The Real Deal New York

Luxury in small packages on Park Avenue South

Scaled-down units going like hotcakes on Park Avenue South

September 01, 2008
By Steve Cutler

So far, it seems the Rosen Partners, developers of the condo renovation in progress at 254 Park Avenue South, are having their cake and eating it too, selling units quickly at high-net prices in a market that is making many builders feel that they’ve bitten off more than they can chew.

The condominium, located on 20th Street and Park Avenue South, has sold 35 percent of its 167 units in a five-week pre-construction blitz, before the developer has even launched a marketing campaign.

The secret? Bite-sized, scaled-down layouts.

To entice the upward-bound young, single professionals who flock to the limitless restaurants and clubs in the Flatiron District, in addition to foreigners buying up pieds-à-terre all over the city with cheap dollars, the developers designed a large number of 400-square-foot-and-under studios.

Starting at $555,000, the units appear to be a deal in this neighborhood, and yet are yielding the developer nearly $1,400 per square foot.

By contrast, Twenty9th Park Madison, the new H. Thomas O’Hara Architects-designed 34-story condo at 39 East 29th Street, off Park Avenue South, has been selling their 536-square-foot studios for around $1,300 a square foot.

“The size of the homes make for bite-sized price-points,” said Jacqueline Urgo, president of the Marketing Directors, which is selling the apartments at the 13-story 254 Park Avenue South. “Even though we’re doing well on a dollar-per-square-foot level, to get a one-bedroom with home office at $1.6 million in that location is a value.”

Note: Correction appended.

Indeed, a two-bedroom at the new Gwathmey Siegel-designed condominium just down the street at 240 Park Avenue South is listed for $1.88 million. (To be fair, that unit occupies over 1,100 square feet.)

The layouts at 254 Park Ave South are compact, noted Urgo. The one-beds with office, so called because the extra “bedroom” doesn’t have windows, are under 1,000 square feet. However, she added, “the volume of the spaces feels huge, because we have 14-foot ceilings.”

“We have a very good ‘take rate,’” said developer Dan Rosen. He referred to the ratio of actual buyers to browsers — a success that he attributes to a precise reading of his demographic, which, as represented by an illustration in the poster-size, nearly wordless brochure, is a young man with a suit and tie and shoes, who is too busy moving and shaking to have had time to put on socks.

To nail that demographic, the developers asked W Hotels to refer a designer.

“W said there’s only one person to talk to,” recalled Architectural Digest Top 100 designer Charles Allem, “and that was me.”

Having worked with Starwood and W Hotels, as well as innumerable high-profile private clients around the globe, Allem knows this buyer well. His company, Charles Allem Design International, “has a lot of bachelor clients — movers and shakers or married couples that don’t have children. So our work there [at 254 Park Avenue South] was totally driven for the mega-power executive, as well as the fabulous, up-and-coming Wall Street boy who really can’t afford to buy in New York, but he still can have something. We geared everything in that direction.”

The sleek, modern scheme for the interiors comes naturally to Allem. “I love simplicity,” he said. “I like things to be very monolithic, very contemporary, but at the same time urban. It’s New York, so we used wonderful ebony woods.”

Allem is fond of grays, he said, and used gunmetal gray on the walls in the corridor and a choice of gray lava stone, or beige limestone-type stone, in the bathrooms.

“I don’t like using 10 or 20 materials,” added Allem. “I think that’s all over the place. I like to select three or four or five materials for a project. I think you get incredible drama when you do that in design.”

The kitchens in the smaller units will be trim. Allem wanted, he said, “to make galley kitchens out of them and not have these huge Sub-Zero refrigerators and these five- and six-top cooktops in a studio apartment in New York. Most developers still do that, and it’s really ridiculous, because mostly all you need in New York is champagne in your refrigerator, and you order up your food.

“Unless it’s a family — then it’s a whole different ball of wax.”

To capitalize on the 14-foot ceilings, some units have a steel ladder leading up to a built-in loft with a seating area with low cushions strewn about and a glass rail that looks onto the living and entry areas.

To retain the ceiling heights in the 1913 building, which was originally meant for offices, “we kept the plumbing, duct work for HVAC and wiring out of the ceiling and moved it into the walls, routing it in a way that doesn’t affect the ceiling height and creates dramatic spaces,” said Rosen.

The Beaux-Arts French-limestone building had been a rental building in its most recent incarnation.

“The interior was absolutely diabolical,” recalled Allem. “I think that building was the hottest building in town in the 1970s and the 1980s. All the modeling houses used to keep their models there, so it was a high-traffic area with lots of parties and things going on. Basically, we tore the whole inside out.”

The diminutive lobby is gunmetal gray, metallic silver and polished stainless steel with faux crocodile accents and a circular carpet. The space is paneled in ebony wood, with unframed resin artwork set into the paneling.

The lower-level glass-walled amenity floor has a gym, game room with billiards and poker tables, and a large kitchen area and coffee lounge that leads into a landscaped courtyard paved in a checkerboard pattern with gunmetal gray stone, green grass and a water feature.

The small layout scheme has yielded a benefit the developers did not expect. It allows them to combine units to meet an unusually high interest in larger apartments.

“I don’t see that building as a family building as such,” said Allem, “but they’ve had some families already buying in there, and, of course, they’re buying the larger units. A lot of people now have combined a couple of the units together.”

The condominium is scheduled for completion by the end of this year.

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