A 'Famous' Country Home — Right in the Middle of Manhattan
Does this house look a little familiar? Perhaps you've seen it on an episode of Law & Order.
When Lynn Mercado bought her Chelsea duplex in 1994, it was a “rabbit warren of small dark rooms.” After a gut renovation, the 3,000-square-foot home was transformed into a spacious, inviting abode that feels like a country home — and eventually caught the eye of Law & Order location scouts. The brownstone apartment offers four bedrooms, a 1,400-square-foot garden and a sprawling double-width great room perfect for entertaining. We spoke with Mercado, who recently sold the home through Nicholas de Seve at Douglas Elliman.
How long did you live in this home? When did you buy it?
I’ve lived there 20 years. I purchased it in 1994.
How much did the neighborhood change while you were there?
It changed drastically. When I moved in, there was an SRO where the Gem Hotel is. And then behind me, where that beautiful Modern 23 [condo building] is, that was an SRO. It was a risk, I would say, buying in that area. Chelsea was very different. It was pre-High Line, pre-art galleries.
You’ve done some renovations over the years. Can you highlight what some of those were?
We did a gut renovation. It was a rabbit warren of small dark rooms and we basically blew out walls. There was a formal living room, a formal dining room and a kitchen, and we opened up all the walls in between to make one large great room.
Can you talk about the garden?
The garden is unusually large because it’s a double-wide garden — the apartment spans 345 and 347, and so it’s double-width. There was a brick wall separating the two sides [of the garden], and that was taken down previous to us moving in.
It looks very private.
Yes. It’s funny, because when we moved in in 1994, we planted a star magnolia and a dogwood and they were both about three feet high. I remember saying to my husband, I wonder how long will it take until they reach the top of the brick wall, which is like eight feet high. And now the star magnolia is 35 feet high and the dogwood has got to be at least 20 feet high. So they not only provide great privacy, but they’re beautiful flowering trees.
What would you say were some of your favorite spots or rooms in the house?
The master bedroom is unusually large. I really love that room. And it’s so quiet because it faces the garden. We literally are woken up every morning by chirping birds. For living in the middle of Manhattan, it feels like you’re in the country.
How did your home become featured in Law & Order?
Law & Order’s production headquarters are in Chelsea, so numerous times we had scouts knock on our front door and ask if we would be interested in being in the show. Finally one day I said yes. They came in and they loved a lot of things about the apartment, but they really loved that garden. They were planning on shooting something in Connecticut but they decided that they wouldn’t have to go out of the city — they could just mimic the look of a Connecticut house by shooting in our apartment. So that’s how it came to be called the "Connecticut House." They shot in front of the glass French doors facing out to the garden so that the scene looked like a couple in the suburbs. Then they shot several scenes in the garden, as well. Then once we were in their roster, they would call us occasionally and say are you up for another shoot? And we always said yes, sure.
Was it always the same house in the show?
No, all different. And they redressed it each time to look different. They brought in new furniture. It’s a big deal when they shoot. They closed down the whole block.
Did you get to meet anyone from the show?
The first shoot we had for Law & Order was with Jerry Orbach, and at the time my kids were huge fans because they knew him as the voice of Lumiere in Beauty and the Beast. So they were very excited and I let them stay home. I remember Jerry Orbach — he was such a gentleman and an incredible actor — after they were done shooting he said to me, “You know, I have to tell you I’ve filmed in a lot of beautiful apartments in New York but I think yours just might be my favorite.” To me that was the ultimate compliment, because even though the house isn’t fancy — and I know he’s shot in a lot of very expensive Park Avenue apartments — it’s very comfortable and there’s something very livable about it. It’s got that tranquil back garden. When you come home after a hard day of work and you make a gin and tonic and you’re sitting out in the garden with the grill on, you feel very relaxed. It has that weekend house feel to it, even though it is in the middle of a city.
Was it a fun experience in the end? Would you do it again?
I’m a creative director at an ad agency, so I know what’s involved. For people who aren’t in the industry it can be a bit daunting and overwhelming. There are a lot of people coming in and out of your home, a lot of equipment. They lay down wood over the floors to protect the floors. And they’ve got a camera dolly on wheels coming through and then they’re moving the furniture out. It’s a bit overwhelming, but yes I would do it again.