabinet doors can be opened to connect the living room and den, or closed for privacy. She installed a wall made of textured glass and chicken wire to bring light into the bathroom. This allowed sunlight to come in from windows on an adjacent hall. In the main bedroom, the existing wood blinds were kept, but two triangular closets were removed because they were too awkward to store anything. As a replacement, Ms. Solk designed a new walk-in closet between the bedroom and bathroom, reusing some of the old wallpaper they had carefully peeled off a wall in the kitchen and painting the rest blue-green.

E.L. Construction began in June 2021 and was completed by January 2022. The rest of 2022 was spent by Mr. Al-Buainain and Ms. Solk finding furniture and accessories. These included living room cabinets and kitchen and dining tables from Black Creek Mercantile & Trading. The renovation cost more than $800,000. Mr. Al Buainain says that the fact that the work was done during the pandemic probably increased the costs. However, he’s relieved to finally have the job completed. He said that “every part of the apartment was special.” It’s the same old historic place but it now feels even more like a home.