Gilt by Association

The New York TimesFebruary 23, 2012
IT was billed as “A Double Feature of Never Before Seen Paintings,” starring Eve Plumb, a k a Jan Brady, of “Brady Bunch” fame.

That may sound like a set-up for a “Saturday Night Live” skit (cue the theme song from the iconic 1970s show), but this was the big draw for an event in Chelsea on Wednesday night. Ms. Plumb, blond and charming in her black dress, was flitting about, explaining the inspiration for her artwork.

An art gallery opening? No, her work was hanging on the walls of a Chelsea penthouse, and the people hosting the event hoped that the condo would be the real star of the evening.

When the Broad Mill Development Group, the developers of Carriage House on West 24th Street, approached Ms. Plumb about displaying her Western scenes and “noir” series of black-and-whites based on old Hollywood films, she was thrilled.

“Anytime anybody wants to give you an art show you take it,” said Ms. Plumb, 53, who dabbles in art between acting jobs. She had suggested a tagline for the event: “Have a drink, buy some art, get a condo.”

That was a bit too direct for the developers. “I wanted to have some fun; let’s have some fun,” Ms. Plumb said. “I am not a serious person, and it is not serious art.”

A mix of developers, their friends, invited brokers and a few potential buyers strolled by her artwork Wednesday night in the 1,614-square-foot duplex, which features an outdoor hot tub in 835 square feet of outdoor space.

The exhibition was just the latest reminder that simply inviting people to come check out the real estate is no longer good enough. To lure high-net-worth prospects, creative — and often kitschy — events are now the bait for brokers and potential buyers.

Earlier this month, a building at 123 Third Avenue hosted a “bundled luxury event” called “Shop at the Top.” Held just a few days before Valentine’s, it was a one-stop shopping experience with high-end retailers, including La Maison du Chocolat, Aaron Basha jewelry, Illuminum perfume and the jeweler Yael Sonia. Guests sipped on wine and hors d’oeuvres while walking amid the retailers and popping upstairs for tours of four penthouses, priced from $3.6 million to $4.5 million. Roxanne Hulderman, a “celebrity psychic,” did readings in an upstairs bedroom of one apartment.

“We have to be very creative these days to showcase properties and cross-brand, and to think of any outside-the-box ways to bring traffic and attention to properties,” said Tom Postilio, a broker with CORE who attended the event.

While apartments over $10 million in New York are practically selling themselves — often to out-of-towners like the Russians, the Chinese and the Brazilians — some apartments below that level need a little more publicity.

Earlier this month, Mr. Postilio said, he was at a runway fashion show in a three-bedroom apartment with Hudson River views on the Far West Side, listed for $3.49 million. “I turned to my colleague and said, ‘Who would have ever thought that in 2012 we are selling real estate and we are at a fashion show?’ ” he said. “But you never know who might be in the audience. You just have to spark the interest of one buyer.”

As Mr. Postilio acknowledged, the efforts are intended to bring together high-end brokers and high-wealth individuals. Last week he introduced a $6.5 million penthouse at 211 East 51st Street at a party co-sponsored by Manhattan magazine, which brought along 50 of its top V.I.P.s, he said.

Last summer, Azure, a luxury cond-op on the Upper East Side, staged a book signing and reading with Soleil Moon Frye, a k a Punky Brewster, that was attended by almost 100 well-heeled mothers, according to Hundred Stories, the public relations company that organized the event with a group called DivaMoms. Last October, Azure hosted a show by John Grande, a photo-based painter whose works were inspired by cultural icons like Batman and the Playboy logo. The developers also teamed up last fall with the president of the company that publishes “America’s Top Doctors” to host an event, and drew more than 50 doctors from Mount Sinai and other local hospitals.

At the inauguration party for the Carriage House last June, Classic Car Club of Manhattan was invited to show off the building’s garage and hydraulic lifts by rolling in several posh cars, including a Lamborghini, a Ferrari and a Jaguar. The developers spent $15,000 on the opening, and since then about 35 percent of the apartments have gone into contract, with over half the building left to sell, said Joél Moss, the listing agent from Warburg Realty.

The unsold $3.6 million penthouse has become a frequent site for parties, said Eamon Roche, one of the developers. Wednesday’s evening of Ms. Plumb’s art, with martinis and prosecco flowing, was just the latest. “Basically, until they kick me out of this one I will probably have a party here every month or so,” he said. “I can’t afford to own it, but I can afford to throw a party here.”

Ms. Plumb moved with her husband to New York from Laguna Beach, Calif., two years ago to get a taste of living in the city. They are renting a two-bedroom on the Upper West Side with spectacular views, she said.

The party planners had filled one room of the lower level with Ms. Plumb’s Western landscapes — the “See the Pony” series “all have to have a blue sky, a horse and they are done in vertical strips,” she said. On the upper level her “noirs,” collectively called “Here Comes Trouble,” were arranged around the master bedroom. The names of those works include “Look Out Now” and “Feed the Dog.” (The pieces were on sale for $750 to $2,850 and will stay up through March.)

At evening’s end, she said she hadn’t sold any paintings but remained hopeful. Only one broker couldn’t restrain his curiosity about the “Brady Bunch” era of her life, she said. I admitted to her that when I watched the show I always identified with Jan and Peter, two middle children struggling for recognition and attention while the older siblings, Greg and Marcia, seemed to have it easy.

Ms. Plumb tried not to roll her eyes.

She said she understood why the developers had tapped her.

“Whatever gets people to look at your product, as long as you don’t have to take off your top, which is usually my criteria for projects,” she said, laughing heartily. “And at this point nobody really wants me to.”

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: March 4, 2012

The Big Deal column last Sunday, about brokers’ teaming up with sellers of high-end merchandise to attract wealthy buyers, described incorrectly the financial structure of Azure, a residential building on the Upper East Side. It is a cond-op, not a condo. The article also misidentified the club that was invited to show several classic cars at the inauguration of the Carriage House last June. It was the Classic Car Club of Manhattan, not Cooper Classic Cars.

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