A look inside an art collector’s $13M townhouse

One of the most expensive properties to hit the market last week was also one of the most wonderfully unusual listings LLNYC has had the pleasure of touring.

At 49 East 82nd Street, between Park and Madison avenues, two black stone lions flank the stoop of the five-story, bow-windowed, limestone townhouse.

Through the heavy black door at the entrance is a long, dimly-lit entrance gallery, the room is dominated by a large wooden table, filled with a bewildering array of trinkets. From there, up the narrow staircase, is the well-lit lounge where mismatched furniture is centered around a marble coffee table full of carved crystal. On the sofa, rests a collection baubles made from petrified wood. The walls are plastered with art and hangings.

Why all the ritzy clutter? Ask Michael Hall, the art dealer, collector and connoisseur, who shares the home with his partner Thomas Malmberg.

The 89-year-old Hall, is a man who knew Andy Warhol “quite well,” he says, but didn’t respect him as an artist. “Campbell’s soup?” he asked me, disbelievingly, “Is that art?” He adds that he once advised Marilyn Monroe on book buying. “She wanted some red ones and some green ones,” he laughed.

Hall, who describes himself as a packrat who likes pretty things, has lived in New York City on and off since 1946.  The Upper East Side, he said, feels like home. He’s lived in this particular townhouse for a little over 20 years, and it seems to be frozen in time.

It is stuffed with centuries worth of historic items the likes of which you’re unlikely to see outside of a museum.

Every room has something, from the entrance gallery to the dressing room off the master bedroom. There’s polished spheres, busts, statues, paintings, photographs, furniture, glass eyes, carvings, tiny ornate scarab beetles, Egyptian relics, drawings and an entire table dedicated to tiny frog and turtle figurines. And that’s not all, there are chandeliers, ivory tusks, wall sconces, crystal sculptures, petrified wood, African masks, vases, candlestick holders, petite turquoise Chinese dragons, jade beads, drawings and chairs made of roots.

Surprisingly, the final product is less like an episode of “Hoarders” and more akin to a building that is part home, part exhibition.

It was crucial when walking around to tread very, very carefully. Rare objects are placed on table surfaces, in cabinets and on walls. Framed art lines every hallway on every floor. A wrong move could knock, damage, or break any number of things.

Broker Jonathan Hettinger of Sotheby’s International Realty explained that while they haven’t had any breakages yet he takes care to instruct visitors to put down their bags to avoid any unwanted accidents.

The 6,500-square-foot house was built in 1910 and has been a single-family home for its entire life (apart from a jaunt as the Coe Kerr gallery), and a very elegant home at that.

It retains its lavish original moldings, original floors, and even original windows, as Hettinger said, “It’s rare to see a townhouse with so much original character.” It’s on the market for $12,950,000.

The townhouse has an elevator – which goes all the way to the basement, apparently a rarity – that was already installed when Hall moved in (he suspects that it was added sometime in the 1930s). He was going to upholster the cab with brocade he told me, but never quite got around to it.

Along with six-bedrooms, seven-and-a-half bathrooms – all of which are in remarkably good condition considering they looked fresh from the 1960s – and five wood-burning fireplaces, the property has three outdoor spaces: a garden on the ground floor, a terrace off the fourth-floor bedroom and a rickety – but safe, I’m assured – roof terrace.

It’s also only a block away from the front steps of the Metropolitan Museum of Art – just over 500 feet away in fact — perfect if you get tired of looking at your own art. Hall and Malmberg usually visit four times a week.

Thus far, the house has received five offers, as well as some interest from developers – looking for homes, not projects. Hettinger speculated that developers were probably drawn to the history of the home after spending all day in their brand new developments.

Malmberg stressed that they would not sell to anyone who would tear the place down and that the buyer would have to be respectful to “the heart and soul of the property.”

But Hall disagreed, “Oh I don’t care, let people do what they want with it.”

And as for the move? They’ll be doing the packing themselves.