Jorge Mastropietro, Mark Stahl, and their three-year-old son have lived in this 1860 brownstone for five years. It’s on a beautiful, leafy block with other brownstones, very typical of this section of downtown Jersey City.
Stahl is a Google engineer. Mastropietro, an architect, designed the renovation himself. “It was not a gut renovation,” he says. “It had been a two-family home, and we restored the house to its original function as a one-family home.”
Original features include some molding and window casings in the parlor and part of the wrought-iron fence in the front, where there is a small garden.
The house has four floors, three bathrooms, and three bedrooms, one of which is used as an office. They modernized the bathrooms and the ground-floor kitchen.
“I am very minimalist in every detail,” Mastropietro says. “The furnishings are modern, the bathroom is very dark brown with concrete countertops. Everything is white with not many colors on the walls.”
Next to the kitchen is a very colorful (and organized!) playroom, leading to a backyard with a patio and deck, which Mastropietro “built from scratch.”
Before coming to Jersey City, the family lived in New York City. “We love all the local restaurants, and we love Hamilton Park,” Mastropietro says. “There’s a sense of community here that I did not feel in New York City. Here, you know who lives next door, almost everyone on the block.”
Walking into the foyer of this Victorian classic, you feel like you are going back in time. Owner Dennis Doran, a ubiquitous Jersey City historian who conducts neighborhood tours, has tried to keep the house true to its 1889 pedigree.
Doran bought the house on a beautifully manicured curvy stretch of Summit Avenue in the 1980s.
He furnished it with period pieces that give it a delightfully musty 19th century feel. The parlor has high ceilings, a huge mirror, and magazines dating from the 1930s artfully arranged on the coffee table. Original working gaslights over the fireplace come in handy during power outages.
White gauzy curtains accent the heavy, dark furniture. The four-floor structure boasts four bedrooms and two and a half baths with stained-glass skylights. A formal dining room, complete with dumbwaiter and buzzer under the table to call the maid, is used for holiday parties. And, like most homes from this era, the kitchen is on the ground floor. The backyard features a raised pool.
Rolling doors that still seem to work separate some of the rooms. In a Downton Abbey touch, there is a speaking tube on the third floor, which would have been much needed when servants bustled in and out of what was once a brand new mansion.
The house has lots of working fireplaces—some wood, some gas—two pianos, one an 1869 Steinway, and lots of what Doran calls “church stuff,” including a lectern holding a huge dictionary.
The walls are covered with both art and historic images, including a picture of Saint John’s Church and a newspaper reporting on the sinking of the Titanic.
Doran’s son, Andrew, lives in the upstairs maid’s quarters. A big, flat-screen TV is the only nod to the 21st century.
Rocky and Sheila Kaushik live in a renovated condo, known as the Wave. Only one wall of the preexisting building was kept. What’s unique about the structure is how its flatiron shape makes for interesting wedged spaces. Construction of the building, which was designed by Lindemon Winkelmann Dupree Martin Russell (LWDMR) in Jersey City, was finished about two years ago. John Winckelmann was the project manager.
“We love the layout with floor-to-ceiling glass and vaulted ceilings,” Rocky says. “The construction feels very solid. It was well executed. They took care in putting the building together.”
The unit, on the top floor, has huge windows which offer lots of light and city views of trees, steeples, and other low rooftops, which distinguish this section of downtown. “It’s different from looking at all high-rises,” Rocky says. “It feels neighborhoody.”
Both Rocky and Sheila are attorneys. She works in New York City, and he works in Newark, so the location is perfect.
“We were considering looking in Brooklyn,” Rocky says, but you get more space for the price in Jersey City. It’s more comfortable and convenient to our families in Manhattan.”
Downtown Jersey City, he says, has the same feel as Brooklyn. And they take full advantage. “We go all over the place for brunch, a new spot every Sunday,” says Rocky. “Our favorite places are Skinner’s Loft, and Michael Anthony’s right on the water. We love hanging out in Hamilton Park, which is just a seven-minute walk from our place, and we love Pecoraro’s Bakery across the street, which bakes fresh bread.”
PATERSON PLANK ROAD
This sprawling condo complex is tucked into the cliffs that separate Jersey City from Hoboken, in the shadow of the Second Street light-rail stop. Though only five stories high, the building seems to take up about five city blocks, and in fact it is said that half the structure is in Jersey City and half in Hoboken.
Mykal Stickney and Glenn Rabbach live in a condo with their silkie terrier, Ollie, on the Jersey City side.
Ron Russell of the architectural firm LWDMR was the project manager of this renovated former factory, appropriately dubbed the Cliffs. Stickney and Rabbach were attracted to the style of the building and have lived there for three years.
“It is well-kept, which was a major factor,” Stickney says. “And every apartment is different. They are not cookie cutter. It has high ceilings and exposed brick and is very appealing.”
Stickney describes their taste as “urban modern eclectic.” Both Stickney and Rabbach are in the design field, and the space reflects a spare, sophisticated aesthetic, with warm colors, rich woods, and original art on the walls. To say that it is uncluttered is an understatement.
“Most of our pieces have their own little story,” Stickney says, “which adds an additional layer of character to the apartment. Lots of it was just picked up over the years from different places and smaller artists we stumbled across.”
The couple takes full advantage of the locale. “There are good restaurants in the area, and it is so convenient to the city. You can walk to the PATH in 15 minutes, but there is also a shuttle here that goes back and forth to the PATH.”
In fact, the complex has a range of amenities, including indoor parking, a fitness center, dog run, and a courtyard with communal grills. “The back of the building is really beautiful stone with plants rising up probably five stories into the air,” Stickney says.
Stickney, a Wisconsin native, has found a serene oasis at the Cliffs. He says, “It’s an escape and a peaceful break from the craziness of the city.”—JCM
Interviews by Kate Rounds