In big cities ― New York, especially ― it isn’t always easy to find a place to live. As a result, plenty of people end up crashing in unexpected places: abandoned factories, old churches, empty clubs, and the like. Surprisingly, non-residential buildings have actually become some of the most uniquely beautiful homes in the city, and many real estate owners and developers are interested in creating more.
It isn’t always easy to repurpose an old building into a residential space, but when done correctly, the effect is breathtaking. Here are some examples of successful transformations and some tips on how to make a unique home of your own.
NYC Success Stories
Most people looking for real estate in New York are happy to find an affordable apartment, but those with vision (and funds) seem to embrace the challenge of conjuring a home out of unusual spaces. Here are some of NYC’s best success stories for transforming odd buildings into residential masterpieces.
In the early 20th century, the East Village was a comfortable hamlet of Germantown, and Beethoven Hall was the community space where neighbors enjoyed all their most important gatherings: weddings, political meetings, dances, holidays, etc. As German immigrants started dispersing, Beethoven Hall endured a brief stint as a small film studio; however, a fire destroyed half the building and ended the new owners’ silver screen dreams. It didn’t take long for artists to move in. Fortunately, one of the most successful, Gregory Colbert, bought the building and refurbished it, giving creatives a cozy and stylish place to make art.
The Cathedral College of the Immaculate Conception
Cathedral College was founded in 1914 in Brooklyn as a place for devout young men to study scripture and become Catholic priests. In fact, Vince Lombardi enrolled at 15 with high hopes for a holy life ― before leaving to follow a more football-oriented path. The school was so successful it opened a second location in Queens in the ‘60s, but for reasons unknown, the first campus closed in the ‘80s. Fortunately, the space did not go to waste; today, the college is a comfortable and chic residence. the gothic-style structure retains most of its Catholic charm with beautiful arched windows and glaring gargoyles, even though its classrooms have been remodeled into bedrooms and sitting rooms.
It wasn’t long ago that Brooklyn was a wild and untamed suburb of Manhattan. In fact, the neighborhood of Fort Greene once contained vast swaths of ranch property, on which stood barns and stables. Though most of these were razed to make way for the high-rises of the late 20th century, Feuchtwanger Stables stood strong. In the late ‘80s (nearly a century after its initial construction), the stables were renovated, creating a gorgeous one-bedroom apartment lacking any lingering smells from its former four-legged inhabitants.
Fire Patrol Building #2
New York firefighters are some of the city’s most beloved heroes, but historic firehouses are notoriously ill-kept. In fact, Brooklyn’s Fire Patrol Building #2 was one of just three remaining fire patrol houses in the city, despite being built in 1906. The structure was on the brink of collapse when it was snatched up by Anderson Cooper, who launched into a major restoration process. Today, the century-old brick façade is absolutely stunning, and the historic interior elements, including the fire poles, remain intact amongst the trimmings of a modern home.
5 Tips to Repurposing a Non-Home
Of course, not every standing structure is an appropriate place to settle down. Plenty of buildings are unsound or unstable, making renovation dangerous and expensive. Others simply don’t have a sensible layout for a living space. Before you look for any non-residential property with big, renovation dreams, you should consider these five suggestions from industry experts.
- Consult a professional. Experts can look at a structure and know how much remodeling it can endure. Take your expert around the property to learn exactly what can and must be done to make it livable, and be willing to accept his or her advice, especially if its negative.
- Prepare to work hard (or wait long). Fodder for such unique homes are almost always old and outdated, which means you will have to change or add quite a bit to make a workable home. It could be years before you finally obtain the unique space of your dreams.
- Learn to love imperfection. Every building is designed with a unique purpose, and forcing a building to defy that purpose is difficult. There will always be evidence of the building’s former life, which you must accept wholeheartedly. It is best if you already have a fondness for vintage or antique style.
- Reassess scale. Non-residential structures are usually quite large; they were made to store hay during the winter, hold water during the summer, house massive machinery or animals, and perform a number of other jobs that necessitate extra space. Thus, you might have more space to fill than you are used to, forcing you to reconsider your sense of scale.