Forwarding Address: Restoration Hardware set to take over post office building
The Greenwich post office building, still wearing its brass plaque noting its status on the National Register of Historic Places, is about to step into the 21st century -- on the inside. As of May 16, the doors will open into an RH (Restoration Hardware) Design Gallery of upscale home furnishings.
But the shell of the building that dates from 1917 -- newly expanded to 23,000 square feet of interior/exterior space -- has retained its "envelope integrity," said Frank Prial, a consultant on the project.
Prial works with the New York City architectural firm of Beyer Blinder Belle, serving as a consultant for historic preservation on the project, and was part of a team taking a recent walk-through of the work-in-progress interior.
James Gillam, a partner in the Sausalito, Calif. firm of Backen Gillam & Kroeger, is the architect in charge of reclaiming and restoring the Greenwich post office and other architecturally significant landmark buildings around the country to house RH Design Galleries. Gillam's work can be seen in Boston, where the New England Museum of Natural History was recently transformed into an RH gallery.
Prial pointed out the beaux arts architectural features of the post office's façade that have been retained. "The pendant chandeliers were restored," he said. He also pointed to the "simplified Corinthian" limestone columns passed by many a customer of yesteryear on the way to buy stamps.
One noticeable difference will be multiple entrances for shoppers. There's one on Greenwich Avenue, and on Arch Street. Visitors will pass through a pocket park, protected by iron fencing, on the Greenwich Avenue side.
But as the building is prepared for its next phase, a marker of its past has emerged. Greenwich's Peter Malkin -- whose family-owned real estate holdings company, Empire State Realty Trust, is doing the restorative work -- discovered the historic cornerstone of the post office located behind a rhododendron bush on the front of the building.
"Malkin requested that the bushes be relocated so that the historically significant cornerstone can be easily seen and appreciated by the public," said Prial. Malkin was cited by Prial for his "deep appreciation for historic architecture."
Prial has worked with Malkin and his construction company on restoring the Empire State Building lobby.
The grand interior of the renovated building overwhelms any memory of the once-divided front room of the post office. The ceilings measuring 16 feet high are actually two feet lower than the original 18 feet to accommodate the addition of a second floor, explained Prial.
"All the windows are the same proportion," he said, "but they have been reset with double panes and frames made of aluminum-clad wood." Centered in the great space is a light well with natural light streaming down from a second floor skylight.
Bringing the outside in is a signature wish of RH's California-based CEO Gary Friedman for his Design Gallery stores. It's most apparent on the second floor, where windows and French doors surround the conservatory-like space -- and where the store will offer for the first time personalized interior design services.
"James wanted to keep it all open and in harmony, and that there be a flow of light naturally," Prial said. Those French doors will open onto "intimate" rooftop terraces to be planted with trees and flowers, with seating areas set beneath RH-styled awnings.
"But the trees will not rise higher than the parapets," said Prial. Nothing must change the exterior National Register profile.
Positioned upstairs and down are circular vestibules with elevators and stairs. On the rear stairs the decorating has begun with the hanging of the RH signature oversized bird cage chandeliers along with a dozen wall clocks telling time in 12 cities around the world.
On opening day the interior that has now been "transformed to serve as an architectural canvas," said Prial, will showcase numerous "lifestyle settings" with a reported nine bedroom settings to be on display.