Walking through the streets of Manhattan, it’s easy to forget to look up at the architecture surrounding you and almost easier to forget that only 160 years ago, so much of it didn’t even exist yet. It’s so hard to imagine now, especially with all the traffic and hubbub on 14th Street, but there was once a time when the area to the west of Union Square was seen as not only luxurious and fashionable, but this was a place to get away from the city madness.
Around the mid-nineteenth century, New York was growing so quickly that the most affluent families were building homes in what they considered the outskirts of town. Enter financier Andrew Norwood, a man who at a young age made a fortune as a ship merchant and decided in 1845 to build a four-story mansion for his family on 14th Street between 7th and 8th Avenue. With stone framed windows that decrease in size as the eye moves upward, the building’s brownstone-framed entrance now welcomes you into Norwood Club, an eclectic and charming historic landmark that doubles as a social club and one incredible place to throw a party.
The grandiose townhouse, with huge Cuban mahogany doors that to this day still have their keyhole covers and silver knobs intact, Carrera marble carved mantelpieces, and intricate crown molding, was built to mimic Greek Revival and Italianate architectural styles. Mr. Norwood and his family lived in the home until his death in 1856, at which point his eldest son took over the estate and eventually turned the home into a boarding house for unmarried school teachers. The house was auctioned off in 1904 and thus began a series of change in use of the house, taking it from hotel to housing for the NY Deaconesse to a women’s shelter, and back to a boarding house again. Some time around the mid-century, the residence became a funeral home for a brief stint.
In 1975, real-estate broker Raf Borello bought the property and began a 30-year restoration project uncovering layers of paint, plaster, dirt and muck to bring the house back to its glory days. Throughout the process, he rented the home to many New York creatives and luminaries, like world-famous Chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten. By the time Borello died in 2005, the property was fully restored, featured a phenomenal garden in the back, and the exterior had been registered to the New York Landmarks Preservation Commission.
We recently caught up with Alan Linn, owner of the Norwood Club (formerly of the London social club, “The Blacks”), who purchased the building with his then-partner Steve Ruggi in 2007. The pair opened up what is now one of the most artistic-minded, creative and did-we-mention-gorgeous private clubs in NYC. Here’s what he had to say about the reincarnation of Norwood’s mansion into what’s now an exclusive artist club and a totally killer venue with major history and design chops.
TVR: What is the concept behind Norwood Club?
AL: Norwood is a modern-day salon for the creative community in New York, a space to congregate, socialize and swap ideas. It is a "home for the curious".
TVR: How did you find the property?
AL: By luck, while looking for a house downtown. Our realtor said that an amazing townhouse had just come on the market, but was bigger than my dreams. I immediately fell in love with the Andrew Norwood house and named the club, “Norwood Club,” after him. The building is a 10,000 square foot townhouse which now has two lounges, a members restaurant, a private dining room/chef’s tasting table, a screening room and a 60-seat walled garden.
TVR: Who is the team behind Norwood Club?
AL: It was originally opened by former partner Steve Ruggi and myself. Our management team consists of New York hospitality professionals that all come from an artistic and creative background.
TVR: Tell us a little bit about the design.
AL: The original design team was myself, and the award-winning Simon Costin, who was the designer behind many of Alexander McQueen’s fashion shows. We designed everything, including all the furniture that was custom-made for Norwood.
The Club is eclectic where each floor is different from each other. The first floor, “Lounge,” is reminiscent of a whimsical hotel lounge with larger than life Alice in Wonderland sofas. The wooden chandelier that I made was inspired by a trip to Hudson, NY and anchors the room above a hand-painted marble-top bar. Each year, the art on the walls changes and is curated by a new member. This year, Tze Chun of Uprise Art curated the art.
The second floor, “Club Room,” was designed while working with NY-based interior designer Robert Greene III. This room is our member’s restaurant and was inspired loosely around the movie Brasil. This room, much like the first floor, has large red banquets that are meant for members to share space and engage in like-minded conversation. The room is reminiscent of a Parisian bistro, with a custom glass sculpture above the bar.
The Third floor, “the Salon,” was inspired by West Village Bohemia. The room dons a custom red leather bar and state-of-the-art DJ booth. It’s our late night “rock and roll” event space that encourages members to have a good time and enjoy a band performance or DJ set.
The fourth floor is the “Screening Room,” and is our most versatile space. The Room is very stark and houses a large photo of the moon, set in a light box. It can act as a screening room or can be transformed into the perfect private event space for a banquet dinner or cocktail party. In addition, there’s a small smoker’s terrace to gaze at the stars and enjoy warm summer nights.
The street-level private dining room has gilded walls with a custom chandelier. It was another collaboration with Robert Greene and is the best place for a private dinner, customized by our chef. The room is cozy, elegant and seats up to 24 comfortably.
TVR: What was the design vision behind Norwood Club?
AL: Every aspect of the club design is to encourage members to engage with each other. The furniture and the setup of the floors is so that you can spend the entire day, as each floor serves a different purpose. You can start with breakfast and a meeting on the first floor, move upstairs to the restaurant for dinner, catch a screening after dinner, and end in the salon for a nightcap, or dancing the night away.
TVR: Why were certain design choices made?
AL: We wanted the Club to be a juxtaposition of history and modernity; a reflection of both the past and the future.
TVR: Did you find anything interesting while re-vamping the space?
AL: An original copy of the San Francisco Examiner the day of the 1906 earthquake
TVR: Did you have a specific demographic in mind when designing the space?
AL: It’s about the members, not their age or demographic. We love to create alchemy of the curious, interesting and creative folks.
TVR: How do you want your space & service to make your guests feel?
AL: That they are at home and welcomed by our incredibly friendly service, food and cocktails.
TVR: What do you think makes Norwood Club ideal for events?
AL: It is one of the most unique spaces in New York City. We are not a random banquet hall that needs décor and rented chairs. Everything is carefully thought out and most often the events that happen here need nothing more than some votive candles.
Book launches, birthday parties, screenings, experience-based cocktail parties, and dinners are all fabulous events to host here. In addition, weddings are especially magical as there is an intimacy and profound attention to detail. The garden is the perfect place for a ceremony or casual brunch. Sky is the limit when booking events here, as the creativity of my staff is bar none.
TVR: Are there any insider tips you would like to share with regards to hosting an event at Norwood Club?
AL: The Lounge and Garden are not available during club hours to rent for a private event. If wanting these spaces, it’s best to book on a Saturday afternoon before the club opens or anytime on Sunday, as the club is closed.
TVR: Any fun or interesting stories you’d like to share as it was being built/rehabbed?
AL: Sorry, we are a very Private Club we never kiss and tell ☺