A Small and Elegant Design on Catherine Street

An elevation for 114 Catherine Street. A three-unit apartment building with six bedrooms on the first two floors and five on the top level. 

On Sept. 23 Jagat Sharma presented to the City of Ithaca planning board elevations he had done for Nick Lambrou’s property on Catherine Street in Collegetown. The members of the board offered unanimous praise. The three-story apartment building will have a hipped roof, broken up by two large dormers and having deep eaves. The windows are square and large and set into brick cladding on the first two floors and wood siding on the third. 

The details of the roof recall the Prairie Style made famous by Frank Lloyd Wright a century ago, which Sharma said was quite intentional, but its overall shape makes it resemble a very large Foursquare house, which was popular around the same time, but is much more common in larger cities like Rochester. Sharma was also partly inspired by a farmhouse near Skaneateles owned by a friend of his.

There are three units—one to each floor—in the proposed structure with five bedrooms on the first floor, and six bedrooms on the second and third floors. (Ed. note: this corrects information in the caption of the print version of this article.)

The architect said that the combination of brick and wood siding was used to echo the combination used in nearby buildings, including the one directly in back of the new one. All the members of the planning board, Sharma, and even Lambrou agreed that the back building was not attractive and that the new building will hide it nicely.

“That is what the site needed,” he said. “That is the context: the other houses on the street have porches and dormers.”

At present the site of the building is a parking lot fronting the street. Several of the planning board members praised Lambrou and Sharma for eliminating the lot and replacing it with a building, especially an attractive building. Recent changes in the zoning eliminated parking requirements for the CR-4 zones.

“They would like to see the parking in the back. It’s what they prefer from a planning point of view,” said Sharma. “You want to see a row of buildings along the street.”

Lambrou said he was impressed when he first saw Sharma’s design. “I love the large corner windows,” he said. “Those students are going to have some amazing views and a nice sunny living room.”

The Lambrou family began collaborating with Sharma 30 years ago when the architect designed a building for Gus Lambrou, Nick’s father. After all these years the process is hard for him to analyze.

“I chose to build three stories because I felt it fit better into the neighborhood,” said Lambrou. “You don’t have to do it all because they say you can, and Jagat understands that.” 

Lambrou also values Sharma’s thoroughness. “He provides complete plans for the builders,” said the developer, “and the builders don’t find mistakes. They love to find mistakes.”

Lambrou talks with students to find out what kind of a living space they want and he has found that up to their junior year many undergraduates like to live with many other students. As seniors and graduate students, they want more privacy.

The property owner said you need vision, money, and guts to be in this business. Especially the last one, he laughed, because things don’t always work as planned. §

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