Moldings, profiles, traditional cabinets — they’re not really interested in that. They’re really interested in something more modern and definitely more linear....Of course, paring down with such attention to detail comes at a price. Where baseboards and moldings can be used to hide uneven edges, the cleaner lines favored by millennials require more precision....Yet dramatically altering the DNA of a prewar apartment could harm its resale value

Jennifer Boardman, 45, wanted her one-bedroom 1914 apartment to retain some vintage details but to also feel “updated and modern for 2017.”
Jennifer Boardman, 45, wanted her one-bedroom 1914 apartment to retain some vintage details but to also feel “updated and modern for 2017.” © Linda Jaquez for The New York Times; Karjaka Studios (inset)

Prewar charm in New York City is defined by original details like crown moldings, built-in bookshelves, coffered ceilings and fireplaces, some more decorative than others. But driven by design trends and the need for more space, some apartment buyers are doing what some would consider unthinkable: tearing out traditional finishes.

“Our place hadn’t been touched in nearly a hundred years, which is why we were able to get it,” said Elizabeth Durand Streisand, 34, a founder of Broadway Roulette, a show ticket company. “We wanted to make it feel as open and modern as you possibly can in a 1923 building.”

So she and her husband, Eric Streisand, 46, an investor, spent about $200,000 last spring on renovations to their Upper West Side apartment. With the aim of “keeping everything as light and bright as possible,” the couple, new parents, didn’t hesitate to rip out the two-bedroom’s window casements, tall baseboards, worn hardwood flooring and the “thick, chunky molding” surrounding the doors. “The only things that are original at this point are the heavy brass door handles,” Mrs. Durand Streisand said.

Some buyers, millennials in particular, “come into a space and want to make it their own,” said Bronwyn Breitner, an architect with 590BC, who, with her husband, Luigi Ciaccia, oversaw construction for the couple.

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Yet dramatically altering the DNA of a prewar apartment could harm its resale value, warned Jonathan J. Miller, the president of the appraisal firm Miller Samuel. “Because it’s not consistent, it’s an outlier,” he said, and buyers outside the millennial demographic may find the changes too unique to the seller. “The market wants an apartment that’s consistent with the building,” he added.

While some buyers strip out all prewar details, others find ways to maintain some of the original features while adding more contemporary finishes.

Jennifer Boardman, 45, a marketing executive, spent nearly $350,000 to restore her airy one-bedroom 1914 apartment on the Upper West Side, determined to meld old with new. The previous owners had “really stripped out the prewar charm,” Ms. Boardman said. Having fallen for the crown molding and raised wall panels of prewar apartments that she had rented in the past, Ms. Boardman, an Atlanta transplant, enlisted Kelly Giesen, an interior designer, to “transform it back.” The question was, she said, “How do we put that back there and make it feel updated and modern for 2017?”

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