If the Manhattan apartment of Cynthia and Dan Lufkin, with its vaulted ceiling, arched windows and touches of gold leaf, is reminiscent of a church, that is because it was one — the chapel of the New York Cancer Hospital, built in the 1880s. The living room — which looks out on Central Park West between 105th and 106th streets — has a 38ft ceiling. The stencilling of the plaster walls was inspired by an English abbey.
Restoration: (clockwise from top) The Lufkins added stencilled plaster walls inspired by a 19th century abbey and a Gothic-style fireplace; they tried to honour the history of the former New York Cancer Hospital rather than replicate the original design; bedrooms on the lower level are conventional; and Cynthia Lufkin in the office/balcony of her apartment.
It is indeed an impressive renovation: such reverence for history in the restored stonework of the columns and arches! Such glorious detail in the mezzanine office, tucked high up under the ceiling, with the Gothic rose window motif echoed in the winding stairs! Such a draft! Is one of the windows open? The place is freezing.
“We’re not here full-time,” Dan says. “We haven’t got much heat.”
How rich does one have to be to have spent $5.5 million (around Rs22 crore now) for an apartment that is used only a few days a week? Very, very rich. Which, Dan, who is 76 — yeah, he laughs, more than 30 years older than his wife — is.
He was one of the founders of the investment firm Donaldson, Lufkin and Jenrette. The Lufkins also have a farm in Connecticut and are building a home in Canada on Prince Edward Island. Should multiple residences and unusually high ceilings inspire your class hatred, you should know that his dad was a printing salesman and Dan went through Hotchkiss, and then Yale, on a scholarship.
Cynthia, who is 45, had a run-in with breast cancer two and a half years ago when pregnant with her second child, and in the first week of March was named mother of the year by the American Cancer Society.
That she ended up in what is believed to have been the first cancer hospital in the country, a wreck when she and her husband first saw it seven years ago, is a dark irony that does not escape her.
“Even as a mud pit, it was a place of great beauty and a place of solace,” she says. “You could see people praying for miracles and giving thanks here and, in reality, that’s what it became for us. Which we couldn’t have anticipated.”
Cynthia grew up in Neshanic Station, New Jersey, in Somerset County. She got a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Trinity College in Hartford, then spent time travelling.
She was divorced, with a one-year-old daughter, and working in public relations for Tiffany and Co. when she met Dan in the spring of 1999. He had been married twice and had four daughters. They married in June 2000 in Southampton.
Then, in 2001, they read about the planned renovation of the old New York Cancer Hospital by Daniel E. McLean, a Chicago developer who would be adding a high-rise apartment house behind it. The hospital, which had later become a nursing home, had been abandoned for 25 years and was in a terrible state of disrepair.
“There was a lot of chopped-up cement, a lot of dust, but I thought the actual space itself was extraordinary,” Dan says. “We had looked at box after box after box, and they seemed so uninteresting.”
The couple did not try to recreate all of the apartment’s original architectural detail—it had, after all, been a chapel—but they tried to preserve a feeling of its history. The vaulted wood ceiling is much like the one they saw in an old photo of the space, as are the three large hanging globe lamps, which they found online at Urban Archaeology, for $15,000 apiece.
“Whenever you’re trying to do anything to emulate history, it ain’t cheap,” Dan says.
The firm of Taconic Builders was in charge of the structural work, which included creating four bedrooms on the apartment’s first level, replacing windows and building the office. The spiral staircase up to the mezzanine was done by NE&WS, and the Gothic fireplace in the great room was made by the British company Chesney’s, which has offices in Manhattan. The walls, which appear to be weathered plaster with faded stencilling, were done by BiggArt Design. The patterns were not part of the original chapel, they were inspired by a medieval tapestry in a 19th century British abbey, as well as the abbey itself.
Dan declines to give the cost of the structural renovation, saying only that it was “in the low seven figures”. He does say that the decorative work was about $350,000.
In September 2005, when Cynthia was seven and a half months pregnant, she received a diagnosis of breast cancer. Ten days later, she delivered a daughter by Caesarean section. The baby weighed 5 pounds (around 2.27kg). She was named Aster Lee.
Soon after her birth, Aster Lee stopped breathing and was put on a respirator. A few days later, Cynthia and her husband were told their daughter had a 50% chance of making it through the night.
The next day, her baby started breathing on her own. And today, Cynthia is fine. She and her husband are creating the Cynthia Lufkin Center for Nutrition and Fitness at the new breast cancer treatment centre being built by Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.
And yes, to get back to the apartment, Cynthia did end up going through chemo after she and her husband had moved into the chapel of a cancer hospital. Her daughter was also christened there. The Rev. Peter Larsen, rector of St John’s Episcopal Church in Southampton, who had married the Lufkins, officiated. He had done many christenings, he said at the service, but this was the first one to which a family brought their own church.
©2008/The New York Times
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