What do I mean by "humble"? Simply that they are non-landmarks. You won't see the Empire State Building or IAC building on this list. But every day I pass great architecture and design while walking around New York City, and there are a lot of buildings that deserve some recognition. Some of them are bold, but many are understated, quietly sitting around for decades. These aren't New York's big tourist attractions. But, in my opinion, they're a big part of what makes the city so liveable. Click the images below to see larger photos.
On Bond Street next to Lafayette, you'll see lots of cutting-edge, flashy new buildings. But this one has been around for awhile. The first story seems normal, but if you look up there's a balcony with intricate gold figures winding around it and up the side of the building.
How cool and random to see this house nestled in between SoHo's normally taller buildings, on West Broadway and White. I always like entrances at an angle like that, making an automatic overhang out of the building itself. I also liked the shirts in the window, but had to go inside to find out what store it was. Turns out it's a J. Crew, but they're not allowed to hang signs on the historic structure. (So they claim. But I think they were just trying to be cool.)
I think this is just a beautiful combination of tree and building. This is between 2nd and 3rd avenues. I've never seen that balcony in use (Is it considered a balcony if it doesn't stick out from the building? It's more of just a room with no windows), but I've imagined the view from it to be quite beautiful.
Passed this building randomly on a side street while walking up Broadway. The light hitting it made it look even brighter than its already-bright paint job, and especially when compared to the "normal" buildings next to it.
I can only imagine what this apartment must cost ... you can't see it in the photo, but this balcony is on the beautiful Brooklyn Promenade, with a view of the lower Manhattan skyline and Statue of Liberty. The balcony itself (actually two) is beautiful, as is the spiral staircase leading up to it.
I really like this clock I found on Mercer Street, and even more, the awning above it. It's such a clean and efficient clock that it gives the whole street the feeling of a train station. The iron of the awning casts stark shadows that look great on the rich brick. The awning also echoes the fire escapes above it.
Found this one on West Broadway. The paintings at first only evoke flowers. You have to look much closer to see the snake-dogs coming out of them. And I think I like the painted pattern at the top even better than the pictures below.
This square features one of the nicer subway entrances I've seen, but look beyond that. How cool are the windows of that building? Together with the black lines around them, the whole thing evokes a dark, muted Mondrian. Or maybe Dr. Wily's lair.
This SoHo/Tribeca restaurant caught my eye with the beautiful light its yellow awning cast over the street, its bench, and its front tables. What nice tall beautiful glass doors to have open on a July day. Homemade gelato doesn't hurt, either.
All of Bond Street is quite nice, with its cobblestones, and if you approach it from the north along Lafayette, the view of this building is great. It's just enormous, with lots of detail. The inside, if you go into Blick Art, is pretty neat, too.
I have no idea what this building is, but it's next to the Scholastic building on Broadway. We passed it while walking downtown and it struck me. The green with red is such an interesting combination, and the detail in the arches and railings are great.
These two little guardhouses stand out on 19th street, and are right next to a towering mimosa tree (aka silk tree), which flowers beautifully. The quality of light as you walk along this stretch is fascinating.
Stumbled upon this one downtown on Water Street, and it's so ... weird. All modern glass skyscrapers, yet tucked away is this little old-fashioned candy store, with it's Frontierland font and hot dog awning.
When it came time to tear down this old church on 12th street, someone had the brilliant idea to leave its facade in place and just put a building behind it. So now it stands alone, like a movie-set prop.
This building on Bleecker near Broadway is stunning. Click the photo to see even more detail. I'm amazed that the detail here hasn't been worn away by the elements, but it looks fresh-carved. I've seen many people stop in their tracks to look at this.
I don't know anything about these buildings on Water Street, nor can I explain what makes these stand out among many other nondescript buildings around the city. Maybe it's the color of the bricks in those two middle buildings. I don't know why, but I like it.
Two awesome murals of giraffes over the doors. In this photo, you also see the building next door, which has fun tilework above the door and stone lions, too. This is another one on 19th between 3rd and Irving, a great street.
On 18th street between 1st and 2nd avenues, there is a house creatively decorated for Halloween. All year long. There must be 30 statues of hideous monsters, contorted faces, and leering gargoyles, all integrated into the walls and architecture.
I'm not sure if this is one of the Quaker buildings or not, but it sits in that group of great architecture on 16th street next to Stuyvesant Square Park. The ivy continues all along the building to the left, too. Walk west from the park and be blown away.
This building is the original reason for making this list. When I used to walk to Meetup every day, I would pass this building and it really stood out to me, for reasons I can't discern. I think it's the colors. Turns out it's a historical landmark and museum, stuck around nothing else remarkable.
Just thought the top of this building was neat. Nice brickwork. It and the building to the left have a very simple, clean aesthetic that looks European/Scandanavian somehow.
Because of the great long balcony and spectacular ironwork here, these buildings always remind me of New Orleans. They're also unusually set-back for NYC, giving them much larger "front yards".
This whole building is nice, on Irving Place, but this window in particular draws my eye whenever I walk past. Rachel pointed out that clearly Spider-Man lives there, but that's ridiculous. He lives in Queens.
On 35th street, near Park I think, you'll see this building randomly hidden on an otherwise nondescript street. Click through to see the whole thing - it's really neat how those huge grand bay windows are on not just one floor, but two. The arched gate before the entrance is a nice touch, too.
Here's a renovated building on 13th & 1st ave. What's cool is that the top part of the building is a very modern-looking glass design, but it sits on a cool brick design below. It makes it look like they kept half the brick of the old building and grafted a new design on top (although they probably just built it from scratch.) You're left with a building that looks new and modern but not so modern that it's out of place among all the old brick homes on the street.
Look at this restaurant! What a great integration of building and plants. The vines around the top lights are expecially neat. The style of the flower boxes are nice, too. This is right off Prince street.
The Mansard roof here is nice, but it's the style of the brick around the windows that especially appeals to me. I like how the windows are deep set, and the steel blue they picked for the trim goes really well with the brick.
This home is right near Carl Schurz park on the Upper East Side. It's not often that you see corner windows that wrap around in old brick buildings. The vines are just an extra cool touch.
This must qualify somewhere in between an alley and an entranceway. Unfortunately, it was fenced off. but how cool that so many plants are able to grow so well in what little light reaches the alleyway. That spot at the end looks like it would be perfect for a little fountain of water.
This building is incredible. I wasn't sure which picture to use, since each side of the building has hidden treasures that are different, such as sunken entrances and a turret. But this angle shows the greenhouse on the roof, which looks amazing.
This landmark building is across the street from where I work, and is famous for being the epicenter of New York's short-lived cable car business, in the late 19th century. The whole building is nice, and looks particularly impressive when viewed from across the street on Houston, but I especially like the statues flanking the oval window above the entrance on Broadway.