Upper East Side, Moscow: The Noble Row Townhouses

Björn Wallander

A steadfast devotee of all things Ralph Lauren uses architecture to make his point in the Russian capital.

On a quiet city street, opposite a leafy neighborhood park, picture six grand row houses in warm-hued limestone, their arched entrances flanked by cast-iron lanterns. We might be in Paris, but there’s something just a little eclectic about the architecture, a restrained remix of European styles ranging from Italian Baroque to the English neoclassicism of the Georgian period. It recalls the work of New York architects such as Richard Morris Hunt and Charles McKim, who applied lessons learned at Paris’s famed Ecole des Beaux-Arts to a string of Upper East Side mansions, public buildings, and Belle Epoque townhouses from around 1880 to 1915.

Look inside any of the six houses, each done out in a subtly different style, and the case for New York wins out. If there’s something uptown Manhattan about these suavely elegant Park Avenue–princess spaces, it’s hardly surprising. They were styled by interior architect Greg Tuck in collaboration with Mary Foley and Michael Cox of design firm Foley & Cox, all three of whom had worked in-house at Ralph Lauren Home before setting up their own businesses. But this isn’t New York. It’s Moscow. And the row houses—which speak to a lost era of fine craftsmanship when stonemasons knew what guttae and triglyphs were—are brand-new.

Located in Moscow’s real estate Golden Mile, across the river from the Cathedral of Christ the Savior, these six urban mansions go by the collective name of Noble Row. Selling for $20 million to $25 million per unit, they are, according to Russian news site RBD, the most expensive townhouses in town—though it should be said that multistory, single-owner residences like these, which climb six floors from basement garage to attic penthouse, are rare in the Russian capital. “We wanted to bring the Upper East Side single-family home to Moscow,” says property developer Konstantin Akimov of Russian firm APD. “And create spots of peace and beauty in the midst of the roaring city.”

Courtesy Björn Wallander

APD is owned and run by Konstantin and his brother Arkadiy, who have brought architects and designers of the caliber of Philippe Starck, Kelly Hoppen, and Robert A. M. Stern to Moscow in the past. But Noble Row is the company’s most ambitious project to date. For the 45-year-old Konstantin, the row houses inside and out are an unashamed declaration of love for American designer Lauren (who, he proudly points out, “has Russian roots”). “It’s an homage to Ralph Lauren. You go downstairs, where a well-dressed doorman opens the door. A beautiful car is waiting for you,” he says, adding, “It’s like a movie.” The Akimovs turned to Foley, Cox, and Tuck for their insider understanding of the firm’s style. Tuck, who describes Ralph Lauren’s aesthetic as “welded onto my DNA,” was also recommended by the Moscow project management firm that he worked with as head architect of the city’s Ralph Lauren outlets. (While Cox outfitted the project almost exclusively in Ralph Lauren Home, it’s not an official project of the brand.)

That vision also meant that Noble Row was conceived from the start as a turnkey property. “It’s very unusual in Moscow,” Konstantin explains, “to sell a finished house or apartment, let alone a fully furnished one.” But this, he believes, will be an incentive to clients “who are quite experienced with their wealth,” and who “want their Mercedes already assembled, not just a container with spare parts that won’t be ready for two or three years.” A November 2014 report by real estate developer Barkli pin-pointed another change in moneyed Russian tastes: a reaction against the “gigantic posh flats” of the post-Soviet ’90s, in favor of “the clean lines and modest proportions of neoclassical design.” Noble Row could be seen as the poster child for this seismic shift.

The Akimovs are unique, Tuck believes, in their commitment to the trappings of the Beaux Arts tradition, and to a level of detailing that, “especially in New York, people don’t do anymore simply because it’s too expensive.” In Noble Row, Tuck says, “every square centimeter of the interior is articulated in some kind of molding, or limestone capital, with plaster moldings and marble fireplaces. Certainly there are private clients who spend that kind of money. But a developer? I’ve never met one.” Foley agrees, calling the project “a labor of love,” while her business partner, Cox, was impressed by the amount of research the brothers put into the study of the architectural style’s finer points.

Courtesy Björn Wallander

Konstantin admits that his choice of the Beaux Arts style had a lot to do with his love of Ralph Lauren’s 888 Madison Avenue store, a new-build, old-look homage to a gilded age of aristocracy that opened in Manhattan in 2010. With its similar iron-grated entrance doors and horizontal limestone mortaring, Noble Row is 888 Madison transformed into a six-house row.

Does this make it a copy of a copy? Or is that question irrelevant, given some of the architectural crimes committed during the Soviet era? Quoting Dostoevsky (“Beauty will save the world”), Konstantin feels strongly that architects, planners, and developers should resist the “degradation” of many contemporary buildings, which are mostly, he believes, about “sellable square footage and savings on construction.” For him, both 888 Madison and Noble Row are “not copies but a new generation of architecture rooted in the finest past examples, a natural evolution of best practices.”

But is there a market in today’s Moscow for Noble Row’s brand of luxury? Konstantin, who has so far sold two of the six townhouses, certainly hopes so. “Before they were all, how do you say, like kids in a candy shop,” he says, referring to the first wave of Russian tycoons. “They were all Versace, flashy. Now they’re more mature. Now they realize that money doesn’t have to scream.”