The Real Deal New York

A peek inside Blesso’s 421 West 22nd Street

Architects’ renderings of a studio at 421 West 22nd Street show how the space changes for different uses.

Studio apartments — which conjure up images of awkward dinner party seating and falling Murphy beds — often get a bad rap.

But developer Blesso Properties, which recently revamped the Pines on Fire Island, is hoping to change perceptions of studio living.

In September, the firm started construction on a $3.7 million condo conversion of a rental building at 421 West 22nd Street (see images above). Five newly renovated studios and a ground-floor duplex are slated for completion within 12 months. (The three remaining renters — rent-stabilized tenants — will remain in their apartments, and will later have the opportunity to buy them.)

These studios will be unlike any others, the company hopes.

“Our idea was to reinvent studio living,” said Matthew Blesso, the president of Blesso Properties.

To accomplish that goal, the firm worked with Andrea Steele of ANDArchitects to design furniture and built-in storage spaces for the units. The idea was to create a space that can easily morph from bedroom to living room to dining room.
“We want people to live as if they have four different spaces here, versus one,” said Blesso’s director of acquisitions, Sara Willard.

In these 450-square-foot studios, a dining room table will drop down from the ceiling, and stackable chairs will be stored in specially designed closets.

“One of the challenges of living in one room is that you’re eating in your bedroom and sleeping in your kitchen,” Willard explained. “We wanted to create a space that actually multi-tasks the same room, but at different times, so that everything is concealed optically when not in use.”

A custom-built Murphy bed blends into woodwork that is continuous throughout the apartment, to help the spaces flow into each other rather than ending abruptly, Willard said.

When it’s not in use, the bed is “seamless with the rest of the storage,” she explained. “You don’t know that there’s a bed behind there; it looks like it could have just as easily been a closet.”

Meanwhile, closets and kitchen cabinets look the same, so that when you’re sitting on your bed, you don’t have the feeling of being in the kitchen.

“The only way you know that’s a kitchen is that there’s a sink,” she said. “The woodwork for the kitchen is integrated with all of your closets and storage.”

This all begs the question: why not just build one-bedrooms? Because of the price point, Willard said.

Blesso purchased 421 West 22nd Street more than three years ago and originally planned to convert the building into a single-family mansion, or a luxury duplex and triplex, she said. But with the Lehman Brothers collapse and credit crunch, mortgages for homebuyers grew scarce. Jumbo mortgages were particularly hard to come by.

In response, Blesso decided to change its plans and build studios instead. Priced at less than $600,000, these units will make it easier for buyers to get conforming mortgages, Willard said.

“We thought the market would be deeper for studios than it would be for a triplex,” she said. “So we retooled what we wanted to do.”

The firm will also “be doing legwork to make sure that the building is Fannie- and Freddie-approved,” she said.
The firm started construction on its own dime in September, but recently secured a 60 percent loan-to-value construction loan from Landmark Realty Capital.

While prices for buyers will be lower than if the units were one-bedrooms, Blesso is hoping to get higher prices for the units than typical studios in the area.

“We spent a lot more on millwork and built-in pieces than our competitive set of studios,” she said. “But we thought that was really important, and would make a really big difference for people and how they live in the space.”

Studios in Chelsea are currently fetching $1,000 to $1,050 per square foot, she said. Blesso — which has a history of “achieving pricing records,” she said — is hoping to sell their units for 15 to 20 percent more.

However, the units won’t be sold for at least two years, she said. To provide cash flow, Blesso Properties often rents its new condo projects for a few years before selling them, Willard said, and this project will be no different. The units will be rented out within the next 12 months, she said. After that, they will most likely be sold, though it’s possible that they will remain rentals “if we do very well,” she said. Still, the highest and best use of the property, even in this market, is condos, she added.

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