Come Right In
With public spaces and model apartments all around New York,
residential real-estate developers have finally acknowledged the selling power
of interior design
Fred A. Bernstein -- Interior Design, 9/1/2005 12:00:00 AM
If walls could talk, the tacky plasterboard of Tracey Towers would tell a cautionary tale. Paul Rudolph, the former chair of Yale's School of Architecture, designed this pair of Bronx residential buildings in 1972. He gave them concrete exteriors of multiple curves, suggesting palisades. Inside, however, the apartments couldn't be more ordinary. Ceilings are low, fixtures are rudimentary, and rooms—tragically—are boxes with no relationship to the dramatic forms of the facade.
Rudolph wasn't the only one to be foiled by the economics of New York real estate. For much of the 20th century, an architect commissioned for a residential building could expect to design an exterior, maybe a lobby. The rest was handled by firms that specialized in laying out cookie-cutter apartments. Which explains why savvy, well heeled buyers often insisted on prewar buildings. Postwar remains a synonym for cheesy—astounding given that the war in question ended 60 years ago, before most of today's buyers were born.
In a recent movement, though, established residential developers, moonlighting hoteliers Ian Schrager and André Balazs, and even Earvin "Magic" Johnson's Canyon Johnson Urban Funds have begun calling on architects and designers to handle the interiors as well as the exteriors of new buildings and conversions. That's because properties need to stand out from the crowd in the development-friendly climate fostered by Mayor Michael Bloomberg's proactive rezoning policies. Lobbies, roof terraces, and model apartments that combine prewar quality with contemporary aesthetics are crucial in attracting the wealthy young buyers looking for a loft or condominium as detailed as their Hamptons weekend house. And sky-high real-estate prices mean that developers can charge a premium for good design. "The ante has been upped," says Calvin Tsao of Tsao & McKown, an architecture firm that has four New York projects in the works.
The days in which the beauty of most new building is only skin-deep are soon to be over. At SoHo's Urban Glass House, Annabelle Selldorf is completing plans begun by Philip Johnson more than a decade ago. For the two condominium towers that Zeckendorf Realty is building on the Central Park West site of the Mayflower Hotel, Robert A.M. Stern says he's "taking the lead in laying out the apartments and designing kitchens and baths." Retail darling Peter Marino has taken on his first apartment tower, 19 floors on the site of an East End Avenue hospital overlooking Carl Schurz Park. Marino says that, in Skyline Developers, he finally found a group willing to pay for the quality he insists on, such as spacious floor plans and working fireplaces. Louise Sunshine, founder of the Sunshine Group, is a force behind design-conscious buildings including Downtown, a Financial District office tower being converted into condominiums by Philippe Starck.
Which isn't to imply that design's triumph over New York's real-estate imperatives is complete. Getting things to look as good in reality as they do on paper is almost always a struggle—a kitchen or bath is only as good as the contractor who builds it. Besides, not every developer is willing to spend money for design. Architect Alan Wanzenberg says he turns down more jobs than he accepts. In too many cases, he says, "They want to use your name, and then they find a cheaper way to do it." But Wanzenberg admits that he's also known success. After he designed the interiors of 515 Park Avenue and TriBeCa's Hubert, prices went through the roof.
Boymelgreen Developers hired Tsao & McKown to design the exterior and interior of the 13-floor, 65-unit River Lofts condominiums, a warehouse-style building in the TriBeCa Historic District. The facade is in step with those in the neighborhood: Tracery of precast concrete alludes to classical architecture, while the sawtooth pattern adds an urban edge. Windows are set as deep as possible to create interesting shadows. Photography: Jen Fong.
Opposite: In the great room of the 2,200-square-foot model apartment at Opus, a 22-story, 64-unit condominium that the Clarett Group built in Morningside Heights, principal Randolph Gerner installed a gas-burning fireplace with a painted-wood surround and hung a brass charger by Martha Sturdy above.
Left: A corner lot on Broadway, the tower's site terminates in an acute angle. To help turn that corner, Clarett commissioned a sculpture from Ed McGowin; suggesting a Thomas Hart Benton tableau, the bronze serves as both frieze and railing. Right, from top: The lobby's custom velvet-covered ottoman sits on a floor tiled in stone mosaics; the focal wall's mahogany blocks channel the spirit of the nearby 110th Street subway station. Le Corbusier's LC4 chaise, Patricia Urquiola's Lowland sectional, Pierre Paulin's Tulip chair, and Christophe Pillet's C&C cocktail table furnish the great room.
PROJECT TEAM: BRYAN BENNETT; JUTTA ISHII; KATIE MCNELLY; MADELEINE MIDDLETORP; SILKE RAPELIUS; FROILAN VICENTE. CHARGER (GREAT ROOM): BAKER. CUSTOM DRAPERY: RUBEN RUENES; THROUGH PINDLER PINDLER (FABRIC). PAINT: RALPH LAUREN HOME (WALL); BENJAMIN MOORE CO. (FIREPLACE SURROUND). CUSTOM OTTOMAN (LOBBY): WOOD, SPRING DOWN; HOLLY HUNT (FABRIC). TABLE: HBF. SOFAS: BRIGHT CHAIR. SCONCE: NESSEN LIGHTING. FOCAL-WALL INSTALLATION: NORDIC INTERIORS. FLOOR TILE: TOWN COUNTRY FLOORS. CHAISE (GREAT ROOM): CASSINA THROUGH M2L. SOFA: MOROSO. CHAIR: ARTIFORT. TABLE: FIAM ITALIA THROUGH M2L. LAMP: FLOS. AREA RUG: ABC CARPET HOME. SHEEPSKIN RUG: CLOUD NINE SHEEPSKINS. STRUCTURAL ENGINEER: CANTOR SEINUK GROUP. MEP: IRVING M. ROBBINS CONSULTING ENGINEERS. GENERAL CONTRACTOR: BOVIS LEND LEASE.
This isn't an installation by an avant-garde artist—though it's located round the corner from the P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center in Long Island City. Actually, the site is a 1920's printing plant and warehouse that the Andalex Group hired Kondylis Design to convert into Arris Lofts: eight stories with 237 residences, 17 ground-floor artist's studios, and a lap pool. The firm is also outfitting three model apartments.
Opposite: At his third West Village building—and the first where he was hired to design the apartment interiors as well as the sleek glass curtain wall—Richard Meier concentrated on details as specific as the whiteness of the Corian kitchen counters and the darkness of the wengé floors. Thomas Juul- Hansen, designer of Jean-Georges Vongerichten's next-door Perry Street restaurant, outfitted the 2,450-square-foot model apartment's living area with Poul Kjaerholm's daybed and chairs.
Left: A rendering shows the ipé terrace wrapping the penthouse duplex of the 16-floor, 31-unit Alexico Management Group building, due for December completion. Right, from top: Lehmann Maupin Gallery consulted on artwork, such as the guest room's Do-Ho Suh photograph (private collection, New York). At the touch of a button, shades roll down to cover the living area's windows.
PRINCIPALS IN CHARGE (RICHARD MEIER PARTNERS, ARCHITECTS): DONALD COX; BERNHARD KARPF. PROJECT ARCHITECTS: KEVIN LEE; CARLOS TAN. PROJECT TEAM: CLAY COLLIER; GIL EVAN-TSUR; MILTON LAM; MICHAEL OBOYLE; AARON VADEN-YOUMANS; HYUNJOON YOO. SIDE CHAIRS, DAYBED, LOUNGE CHAIR, OTTOMAN (LIVING AREA): FRITZ HANSEN. SOFA, TABLE, RUG (LIVING AREA), STOOLS (KITCHEN), TABLE, CHAIRS (DINING AREA): THROUGH TROY. BED LINENS (BEDROOM): CALVIN KLEIN HOME. LIGHTING CONSULTANT: FISHER MARANTZ STONE. STRUCTURAL ENGINEER: ARUP. MEP: AMBROSINO, DEPINTO SCHMIEDER. GENERAL CONTRACTOR: BOVIS LEND LEASE.
Left: No one was surprised when Ian Schrager bought the Gramercy Park Hotel. But eyebrows were raised when the hotel impresario announced plans to convert its 1930 annex into the Ian Schrager Company's first residential building. Now called 50 Gramercy Park North—with 23 apartments on 15 floors slated for January completion—the project marks the birth of the boutique condo, with units and a sales suite designed by John Pawson in collaboration with Schrager's design director, Anda Andrei. The suite's living room features Pawson's own low table in addition to Rudolf Schindler's redwood sofa, sling chairs, and ottomans with cushions upholstered in velvet. A pedestal displays a scale model of the complex. (In finished units, windows will be bigger, with lighter frames.)
Right: Pawson clad the bathrooms in honed travertine and glass mosaic tile.
PROJECT TEAM: MARK TREHARNE. SEATING (LIVING ROOM): MARMOL RADZINER FURNITURE. CUSHION FABRIC: SCALAMANDR. RUG: BARTHOLOMEWS. PAINT: BENJAMIN MOORE COMPANY. TUB (BATHROOM): FRANZKALDEWEI. TUB FITTINGS: VOLA. TOWEL BAR: DORNBRACHT. TILE: ANN SACKS. LIGHTING CONSULTANT: ISOMETRIX LIGHTING + DESIGN. STRUCTURAL ENGINEER: GOLDSTEIN ASSOCIATES. MEP: AMBROSINO, DEPINTO SCHMIEDER. GENERAL CONTRACTOR: BOVIS LEND LEASE.
Left, from top: At SoHo's Spring, a renovated 1924 building formerly housing the East River Savings and Loan Company, the entry choreographs a transition from public to private—drawing on partner Calvin Tsao's early training as a dancer and knowledge of how people move through space; second in the procession, the elevator lobby is enveloped in mahogany. The 15-story Boymelgreen Developers condominium's roof terrace beckons with Francesco Rota's Surf chaise longues, a Gervasoni Filo side table, and a custom ipé bench and fence. Right: A flourescent-lit cutout in hallway ceilings marks the entrance to all 40 lofts. Photography: Jen Fong.
Opposite: The lobby combines terrazzo for the floor and concierge desk and, opposite it, granite for the built-in bench. Most of the ground level will be occupied by a retail complex with separate entrances. Photography: Jen Fong.
PROJECT ARCHITECT: ADAM ROLSTON. PROJECT MANAGER: THOMAS GARDNER. PROJECT TEAM: GABRIEL BENROTH; LENA BRAGINA; ELENA FRAMPTON; ARTURO PADILLA. MILLWORK (ELEVATOR LOBBY): BENCHMARK FURNITURE MANUFACTURING. FLOOR, BENCH STONE (LOBBY), PAVING STONE (TERRACE): UNIVERSAL STONE TILE. CHAISES (TERRACE): PAOLA LENTI THROUGH KARKULA. SIDE TABLE: THROUGH M@MERCER. CUSTOM FENCE, BENCH: COBRA CONSTRUCTION CONCEPTS. METALWORK: CUSTOM METALCRAFTERS. LIGHTING CONSULTANT: WILLIAM ARMSTRONG LIGHTING DESIGN. STRUCTURAL ENGINEER: GOLDSTEIN ASSOCIATES. MEP: ABRAHAM JOSELOW. ARCHITECT OF RECORD: ISMAEL LEYVA ARCHITECTS.