Going Up in Style Give Your Elevators a Facelift

Going Up in Style

Appearances are important.

How your building looksfrom the inside outhas a direct impact on both the value of each apartment and the morale of every resident. From the facade to the awning to the flowers on the lobby table, a good first impression goes a long way. But if you step out of an attractive lobby into an out-of-style or poorly maintained elevator, that glow of satisfaction may quickly dissipate. A well-designed elevator cab is as important to your building as a beautifully-decorated lobby.

The key to the whole cab is that it is an extension of the lobby and hallways. In many ways one can describe the elevator as a moving lobby, says Fred Gold, a former board president whose pre-war building on West 81st Street redid its elevators five years ago.

If you have a beautiful lobby and an ugly elevator it just doesn't look good, echoes David Abechassis, board president of his East 82nd Street co-op, which also recently redid its elevators.

When to Modernize

Perhaps the best time to go about redesigning your elevators is when additional work, such as modernizing the mechanical equipment, is being done or when the lobby or other common areas of the building are being redecorated. If you spend a lot of money on the mechanics and do little or nothing to the interior, the tenants will not realize something was done. If the interior looks nice then people get a sense of what was done, says Brian Farley, vice president of Gallery Elevator, a firm that specializes in elevator maintenance and design.

It gives residents something physical, adds Frank Spotorno of Park Avenue Elevator Design. They can't see the electrical modernization but they can see and touch the interiors. They can see the value in this part of the cab. He also points out that people feel safe and comfortable in an elevator that looks nice, and worried if it looks grungy.

It is important to remember that the elevator will be temporarily out of service while the work is being done. To keep everyone in the building happy, keep the down time as short as possible by planning the job in advance and working with reliable, experienced professionals. It is crucial to work with an elevator company that is going to stand by its work. If something goes wrong, it is important that the company will be there to fix the problem.

Check the Mechanics

In addition, adding new material on top of the current interior can throw off the weight of the cab, causing it to run improperly. Thus, if any interior work is done to the cab, the mechanics should be checked afterward to be sure everything is running smoothly.

A couple of pounds difference in the weight may not make that much of a difference balance-wise, but a few hundred pounds will, cautions Joe Cash of Embassy Elevator. This may cause the cab to not level properly and can cause additional wear and tear that it would not experience otherwise. Most of the time the elevator contractor will know to look for this, but it is a good idea to make sure that it is done.

An elevator is designed with counterweights, explains Farley. A cab is not just lifted, there is a machine that shifts the weight to keep it balanced. If you add heavy interiors such as mahogany walls or marble floors, more counterweights have to be added. Similarly, if the interior is redone with lighter materials, counterweights sho ffb uld be removed.

Design Options

The whole cab was redone in our building, says Abechassis. The interiors were a tacky yellow and they were really ugly. We wanted a look that was similar to the time that the building was built; we wanted an older appearance.

Working with their managing agent at the time, Norman Silver of Walter and SamM-uels, the committee chose to work with EDI/ECI (Elevator Doors, Inc./EleM-vator Cabs, Inc.), a company that handles both the mechanical and interior aspects of elevator modernM-ization. Together they came up with a plan that would please everyone in the building.

The building committee decided on a wood veneer that would match the design of the post-war building. Since we wanted the cab to look authentic to the time period of the building, we got the veneer with wood moldings. There's value in what the people see, says Abechassis.

Fred Gold's Upper West Side building had manual elevators that had an old world style with a lot of wood and brass. When it was time to renovate, the elevator committee discovered that the cost of maintaining the old manual cabs was too high and decided that new elevators would be a better investment. At the same time, the committee wanted to maintain the appeal and charisma of the old elevators. Working with American Elevator, a design and maintenance firm, and an architect, they came up with a similar design that added a touch of class to the new cabs while retaining the pre-war character of the rest of the building.

We wanted the cabs to have a lot of charm so we went with an up-scale wood interior and moldings with brass fittings. We spared no expense because we wanted something that could offer a sense of warmth and comfort. That is what pays off, says Gold.

Materials and Costs

There is a wide variety of materials available for your elevator walls, from basic laminates that cost around $4,000 to $5,000 to marble, which can run from $15,000 to $25,000. The most popular wall covering is Formica panels, which come in a variety of colors and finishes to match just about any hallway or lobby design. Wood finishes like oak, walnut or pine are also very popular. Wood panelings come out really nice, almost giving it the look of an old library, says Farley.

Ed Voll of Vertical Systems, an elevator maintenance and design company, says, For a decent-looking cab one can go for the basics and spend around $5,000 to $8,000. People want to make a statement with their cabs. I know of one place that even put statues in the corners of the elevators. Others have been known to hang brass chandeliers in them.

The possibilities are endless when it comes to updating your elevator cabs. Whether you are trying to achieve a modern look or match your building's pre-war decor, you can be assured success by working with trusted, experienced elevator specialists. By creating a team made up of an in-house elevator committee, a professional elevator designer and an elevator mechanics specialist, you can be sure that your new cabs will be not only pleasant to ride in, but safe and reliable as well.

Ms. Cooper is Administrative/Promotions Assistant for The New York Cooperator.

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