Eschewing practicality, architect David Mann embraces the challenges of his 400-square-foot studio
The Aesthete: You’ve lived in your apartment since 1985. What do you love about it?
DAVID MANN: It’s located on the corner of University and 10th Street in a 1928 building by Emery Roth, a New York architect who designed some of the city’s most famous apartment buildings, including the San Remo. While the indoor space is limited, the apartment comes with a wrap-around terrace that is almost ten feet deep with a parapet of pure architectural confection: terracotta capstones of urns, swirly forms that I call cartouches. And the building has a tower that rises above my apartment. It adds a fairy tale-like backdrop to my outdoor space.
TA: How did you find the apartment?
DM: I had just purchased another apartment, on nearby Bethune Street, in the mid-1980s when a friend asked if I’d be interested in subletting this one. I knew the apartment and jumped at the offer. It got complicated when he moved back to New York and I had to vacate for two years, but when he left the second time, I insisted on adding my name to the lease. I’ve been there ever since. The building went condo two years ago and I was officially the first person in the building to buy.
TA: Many people would find it challenging to make do with such limited personal space. Do you find it hard?
DM: Most New Yorkers are used to making great compromises to live here. We give up backyards, trees, privacy and, most acutely, space. For the most part we become innovative and learn to adapt to our environments. I haven’t moved because I’ve always valued quality over quantity. I’ve never found another space in Manhattan that I can afford that comes close to this apartment.
TA: How has the space evolved over the years?
DM: The previous owner decorated it in high-‘70s camp: Mylar walls, Lucite shelves, brown velvet. The north window was covered, blocking a view of the Empire State Building. When I renovated, I felt like I was spending a fortune to make it look like I’d done nothing at all. I’m proudest of the restored windows.
TA: What’s your strategy for living in a tiny space?
DM: I limit the functions of the space to sleeping and entertaining. I don’t lounge around at home. My partner and I are either in bed or on the terrace with friends. I love all the furnishings in my home, but there isn’t much that is practical. Since I don’t have room for a dining table, I bought a piece of sculpture instead. Instead of a comfy lounge chair, I’ll buy a painting. Most recently we inherited a Golden Retriever so the latest addition is dog hair – everywhere.