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A (Semi) Fixer-Upper in Stuyvesant Heights

The Living Room: Garcia-Lavin decided on four major paint colors for the entirety of the house, and here in the living room he used Benjamin Moore’s Inkwell on one wall. The blazing-red carpets were found on a trip to Morocco and the large painting over the sofa is by French artist Constant Clety, from 1929. Garcia-Lavin got it years ago on a job for Marshall Fields in Chicago. “It hung in the showroom there and the buyers hated it, and I loved it, so finally I was able to buy it.” Photo: Annie Schlechter

When still life and interior stylist Juan Carlos Garcia-Lavin (known as JC) and George Fesser, a broker with Brown Harris Stevens, decided to sell their co-op in a white box NoMad building, they initially thought they would go all out and find a dilapidated fixer-upper, full of crumbling decorative details that they could restore and revitalize. But once they started looking around and understood the budget and time involved in such a plan, they reconsidered. “We thought maybe somebody else should do it first,” Garcia-Lavin says, laughing, “and then we could tweak all the things they did wrong.”

After a long search and many houses later, they found a handsome 1895 five-story townhouse in Stuyvesant Heights that happily didn’t have many things wrong with it, and even had a lot of the original woodwork intact. All it needed was a little TLC, plus some ingenuity — like putting a Pier mirror in the entrance hall that looks like it might have been there when the house was first built.

The couple’s combined knowledge (Garcia-Lavin’s expertise in interior design and color, and Fesser’s intimacy with the ins and outs of a townhouse renovation), led them to one of their most important guiding principles: “Live in the house first, feel it out,” Fesser says. “One of the things I tell my clients is to let the house tell you what it needs and learn how to use the space before you start making any changes.”

Living-Room Bookcases: This wall in the living room is painted in Benjamin Moore’s Sea Serpent. The Blu Dot bookcases have bent metal shelves so they don’t sag under the weight of heavy art books. The patterned pottery on the top shelf is by ’60s-era Danish artist Thomas Toft. The wood chair was found at the flea market years ago in Chelsea, it’s part of a set of four and came with a table.

Entrance Hall: The Pier mirror was missing to the right of the front door so Fesser did a search online and found a mirror with the right proportions and carving for the period. “The woodworker working with us embedded it in the wall,” Garcia-Lavin says.

The Kitchen: Extra shelving was added to the kitchen, and André Joyau made a custom table to Garcia-Lavin’s design. “We wanted a table that looked good but wasn’t precious,” Fesser says. The chairs are reproduction Prouvé, and the painting and the shadow painted around it on the back wall are both by Garcia-Lavin. 

Upstairs Hallway: “I went from the idea of a gradation of color to wanting something really complicated,” Garcia-Lavin says of the walls he painted in two days. “Then I thought it should be like one of my paintings, but enormous, like wall to wall.”

Garcia-Lavin’s Art Studio: Garcia-Lavin did these acrylic and gouache paintings at the beginning of the lockdown, and he calls them “the Therapeutic Series.” This is also where he makes props and items for shoots.The custom desk running along the back wall was made by Joao Andrade Design.

The Master Bedroom: They chose Benjamin Moore’s Homburg Gray for this room. The metal sculpture above the bed was found during a shoot in San Francisco but came from a house in Palm Springs. “It looks like a Bertoia,” Garcia-Lavin says, “but it’s not signed.” The object by the closet, “is composed of two little night tables from West Elm,” Garcia-Lavin says, “I glued them together in a funky way and decided to do a complete paint job so that they could be this kind of sculptural podium.”

Opposite Side of the Bedroom: “I think I found them on Wayfair,” Fesser says of the pair of swivel club chairs in the bedroom. “I always loved them growing up in Florida in the ’80s and ’90s and as a kid I thought they were so cool that you could spin in them. So I insisted that we had the swivel chairs.” Garcia-Lavin hung the paintings here — “butted together, almost like one shape” — so as to be different from the salon style wall in the living room.

The Garden, Before: The barebones garden as it was when Garcia-Lavin and Fesser moved in. “It was raw dirt,” Fesser says.

The Garden Today: “It looks like we have been living here for ten years and it’s only been a year and a half of growth because everything came in the mail really tiny since we had to buy everything during COVID and we couldn’t go to a nursery,” Garcia-Lavin says. The project manager for the garden was Moshe Catalan, of MCMC NYC working from Garcia-Lavin’s design. “We bought palettes full of the richest, most organic soil and added in manure and good fertilizer,” Fesser says.

The Couple and Their Dogs: Garcia-Lavin on left and Fesser seated. Oxy is a Welsh terrier and Jenny is a “super mutt.”

Photographs by Annie Schlechter, Courtesy of JC Garcia-Lavin and George Fesser (the garden, before)

Living-Room Bookcases: This wall in the living room is painted in Benjamin Moore’s Sea Serpent. The Blu Dot bookcases have bent metal shelves so they don’t sag under the weight of heavy art books. The patterned pottery on the top shelf is by ’60s-era Danish artist Thomas Toft. The wood chair was found at the flea market years ago in Chelsea, it’s part of a set of four and came with a table.

Entrance Hall: The Pier mirror was missing to the right of the front door so Fesser did a search online and found a mirror with the right proportions and carving for the period. “The woodworker working with us embedded it in the wall,” Garcia-Lavin says.

The Kitchen: Extra shelving was added to the kitchen, and André Joyau made a custom table to Garcia-Lavin’s design. “We wanted a table that looked good but wasn’t precious,” Fesser says. The chairs are reproduction Prouvé, and the painting and the shadow painted around it on the back wall are both by Garcia-Lavin. 

Upstairs Hallway: “I went from the idea of a gradation of color to wanting something really complicated,” Garcia-Lavin says of the walls he painted in two days. “Then I thought it should be like one of my paintings, but enormous, like wall to wall.”

Garcia-Lavin’s Art Studio: Garcia-Lavin did these acrylic and gouache paintings at the beginning of the lockdown, and he calls them “the Therapeutic Series.” This is also where he makes props and items for shoots.The custom desk running along the back wall was made by Joao Andrade Design.

The Master Bedroom: They chose Benjamin Moore’s Homburg Gray for this room. The metal sculpture above the bed was found during a shoot in San Francisco but came from a house in Palm Springs. “It looks like a Bertoia,” Garcia-Lavin says, “but it’s not signed.” The object by the closet, “is composed of two little night tables from West Elm,” Garcia-Lavin says, “I glued them together in a funky way and decided to do a complete paint job so that they could be this kind of sculptural podium.”

Opposite Side of the Bedroom: “I think I found them on Wayfair,” Fesser says of the pair of swivel club chairs in the bedroom. “I always loved them growing up in Florida in the ’80s and ’90s and as a kid I thought they were so cool that you could spin in them. So I insisted that we had the swivel chairs.” Garcia-Lavin hung the paintings here — “butted together, almost like one shape” — so as to be different from the salon style wall in the living room.

The Garden, Before: The barebones garden as it was when Garcia-Lavin and Fesser moved in. “It was raw dirt,” Fesser says.

The Garden Today: “It looks like we have been living here for ten years and it’s only been a year and a half of growth because everything came in the mail really tiny since we had to buy everything during COVID and we couldn’t go to a nursery,” Garcia-Lavin says. The project manager for the garden was Moshe Catalan, of MCMC NYC working from Garcia-Lavin’s design. “We bought palettes full of the richest, most organic soil and added in manure and good fertilizer,” Fesser says.

The Couple and Their Dogs: Garcia-Lavin on left and Fesser seated. Oxy is a Welsh terrier and Jenny is a “super mutt.”

Photographs by Annie Schlechter, Courtesy of JC Garcia-Lavin and George Fesser (the garden, before)

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