There’s a good chance that someone entering Douglaston Development’s Ohm apartment building in Chelsea will be greeted with live music. The idea to turn the luxury rental’s lobby into a four-story performance space was the brainchild of Nancy Packes and her son, Seth Rosner. “If the building doesn’t express itself as a personality, as a being, it has missed something,” said Packes. Before high-profile names like Douglas Durst and Bruce Ratner were hiring her namesake marketing and consulting firm to help plan and promote their buildings, Packes spent seven years as a trial lawyer. She took a sabbatical in 1977 to focus on writing and drawing, and two years later, launched her real estate career by starting the brokerage firm Feathered Nest. She sold that firm in 1998 to focus on consulting for residential developers, which she had been doing for about a decade. As president of Nancy Packes Inc., she has worked on more than 40 buildings, counting among her most memorable projects Trump Tower, Forest City Ratner’s New York by Gehry and the Durst Organization’s 1212 Fifth Avenue. She’s currently working on Durst’s VIA 57 West, the “pyramid” designed by starchitect Bjarke Ingels, and the Brodsky Organization’s 10 City Point in Brooklyn. Packes splits her time between a house near Rhinebeck, New York, where she plays tennis several hours a week, and her apartment on Central Park South, where she does much of her work. She prefers the vibe of her home office, with its art and mementos, to her company’s Midtown headquarters.
Central Park view
While Packes has her morning coffee, she looks out over an expansive stretch of treetops. The scene helps her get into a creative mindset. It’s a much more peaceful setting than her office on Third Avenue and 42nd Street. “When you’re trying to see a big picture, it’s like looking into the distance,” she said. “Having a view of Central Park is a gift.”
In addition to several baby photos of her son, Seth, Packes displays the comic figurine he gave her when he was 6 years old. Now 42, and a jazz producer at Pi Recordings in addition to working for her company, Packes calls him her best friend. “He may be the wisest person I’ve ever known,” she said.
A painting by contemporary Russian jewelry maker Janis Jakobson hangs in Packes’ living room. She said it reminds her of hats worn by priests in the Russian Orthodox tradition, only the shape has transformed into a “cosmic form.” The dots on the painting reflect Jakobson’s background in jewelry. “In this context, the dots are like circuit boards,” Packes said, adding that this could suggest that technology has replaced the church as the center of authority. The painting is one of many in Packes’ apartment. “It’s important to me that this be a very curated environment that gives me peace.”
An 8-year-old Bang & Olufsen radio/CD player sits on a table near the window. The simple curved device is in her favorite color, a bluish purple. She uses it to listen to Gregorian chant, which she says quiets her active mind and helps inspiration come through. She acknowledges the technology is behind the times, “But I have trouble getting rid of it. It’s just become object-as-object at this point.”
Packes has several bookshelves filled with all sorts of books, from homemade “birthday books” she assembles each year for her granddaughter, to works of science, philosophy, art and poetry. Among them are a number on Chaos theory. She often finds herself returning to James Gleick’s “Chaos: Making a New Science.” She loves the book’s message, that chaos in nature reveals patterns of order and beauty. “I love this book, because it’s a scientific model for understanding free will.”
Around the time Packes started out in real estate, she owned a gallery called Greathouse located at Avenue B and 10th Street. “Art’s been an abiding passion of mine all my life,” she said. Artist Rhonda Zwilling showed this massive, elaborately jeweled tissue box at the gallery. “It’s the most magnificent tissue box,” Packes said.
Packes found this clay dragon — the Chinese symbol of protection — in an antique shop many years ago. “That little guy sits in front of the family photos to make sure nothing bad ever happens to them,” she said. There’s a second creature, possibly a lizard, rising out of the dragon’s head. Packes sees it as the dragon’s “higher mind.”
Box of fortunes
A coffee-colored box on the edge of her desk is filled with fortune cookie fortunes. Packes loves Chinese food and enjoys opening fortune cookies. When she gets a fortune that strikes her as profound or wise, it goes into the box. One of her favorites reads, “Everything is difficult until it is easy.”
Packes still uses the brightly colored, woven leather wallet that her son gave her 35 years ago. She said it reminds her of his love and sensitivity. She keeps an alligator case inside holding her business cards. “I have to get it repaired before it gets too ridiculously dilapidated,” she said.