At the desk of: Mary Louise Perlman

The Alfa executive on playing bass guitar at work, borrowing furniture from her boss and sending apple pies to Fab 5 Freddy

Mary Louise Perlman (Photos by Emily Assiran)
Mary Louise Perlman (Photos by Emily Assiran)

Mary Louise Perlman, 39, is vice president of development and marketing at the New York-based real estate firm Alfa Development — a role that has taken her through the life cycle of each of the company’s condo projects since she joined Alfa in 2010. Her responsibilities include working with architects on unit layouts and design decisions as minute as whether a tenant would prefer the kitchen pantry to the left or right of the refrigerator. She also serves as an executive director of Gallery 151, founded by Alfa CEO Michael Namer in 2007, and the firm’s NoMad hotel, HGU New York. Perlman previously worked as a project and sales manager at Corcoran Sunshine and has been involved in the predevelopment, marketing and sales of more than 15 luxury Manhattan condos, totaling nearly $1 billion in closings, since 2006.

WATCH: Real estate’s rock star: ML Perlman

Her bluish-gray office on the eighth floor of 15 West 18th Street is filled with art. It’s also brimming with music when she sings and plays bass guitar. This might seem strange in the offices of most other real estate executives, but Perlman played in an electro-pop-punk band called Spalding Rockwell for nearly a decade. The group, which she described as “proto-Lady Gaga,” was perhaps best known for the song “Hear My Name” — a collaboration with DJ Armand Van Helden. She and her bandmate ended up going their separate ways in 2006, but Perlman still records in her home studio and occasionally scores music for project websites, as she did for 200 East 21st Street, a 67-unit condo building in Gramercy Park. She and her husband, Andrew, live with their two children, Ethan, 4, and Isabel, 8, in Scarsdale, New York. Perlman grew up on the Upper West Side as the second-oldest child of four. She enrolled at Johns Hopkins University in 1996 and left in 1998 with plans to take a year off to focus on music, but never returned after her band took off. After leaving Spalding Rockwell, she looked for a career that offered the flexibility to continue pursuing music, and real estate fit the bill.

Bass Guitar

Perlman said she always keeps her Traveler bass guitar nearby in case she needs to get into a “creative headspace” or think about a problem in a different way. In those cases, she’ll step away from her desk and play in her office — even with the amp turned on, the sound is tame enough to avoid distracting colleagues. When asked about strumming in the office, Perlman played a few songs for this reporter (see video online at “Real estate is very right-brain, left-brain,” she said. “So when I’ve got to activate one side, or maybe my left brain is fatigued from looking at a spreadsheet, I’ll take a break and play for a little while just to get my mind on something else.”

Namer Portrait

Perlman’s brother, John Platt, painted this portrait of Alfa’s founder and CEO Michael Namer. Platt — whose work has been featured in Namer’s Soho art gallery — made the piece for his subject. But his sister liked it so much that she asked her boss if she could hang it in her office. The painting is special to her, Perlman said, not just because her brother is the artist, but also because she admires Namer. The 64-year-old was born in Istanbul and moved to Cuba when he was very young, but fled to the U.S. after the Castro-led revolution and was put in foster care for several years before his family could join him. “It is really a quintessential American success story,” Perlman said. “I work for a successful man who began in this country as a refugee and an immigrant.”

Quartz Crystals

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Perlman’s executive coach gave her clear quartz crystals to remind her to meditate — or at least take a short break — when dealing with a complicated problem. She said handling the crystals provides a calming distraction. “I’m very visual and I feel like I get fidgety with my hands, so it’s nice for me to just have something to hold,” she said. “We live in a very high-paced, stressful city. This helps me see beyond that.”

Thinking Chair

The brown leather chair to the right of Perlman’s desk once belonged to Namer’s father and was in her boss’s office for some time. When Namer eventually got new chairs, Perlman asked if she could borrow the one from his father. It now serves as her “thinking chair,” she said. “If I’m working on something where it’s a particularly stressful time, I’ll get into that chair to simplify and to try to see clearly through to the end zone of where we need to be. So I’ll sometimes work all day in that chair.”

ERO Painting

During the renovation of 151 Wooster Street, an eight-unit condo building in Soho, graffiti was found hidden in the walls. The painters included hip-hop pioneer Fab 5 Freddy and street artist Dominique Philbert, who went by the name ERO (Ever Rocking On). When Philbert died from a heart attack in 2011, Gallery 151 held a retrospective of his work.

Fiddle Leaf Fig

The fiddle leaf fig tree in Perlman’s office serves as a reminder of Alfa’s emphasis on wellness, she said. Though the tree ranks among her favorite plants, apple trees take the top spot. “I’m not good at cooking, but I make a damn good apple pie,” she said. “And Fab 5 Freddy confirmed that. I Uber-messengered him pies to prove it during the Rosh Hashanah holiday. He can vouch for me.”