Not Set in Stone: Titans of Design Swap Co-op in Famed Soho Building

Sculptures by Xavier Corbero (Flickr, Cargolins)

Sculptures by Xavier Corbero (Flickr, Cargolins)

For many, a 2,100 square-foot Soho apartment in the famed Little Singer building would be the crown jewel of their property holdings. But for the Spanish artist Xavier Corbero, who evidently has no further use for the space, it was merely an office—a studio and showroom for his sculptures in marble and basalt. Mr. Corbero, who has been called “perhaps the most influential Catalonian artist since Gaudi,” did right by his former building, however, selling his pad at 561 Broadway for just shy of $2.39 million, to a designer no less renowned than he is—the Ecuadorean architect Carlos Zapata.

Mr. Corbero’s real brainchild, his home in the Barcelonian suburb of Esplugues de Llobregat, is a massive compound composed of nine buildings, which combine elements of 17th and 21st century design. Surrounded by medieval stone walls, the estate totals 108,000 square feet, and suggests in its exotic appointments the palace of a lost South American civilization brought meticulously up-to-date by a high-end hotelier. The home has itself been likened to a “habitable sculpture.”

Still, Mr. Corbero is no worshiper of sheer size: “If you get the scale right, space stops being space to become mind,” he has said. “And this happens in a sculpture and it happens in architecture.” Surely, he retains some affection for his comparatively quaint little Broadway studio.

Elaine Schweninger, who co-listed the property under the auspices of Town Residential with Lee Clifford Schweninger, told The Observer that the co-op has not been updated since the late 1970s, when Mr. Corbero acquired it. “It is not in the spit-polished condition that you see now-a-days in Soho,” she said.

“It has sort of a rudimentary kitchen and a big fancy tub in the bathroom, but I imagine that it will be upgraded to the next stage.” The space boasts hardwood floors, floor-to-ceiling windows, French doors and an Art Nouveau Juliet balcony, but is more or less a blank slate. “bring your ideas and an architect to make this space your space,” the listing suggests. To make good on that invitation, of course, Mr. Zapata will need only to bring himself.

The apartment as showroom.

The apartment as showroom.

Mr. Zapata, who is responsible for Chicago’s Soldier Field, the Cooper Square Hotel and recently made waves in New York when he ran into trouble with the Landmarks Preservation Commission for his Pope Hat design on West 24th Street, surely has some notions about what he’d like to do with his new apartment. As Ms. Schweninger noted, Little Singer tends to attract buyers with a definite attraction to the building’s sui-generis details—unusually wide windows, lacy strip balconies, wrought-iron railings—”not everyone appreciates that,” she said.

Still, the unit managed just ten days on the market, in circumstances which Ms. Schweninger called less than ideal. Mr. Corbero had arranged for a boat to ferry home the sculptures stored at 561 Broadway, and when she was showing the unit, Ms. Schweninger said, “There were people working in there, making special little boxes for the sculptures to be packed up in.”

But Mr. Zapta was undeterred. “That place had something,” the broker speculated. “It had something amazing. I think it had some kind of magic.”