Wall Street Journal reports that actress Tamara Tunie and jazz vocalist Gregory Generet took on the renovation of their five-story Harlem townhouse in phases. After deciding to downsize, they recently listed the home for $3.75 million. When actress Tamara Tunie and singer Gregory Generet purchased their home in Harlem 21 years ago, it didn’t just turn out to be solid real-estate investment. It was also an investment in themselves.
The house “feeds our soul,” Mr. Generet said, and has added to their ability to produce as artists. Ms. Tunie’s childhood home in Pittsburgh always had an open-door policy for visitors, which she wanted to adopt in Harlem.
“I wanted to make a home that was similar to the kind of home that my mother made,” she said. “To be able to create something like that in my adopted city, New York City, one of the toughest cities on the planet, is really special,” she said.
The couple purchased the five-story brick townhouse on tree-lined Hamilton Terrace in 1993 for $225,000, according to public records. Including other consideration, Ms. Tunie said they paid $275,000 in total for the home.
After deciding to downsize, they listed the house at the end of July with Andrew Azoulay of Town Residential for $3.75 million.
Ms. Tunie, who moved to Harlem in 1984, is a Tony-winning producer, actress, singer and director known for her roles in “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” and “As the World Turns.” She now is working on the second season of “The Red Road,” a series on the Sundance Channel.
Mr. Generet was an Emmy-winning post-production editor for CBS before he turned to professional jazz singing. He now performs regularly at the Smoke Jazz & Supper Club on the Upper West Side.
Not long after the couple’s first date 23 years ago, Ms. Tunie noticed the property at 21 Hamilton Terrace while being photographed for a magazine feature on a stoop across the street. A few days later, by chance, she found herself talking to the home’s broker who immediately offered to show her the property.
As they picked their way through the dark, boarded-up house using a flashlight, Ms. Tunie recalled feeling “really good about the house,” even though it was in poor condition and had been vandalized.
Mr. Generet said he thought it was “crazy” to want to take on the task of restoring the more than 4,000-square-foot house. But that soon changed when he visited the home. He recalls feeling “some sort of warmth in this house,” he said. “It felt good.”
The couple embarked on a renovation that didn’t change its original footprint but involved refinishing the hardwood floors and installing new plumbing, wiring and some windows. Ms. Tunie was hands-on: she painted the interior and stripped the original woodwork and molding herself.
They also worked on replacing some of the home’s missing mantelpieces. For the formal dining room, the couple purchased in upstate New York an intricately carved walnut mantelpiece that once belonged in a mansion on Fifth Avenue, they were told. There are now six mantelpieces in the home.
Lighting sconces, chandeliers and furnishings were purchased to fit the period of the home “without being old-fashioned,” Ms. Tunie said. “We really wanted to maintain [its] feel and character,” she said.
The couple made the kitchen serviceable, using its white-porcelain Chambers stove with a soup well and three burners until they celebrated their first decade in the house. They then renovated the kitchen to accommodate Mr. Generet’s “chef-caliber cooking,” Ms. Tunie said.
At the same time they added a glass atrium behind the kitchen and cantilevered decking in the backyard to create indoor and outdoor dining spaces. Other improvements made over the years include new double-pane windows on the home’s facade in 2005 and a new roof in 2011. Ms. Tunie estimates they have spent close to $500,000 on improvements.
The couple believes they are only the third owners of the home, which is one of a number of townhouses built in the 1890s on Hamilton Terrace and is now part of the Hamilton Heights Historic District.
“There’s a lot of history in this house and there’s a lot of good vibes in this house,” Ms. Tunie said.
The house has four bedrooms and 3½ bathrooms. The parlor level, with a formal dining room, a living room, a butler’s pantry and a landing with a Steinway piano and stand-up bass, has hosted rehearsals, jam sessions and jazz salons.
With Mr. Generet traveling more to perform and Ms. Tunie shooting her show in Atlanta and having to travel frequently to Los Angeles, the couple has decided to look for a Harlem building with amenities like a superintendent or doorman.
“One thing that has always driven us is our way of being a part of our neighborhood and being a part of New York City and being a part of Harlem,” said Mr. Generet, who served as president of the local block association for several years.
It was also a “driving point” for the couple to demonstrate to the youngest members of the community that being successful didn’t have to mean leaving the area.
Instead, it could mean putting “your wherewithal and your resources back into where you live,” Mr. Generet said. “That’s what we’ve been trying to do since we’ve been here.”
Photos by: Steve Remich for The Wall Street Journal.