A Tale of Two Markets: Walker Tower

The Real DealMay 01, 2012
In a still-difficult economy, developers are increasingly tailoring buildings to suit the needs of serious buyers. That means targeting two very active groups of purchasers at opposite ends of the spectrum: out-of-town buyers looking for small pieds-à-terre and families raising children in the city.

Empty-nesters, pied-à-terre purchasers or just people looking to avoid a jumbo mortgage often want small but comfortable apartments in full-service buildings, and many new developments are now aimed at this demographic.

At the other extreme are homebuyers — many of them families forsaking the suburbs— seeking multithousand-square-foot apartments with several bedrooms and features like private laundry rooms.

Sales of both these types of units surged in the first quarter of this year. Studios and one-bedroom apartments made up 48 percent of all condo sales, jumping up from 39 percent in the same period of 2011, according to market data from Prudential Douglas Elliman.
At the same time, three-bedroom market share nearly doubled to 20 percent.

As developers aim their buildings at one group or the other, two sectors of the market are emerging and, increasingly, diverging.

Walker Tower, a new condo under construction at 212 West 18th Street, is intended to satisfy the increasing demand for larger units, with units averaging 3,000 square feet and three bedrooms, according to developer Michael Stern of JDS Development.

By contrast, another JDS project — a midtown tower with Central Park views that Stern said he could not yet name — has smaller units more in line with the tastes of foreign buyers.

This kind of specialization means developers “take a little bit more risk,” Stern said. But overall, it’s “good for the market, and leads to more diversity of product.”

Below is a look at these two increasingly different types of dwellings.

Supersize it

Larger Spaces
Many buyers in the current New York marketplace are looking for “grown-up apartments,” with spacious rooms and many of the same conveniences they might find in suburban houses, said Dan Kaplan, a senior partner at FXFOWLE Architects.

When completed, Extell Development’s under-construction One57 will be the tallest residential tower in Manhattan. Three-bedrooms there are reportedly around 3,200 square feet — what might be a five-bedroom in another building.

At Walker Tower, Stern said, all 53 units — there were originally 55, but two buyers have combined apartments — have two or more bedrooms and at least three bathrooms. Most also have a home office.

Tim Crowley, managing director for development at the architecture and development firm Flank, said his firm’s new condo project, the Abingdon in the West Village, consists of six apartments, two penthouses and two multifl oor “mansions.”

The smallest apartments are 3,200-square-foot, three-bedroom units. The “mansions” will be 5,900 and 10,000 square feet.
Buyers for these types of apartments “want to see an apartment that looks like a home,” Crowley said.

Suburban-Style Kitchen

Much like suburban houses, many new multibedroom apartments now feature spacious kitchens. Many, like One57 and 77 Reade in Tribeca, have center islands.

Whereas a traditional New York kitchen might measure 60 or 80 square feet, kitchens in buildings like Walker Tower can cover 250 square feet. But while size has changed, design has changed even more to make kitchens flow more smoothly into surrounding rooms, said John Cetra of the architecture firm Cetra/Ruddy, which is designing Walker Tower as well as the unnamed JDS building in midtown.
In large prewar apartments, he said, “they would have big kitchens, but they weren’t as inviting because the way they were set up was for people with servants.”

Rather than being tucked-away service spaces, today’s large-apartment kitchens are designed to be “showpieces,” as well as the center of family life, according to Vishaan Chakrabarti, a partner at SHoP Architects.

Kitchens in the Abingdon’s three-bedroom units measure 15 square feet — large in their own right — but they are linked by double-width pocket doors to adjacent dens, Crowley said. When the doors are open, the resulting space is 15 by 30 feet.

Private Laundry and Storage Spaces

Buildings with supersized apartments tend to place less of an emphasis on elaborate common spaces, but have more in-apartment features.

In family-style buildings, “people have bigger and better video screens in their apartments than they have in the public amenities space,” said Randy Gerner, a principal at the Architecture firm Gerner Kronick + Valcarcel. “So why go to the amenities space?”

Today’s large apartments also tend to have large walk-in closets and in-unit storage space that’s easily accessible, Cetra said. Some projects he’s worked on have laundry rooms “big enough that you could do the ironing in there.”

These spaces can also be used as “hobby rooms.” At one family-style building near the Theater District that his firm is working on, Cetra said he is exploring the idea of making such extra rooms soundproof so musicians can practice in them.

At buildings like Walker Tower and One57, master bedrooms aren’t just for sleeping: They often have separate dressing and/or lounging areas.

“This is going beyond just the big bedroom,” Cetra said. “It’s creating an adult suite.”

Cetra said he’s seen these areas furnished as sitting areas with TVs, or outfitted with wet bars. That way, he added, “if you’re not sleeping, there’s another way to use the space.”


Small but not too small

By contrast, some buildings are specifically aimed at buyers who don’t need or want as much space. Blesso Properties’ 421 West 22nd Street, for example, features all studio apartments with custom-made Murphy beds and hidden Bosch washer-dryers, while William Beaver House in the Financial District has “Murphy offices” concealed behind sliding closet doors.

Still, as more wealthy international buyers flock to Manhattan, the definition of pied-à-terre has expanded beyond simple “foot-on-the-ground” crash pads, said Cetra of Cetra/Ruddy architects.

Pieds-à-terre these days tend to be between 850 and 1,100 square feet — room enough for a small two-bedroom, or a one-bedroom with flexible extra space for a guest.

At new Tribeca condo Reade57, which the building’s website describes as “perfect for year-round living or pieds-à-terre,” one-, two- and three-bedroom units range from 713 square feet to 1,863 square feet.

Compact Kitchen Appliances

Buildings like 20 Pine and William Beaver House have “targeted their marketing to bachelors and pied-à-terre buyers,” explained StreetEasy’s Sofi a Song. As a result, “their kitchens [aren’t] suitable for a family, but rather for those who liked to order in.”

At William Beaver, Tsao & McKown Architects designed compact “Murphy kitchens” that are smaller than the units’ bathrooms, the New York Times reported.

And at new condo 200 Eleventh Avenue on 25th Street, an Elliman ad for one unit describes the kitchen as “discreet” and “concealed by folding teak doors.”

“Sometimes it’s not worth it to have a really large kitchen, because if you’re just going to have breakfast there, or you’re just going to keep chilled champagne in the refrigerator, you’re not going to need it,” Cetra said.

Still, maintaining resale value means kitchens can’t be discarded completely, even when residents eat most of their meals out, said Eran Chen, design director at ODA Architecture.

So the developers of these apartments often use smaller dishwashers, ovens and refrigerators to conserve space.
Gerner of Gerner Kronick + Valcarcel said at pied-à–terre units his firm has worked on, appliances are “small and fabulous” rather than “large and fabulous.”

“We might use Gaggenau appliances,” he said; while fully functional, they are often “more seen than used.”

More Building Amenities

Buildings with smaller apartments, Cetra said, tend to have more common amenities, to give residents an outlet from their tighter spaces. The A Building at 425 East 13th Street, which Cetra Ruddy designed, has a rooftop pool — a first for the firm, he said.

William Beaver has a 40-seat screening room, a lap pool, a basketball court and a landscaped dog run. Reade 57 has a landscaped common terrace, fitness center and lounge aimed to create “a cool, urban club ambiance,” according to its website.

Pied-à-terre buyers tend to be more focused on fullservice buildings than on in-home amenities, especially since they may not be planning to spend much time in their apartments.

“If you’re coming in and out of the building only a few times a year, typically you want the knowledge that it’s a staffed building with doormen and such,” Chakrabarti said. “You want as few headaches and as little maintenance as possible.”

That may include the services of a full-time concierge.

William Beaver House takes it a step further, with a “lifestyle manager,” to provide services to its residents.

Reade 57 has a 24-hour doorman, and all the apartments are prewired for cable, phone and Internet; services that “are designed to make your life easier and hassle-free,” the website says.