From the Drawing Board to the Bedroom Luxury Design Has its Price

From the Drawing Board to the Bedroom

In little Italy, architect Adam Kuchner, of Kuchner Studios, is putting the finishing touches on 23 premier high-end condominium apartments.

Located at 123 Baxter Street, the elite units include such exquisite design features as six-inch Brazilian cherry floor planking, marble kitchen countertops, glass tile backsplash, refrigerators equipped with television and Internet capabilities, shower cabins, double terraces (one in the living room and one off of the master bedroom), wiring for high-tech systems, stone and marble floors and more.

The building also includes a communal gym, theater and conference room, and automated parking system. This system allows residents to drive their car directly into the elevator, get out and let the elevator carry their car directly to its parking spot. Then when it is time to leave the building, residents will simply insert their card in a machine and the car will be ready when they arrive at the front door. It is estimated that these luxury condo units will sell for $1,200 per square foot.

New condominium buildings are springing up all over the city, in every neighborhood. While some are strictly functional and aren’t touted to buyers as anything other than a serviceable apartment building with middle-of-the-road amenities and aesthetics, a lot of the new construction — such as 123 Baxter Street — is being designed by world-renowned architects and equipped with top-of-the-line appliances, cabinetry, fixtures, flooring and more.

The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) have studied design trends in condos and in a release stated “design trends in condos have been kicked up a notch in recent years to appeal to today’s sophisticated condo buyers,” quoting Paul Campbell, a principal with the Denver-based architectural firm Kephart.

Keeping Wired

Other building experts interviewed by NAHB explained that high-tech features like Wi-Fi and broadband access are now standard in most apartments and open, flexible floor plans were desirable. Upgraded appliances and more creativity in kitchen design were also desired. There is a real emphasis on quality as well as style in the luxury apartment market.

“Developers want to appeal to a certain buyer,” said Cathy Hobbs, owner of apherea in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. “What they are selling is not the hottest design trends, but it’s a quality of life and a convenience. Some of these new buildings are also incorporating a lot of zen — bamboo, meditation areas, rock gardens and more — to offer tranquility, privacy and escape. This whole trend is based on the concept that “we realize that you work hard and we’ll create a life for you with great common spaces and a great oasis once you are inside of your own apartment.”

Another such upscale building is The Hudson Condominiums, located at 225 West 60th Street. Described as “luxury condos with every conceivable comfort,” by The Developers Group, it is said to be a “stylish structure towering above the surrounding architecture – a glowing icon of modern splendor, a bold architectural vision.

Apartments at The Hudson offer a wealth of luxurious details including Afrormosia wood (Afrormosia is very stable wood, superior to red oak) cabinets with translucent glass and stainless hardware, honed lava gold stone countertops and full-height backsplash, elegant stone bathroom floors, walk-in glass showers, ‘Jerusalem Bone’ stone tile and tub enclosures, Afrormosia wood vanity, flueless in-wall fireplaces and ten-foot ceilings. The building also features an outdoor yoga terrace as well as a roof terrace with a wet bar.

Up on the Roof

Sutton 57, a 24-story condominium tower at 212 East 57th Street, takes gardening to a new level. It offers residents Manhattan’s first ‘moon garden.’

Designed by H. Thomas O’Hara Architects PLLS, Sutton 57 will house 38 one-, two-, and three-bedroom residences, with no more than three residences per floor, and full-floor homes on levels 10 through the duplex penthouse. Construction on the 24-story luxury tower is set for completion in early 2006; homes range in price from $1.3 million to over $3 million.

The very special rooftop moon garden will be appointed with special night-blooming flowers that reflect moonlight, lush foliage, moon-gazing benches, sun-and-moon-bathing chaise lounges, and a rain shower.  Evening flowers, including White Liatris, Lambs Ear and White Swan Coneflower will be clustered in two very distinctly shaped garden areas, crescent moon and full moon.  

Residents will enter Sutton 57 through an elegant lobby clad in hardwood contrasted by backlit green-glass panels, transitional fixtures, and elegant imported stone floors.  A plush seating area, 24-hour attended lobby and residents-only fitness center will complete the handsome ground floor.  In addition, the property will offer private residents-only storage.

Each residence will have high ceilings, oversized windows with expansive views, and richly polished Cabreuva hardwood flooring.  Gourmet kitchens will feature midnight-black granite countertops, stylish glass-front cabinets with under-cabinet lighting, and a vanishing Sub-Zero refrigerator with custom panels to match the cabinetry. The master baths boast floor-to-ceiling Calcutta Gold-honed stone accented with matching mosaic tile.  An extra-deep soaking tub, glass-enclosed shower and a Porcher vessel sink with chrome Jado fixtures complete the serene baths.  Secondary baths are drenched in a sand dune beige marble throughout and outfitted with custom vanities in polished vanilla marble.

Berwind Property Group, which is based in Philadelphia, is converting the former Barbizon Hotel at 140 East 63rd Street to about 65 high-end condominium apartments, according to plans recently filed with the New York State Attorney General’s office. Through The Melrose Hotel Company, Berwind had acquired the property in 2002 and spent about $40 million in renovating it and converting it to the Melrose Hotel. Although design details were not available at press time, it is said that the apartments will include similar luxury amenities.

In the Boroughs

And you don’t have to be in Manhattan to experience the nouveau riche lifestyle found in new construction. The Gantry, located at 48-21 Fifth Street in Long Island City, is a new six-story, 47-unit condo development located directly on the waterfront. One, two and three-bedroom units, priced from the mid-$400,000s, will have high ceilings, oversized windows and many will have private outdoor spaces, including rooftop cabanas.

Kitchens will feature stone countertops with mosaic tile backsplashes and stainless steel appliances.  Bathrooms, with large vessel sinks, have oversized tubs and slate floor finishes. The building, which will also have a part-time doorman, contains a contemporary-design lobby with a décor that includes metal walls with stainless steel accents, tile floors, and a eucalyptus wood desk topped in stone.

A new luxury development going up in Brooklyn is the six-story, 40-unit luxury condominium at 606 Bergen Street in Prospect Heights. Architect Karl Fisher, well known for his design of the Gretsch Building in Williamsburg and The Chelsea Club in Manhattan, has created a limestone façade with three separate entrances and three elevator banks for residents. The apartments have been designed with spacious open floor plans in one-and two-bedroom configurations and will feature five-piece marble master baths, top-of-the-line appliances, exotic wood cabinetry and floors, oversized windows and balconies. Building-wide amenities will include a fitness spa with sauna and steam room and a Japanese-inspired central garden.

“This is a very sleek design with exotic finishes and details that have been orchestrated to produce a calming, Zen-like effect,” says Brendan Aguayo, the director of business development for Aguayo & Huebner Development, which is marketing the condo. Pyramid Properties is the developer and expected completion is late 2006.

And in Brooklyn’s Brighton Beach, the 850-unit Oceana Condominium & Club being built by Muss Development, is creating quite a splash. The apartments will feature waterfront and Manhattan skyline views, pre-wired cable and Internet access with Wi-Fi accessibility from the outdoor pool, elegant marble baths and vanities, large soaking tubs, beautifully appointed lobbies and corridors with marble and stone flooring, and full-service granite kitchens complete with wine storage coolers.

“Luxury” is an often-overused buzzword in the real estate industry, but designers often have their own interpretation of luxury.

“It’s all about the finishes in the kitchen and bathroom, the size of the windows, and the color of the building materials that are selected,” said Marilyn Sygrove of Sygrove Associates Design Group Inc. in Manhattan. “However, luxury apartments have changed because materials are becoming more common and accessible.”

Stephen Carter, principal of The Carman Group in Manhattan and Connecticut, believes that an address is only important if a resident is considering transportation or employment issues, but has nothing to do with the level of luxury in the apartment.

“I don’t think having a luxury apartment has anything to do with its location,” said Carter. “It’s how the square footage of the apartment is handled. Luxury is how you live with the space that you have. It is how you make the size of your bedroom and living room and kitchen. If you make every space an individual environment, it becomes luxurious.”

Buyer’s preference for things like floor plans, layout and finishes may also change depending on the neighborhood they are looking to buy in. “Upper East Side residents tend to like more classic traditional and be more safe,” said Sygrove. “While those living downtown are usually looking for loft space and a uniqueness and are more risk takers.”

Decorating every space can create the look and feel of luxury, but today’s floor plans lean more toward open spaces. “Space is such a premium these days,” said Kuchner. “An unobstructed vision in a home is a commodity. It isn’t being chopped up.”

Luxury is not only about how your space is decorated, but it is also about who designed that space. Posh apartment building developers are turning to top architects to design and distinguish their buildings and who is chosen can actually affect the sale and resale of the home.

Just peruse the New York real estate listings and you’ll see such items as “World renowned architect I.M. Pei’s Kips Bay Towers, offers a superb one bedroom, one bathroom condominium featuring floor to ceiling windows, beautiful garden views, excellent light, renovated kitchen, and ample closet space with beautiful hardwood floors throughout.”  “Excellent condition large one bedroom, located in luxury condo designed by world renowned architect, Michael Graves.” Or, “Welcome to the Florentine Brownstones Condominiums… each and every unit is a showpiece and was hand-crafted, custom-designed by world renowned architect Alex German with his sculptured flowing rooms and signature high-end kitchens and baths.”

“Yes it matters who the architect is on the sale and the resale value,” said Mindy Miles Greenberg, an interior designer and host of cable TV’s Decorating Cents. “It would help to know that the home is designed so that when you open the bathroom door, it wouldn’t hit another bathroom door and that the details are terrific,” said Greenberg. “The homebuyers would want to take a look at the quality of the work that this famous architect has done. But find out if the architect has designed the lobby or every apartment.”

With a growing number of luxury condominiums coming onto the market, they are still some of the most sought after properties on the market. According to, The Time Warner Center, anchored by a high-end shopping center and some of the priciest restaurants in Manhattan, was the site of one of the most expensive apartment sales in recent years. Currently on the market is a 15-room apartment that takes up the entire 79th floor of one tower. It has eight bathrooms, wall-to-wall windows, 12-foot ceilings and 360-degree views of the city. Residents can use the services of the posh Mandarin Oriental hotel below on an “a la carte basis.”

While subjective, design may be in the eye of the beholder, but it’s also in the buyer’s eye as well. New York City apartments are still a hot commodity even as prices hit stratospheric amounts. And countless buyers seek world-class amenities that complement the design of a building inside and out.

Lisa Iannucci is a freelance writer living in Poughkeepsie, New York.

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