While by no means the first starchitect-driven residential property in New York City, when it opened, Downtown by Philippe Starck at 15 Broad Street was among the first condominiums to flash a designer brand so flagrantly. And effectively.
The 42-story luxury conversion sold $210 million in condo apartments in just four weeks in the summer of 2004 and helped lift Manhattan’s undervalued Financial District to upscale destination status.
Now that the condo market has cooled, developer Joseph Moinian is turning the Starck star power onto a rental building, betting that the newly honed “YOO by Starck” logo and a marketing campaign featuring seductive images of the ebullient French designer will fill 507 way-above-market rental apartments in the Financial District.
At 95 Wall Street, Dwell, the first YOO by Starck rental building in the world, opens this spring. The building is offering mostly studios, priced from $2,665, one-bedrooms starting at $3,890, loft studios starting at $4,520 and two-bedrooms from $6,260.
YOO, an interior design firm, development company and marketing consultancy, was founded in 1999 by Starck, arguably the most successful designer in the
world, and high-profile London developer John Hitchcox.
Currently, its high-design brand is attached to more than $5.5 billion worth of apartments in New York, Miami, Sydney, Buenos Aires, Israel, Hong Kong, Thailand and other spots around the globe.
YOO’s encore to Downtown by Starck was YOO by Jade, a condominium in Chelsea/Flatiron with interiors designed by
former model, jetsetter and jewelry designer Jade Jagger, daughter of Mick and his former wife Bianca.
Unlike some projects that were condominiums on the drawing board in the glory days and then switched gears when the market began to turn, “Dwell was conceived as a rental from the beginning,” according to Natasha Vardi, director of residential properties for the Moinian Group.
“We were thinking there’s this whole group of people out there who really
love Starck,” added Vardi, “but if they weren’t ready to purchase, they didn’t have much choice.”
Now, with the specter of mass layoffs hanging over Wall Street, fewer consumers are ready to purchase at this time.
“I’ve been predicting the cooling off of the housing market for four or five years now, along with a lot of people,” said Hitchcox, co-founder and chairman of YOO. “It’s gone on much longer than we expected. And when condominiums start to slow, rentals get a little bit more busy.”
According to Cliff Finn, director of new development for Citi Habitats, which is marketing Dwell, “There’s a large group of people who are putting off buying their first homes and want to rent for now, but they want apartments that make them feel like they’ve stepped up in the world.”
Hitchcox said he began to envision a YOO rental product about three years ago.
“Since the advent of the 90 percent mortgage,” he said, “nobody has really set about doing a branded alternative to a for-sale product — a rental with the quality we offer in the condominiums we design. Then Joe Moinian came up with this building, and it was a perfect fit for us.”
Moinian acquired the 22-story 95
Wall Street in 2004 for $130 million. The headquarters for JPMorgan, the 500,000-square-foot modern office tower, was built in 1970. While obtaining approval for a residential conversion, Moinian kept the building commercial until early 2007, when an early termination of JPMorgan’s lease was worked out.
YOO’s London studio manager, Julieann Humphryes, said that when the firm took the commission to design the conversion, “we began to look at the history of
Wall Street, the connotations of that in terms of how we might create a narrative for the interior.”
The design scheme for the lobby, which is office-building small, might be called “Wall Street bling.”
“Joe Moinian wanted it designed to be like a showcase, like a jewel — very intense,” said Humphryes. “We did all the furniture that sits in [the] lobby in gold plating, from the reception desk to the chairs to the benches to the sofas. They’re all shiny sculpted gloss metals in a dark chocolate, which matches the bronze color of the 1970s building. Then we’ve added some bulls and bears to relate to the market to remind you of the location.”
Even the floor says money, literally. “We’ve created a carpet that’s going to be made of over-scaled dollars — coinage — that is going to be inlaid into the floor,” said Humphryes. The surface metal is cast over ceramic, using a process that gives the floor the appearance of solid metal. “It feels like a lot of the turn-of-the-century steel-tiled floors that you get in old Soho — part of original Victorian-age architecture,” she added.
The penthouse tenants’ lounge picks up the gold plating in the lobby but adds some red touches, cushiony seating, a fireplace and a breakfast area that will serve a complimentary morning meal daily. The lounge has a lushly landscaped outdoor counterpart, with intimate seating areas and a winter fireplace.
The penthouse-level amenity space was a construction challenge, as it shares a floor with systems such as the building’s water-cooling plant. The machinery is cordoned off and obscured by specially glazed wall surfaces and plants that redirect the user’s visual focus. Noise, meanwhile, is neutralized through the use of ambient music and white noise.
Dwell’s other amenities include a 24-hour concierge service and doorman, valet services, on-site parking and a fitness center including the Kinesis strength training system. All the equipment in the gym, which is bathed in a calming white, faces the windows and view.
The apartments are offered in an abridged version of the schemes YOO offers in its condominiums. Tenants at Dwell can choose from two styles: classic, installed on the lower floors, which features refined dark wood floors and kitchen cabinetry with Crème de Marfil countertops, and nature, available on the upper floors, which features light wood floors and cabinetry as well as Venatino Marble countertops.
Both styles have modernist kitchens and bathrooms accented with YOO by Starck-inspired fixtures, Jenn-Air cooktops and convection ovens, and wood-paneled Liebherr refrigerators. The spa-like bathrooms are wrapped in marble and contain vessel sinks and handmade Venetian glass mirrors with matching glass sconces.
Each kitchen is adorned with a Swarovski crystal chandelier, a Starck signature touch. “Chandeliers seem to be our thing, actually,” said Hitchcox. “The idea of a chandelier in your kitchen has a degree of decadence and puts a little bit more focus into the kitchen than you might normally get.”
The designers got started on the chandelier thing with the 15 Broad Street conversion. “JPMorgan in the 1930s commissioned one of the largest chandeliers in the world,” said Hitchcox. “We found that chandelier boxed up in a shed in New Jersey. We unpacked it, pieced it back together and put it in the entrance lobby.”
The only comparable new rental building in FiDi may be 20 Exchange Place, a 67-story landmark skyscraper that recently had a “soft” opening, leasing apartments from the 36th floor and up. Prices at 20 Exchange are similar to 95 Wall Street, and according to Prudential Douglas Elliman broker Ariel Cohen, “the reception has been phenomenal. I just rented the entire 37th floor to a client.”
Some landlords are nervous about finding enough well-heeled renters to fill two new, above-market towers in Lower Manhattan. (See related story on page 54 on how new development is faring in the Financial District overall.) But according to Sang Oh, director of sales for FiDi-based Platinum Properties, “It’s a bold statement for the neighborhood that we were able to bring in names like Starck to work on a rental building, something that was unheard of just a few years ago when we were begging people to come down here. Now we’re able to ask for rents that are higher than Midtown.”
Note: Correction appended.