Closets, Please, and the Bigger the Better

April 5, 2013

Appeared in the New York Times


When Apartment J in a Prospect Heights co-op went on the market last summer, 120 people streamed through to see it. At packed open houses, potential buyers marveled at the beautifully renovated kitchen, the privacy-friendly split bedroom layout, and the proximity to Prospect Park.

“We had about 30 people at the first open house,” said Kris Sylvester of Halstead Property, the broker. “It was standing-room only.”

But Apartment J drew only one offer — for $450,000. That was the asking price, but it was also $25,000 less than Mr. Sylvester had gotten for the apartment next door, and $32,000 less than the one downstairs had gone for a few months earlier.

The difference? Closets.

The owners of Apartment J had removed the apartment’s permanent closets, Mr. Sylvester said, replacing them with large, attractive Ikea wardrobes that were more practical, and actually accommodated more belongings. The wardrobes, the sellers promised, would stay.

But in buyers’s eyes, the apartment was closetless. And, as Mr. Sylvester discovered, “that was a deal-breaker.”

If the desire for square footage is insatiable in New York, so is the quest for an uber-organized life, and closets are increasingly being recognized as a factor in the mysterious real estate equation. Sure, it’s about having a place to put your stuff. But closets can also represent something deeper.

Closets, said Jennifer Baumgartner, a clinical psychologist and the author of “You Are What You Wear: What Your Clothes Reveal About You,” can be repositories for memories and aspirations. “Hobbies you’ve wanted to pursue and the outfits that go along with them,” she said. “Kind of like a timeline of a life.”

Clothing, Dr. Baumgartner added, is “the internal bubbling to the surface — we choose how we want to look to the world, we choose how we package ourselves. The closet is a container for that.”

It’s not that closets dictate real estate decisions. But they can tip the scales.

“Closet space has always been very, very important,” said Stephen G. Kliegerman, the president of Terra Development Marketing, which advises Halstead on creating and marketing buildings. “But it’s been something that developers overlooked in the past. What we’ve all certainly learned over the years is that although kitchens and bathrooms are very, very important, you cannot overlook closets.”

In general, regular closets are 3 by 5 feet, while walk-in closets are 5 by 8 feet, said Jonathan J. Miller, the president of Miller Samuel, a real estate appraisal company. But the closet sweet spot — the point at which an apartment’s closets are big and plentiful enough to grab buyers by the lapels, but just small enough that they don’t seem to encroach on living space — can be elusive.

“In space-starved New York City, closets always come up as being an issue,” said Andrew Gerringer, the managing director of new business development for the Marketing Directors. “It’s really, ‘At what cost are they to an overall apartment?’s ”

Developers take different tacks on closets when plotting new condos.

In luxury buildings, they are carving out space for closets that will make buyers swoon. Some are outfitting closets in model apartments with come-hither shelves and multiple hanging bars; others are lavishing attention on every closet in the building. The day when a lone pole and a shelf sufficed is long gone.

“To me, the hallmark of luxury in New York City is wasted space,” said Michael Gross, who is writing a book about 15 Central Park West, to be called “House of Outrageous Fortune.” “A walk-in closet big enough for not only Madame, but her dresser, the person who came to blow out her hair, her three Shih Tzus, and perhaps the husband allowed in to comment on the outfit for tonight, would count as wasted space.”

When the Glenwood Management Corporation was developing Emerald Green, a Midtown West rental building completed in 2010, an early blueprint was scrapped to eliminate one apartment per floor — so that the rest could have more and bigger closets, said Gary Jacob, an executive vice president of Glenwood.

“It takes a lot of thought to try to get enough closet space to satisfy people,” Mr. Jacob said.

In a newer Glenwood building, Crystal Green on West 39th Street, most apartments have five closets, and many have a walk-in closet. Even studios, which start at $2,950 a month. With that much storage, it may be possible for real people to keep their homes as stylishly minimalist as they were when staged for viewing.

“You really do have a chance of it,” said Nancy Albertson, the director of leasing for the building.

Daria Salusbury, a senior vice president of the Related Companies, says Related also builds studios with copious closet space. After all, just because you have a one-room home doesn’t mean you don’t ski, golf, surf, skate, shop and entertain.

“Some people in a studio have more hobbies than people in a three-bedroom,” she said. “If you’re in a three-bedroom, it’s your kids’s hobbies you have to worry about.”

At 150 East 72nd, a century-old building that Macklowe Properties is converting into luxury condos, all of the closets will be custom-built by Poliform, a luxury Italian brand. The model apartments are equipped with Poliform shelves, cubbies and shoe racks, although buyers will be able to work with Poliform to design the closets they want.

“You decide to put in a kids’s playroom, a fitness center, a screening room,” said Dorothy Sexton, Macklowe’s vice president for sales, drawing a comparison with closets. “Think of it as an amenity, but a personal amenity.”

At 18 Gramercy Park, a beyond-high-end renovation project featuring 4,000-square-foot floor-through units, closets in the model apartments were staged by a company called Clos-ette.

“We have a superluxury product here,” said Jill Mangone, the building’s sales director. “Our buyer is accustomed to being in a well-appointed environment.”

Although Clos-ette hasn’t been hired to design all the building’s closets, some buyers, apparently inspired by the model apartments, have themselves hired Clos-ette, said Melanie Charlton, its chief executive.

“People have started realizing, ‘If I’m going to put my pots and pans in a $250,000 room, why don’t I put my clothes and jewelry, which cost a lot more than my All-Clad or Le Creuset pots and pans, in an equally special place?’s ” she said. “I think people have really started giving it the homage it deserves.”

When Lynn Filipski and her husband bought an apartment in a newly renovated building overlooking Madison Square Park, one of her first moves was to pay “in the high five figures” to have Ms. Charlton’s company customize the closets.

“You kind of gag and think, ‘Wow, this is twice as much as what I thought it would come in at,’s ” she said. “When you go to sell it, you realize it’s definitely worth it.

“The closets were something that definitely sold the apartment,” added Ms. Filipski, who parted with the place last summer — and hired Clos-ette to overhaul the closets in her new apartment on West 12th Street, this time without hesitating. “Every inch counts.”

Last year Tristan Andrews, an agent with Douglas Elliman, received an unusual request from a Hong Kong couple he had just worked with on buying a 3,900-square-foot pied-à-terre on Fifth Avenue.

No, they weren’t looking to flip the place. They were looking for a second apartment, not necessarily in the same building, to use as a closet for the wife’s sizable wardrobe.

They were in the market for a pied-à-closet.

Co-ops were out of the question, and even filling out rental applications proved to be tricky. “It’s very difficult to say, ‘Occupants: 1,000 pairs of Jimmy Choo shoes,’s ” Mr. Andrews said.

For $7,950 a month, the couple are now renting a two-bedroom condo a few blocks away on Madison Avenue from an owner who was not offended that his renters were using his home as a closet. “He thought it was funny,” Mr. Andrews said.

After Chelsey Ward and her husband bought a three-bedroom co-op in TriBeCa, they used one room as a bedroom and one as an office, and hired California Closets to convert the third into a closet for Ms. Ward.

“Being able to turn a bedroom into a closet in New York City is a little bit like using your whole paycheck to buy a Chanel handbag,” Ms. Ward observed. “It’s a little slice of what it would be like if you had an entire house, or a car and a driveway and a backyard.”

Then there are those who use closets as bedrooms — or, as brokers have increasingly noticed, home offices.

Doug Perlson, the chief executive of the online real estate brokerage RealDirect, converted a closet in his Upper West Side apartment into a home office that he shares with his wife, a lawyer. “It’s a very attractive feature for people to be able to work from home and have a dedicated space,” Mr. Perlson said, “but be able to shut it off and not see it.”

Brian Lewis, an executive vice president of Halstead, and his family have recently completed an unusual renovation project in their Upper West Side apartment.

“I literally have a 75-gallon fish tank in my walk-in closet,” Mr. Lewis said.

Mr. Lewis has always loved fish, he explained, not in “gaudy Vegas-style fish tanks,” he emphasized, but in clean, beautiful, elegant ones. He wanted the aquarium in the living room, but it was too sunny. So the tank is in the master bedroom closet, viewable through a porthole cut into a living room wall.

“It was one of those aha moments in design,” he said.

At the more modest end of the market — at least by Manhattan and Brooklyn standards — developers eager to squeeze in every square inch of living space sometimes cut corners on closets. Sometimes buyers notice; sometimes they don’t.

When Melissa Bartolini Kearney and her husband shopped for two-bedroom apartments in Brooklyn, she said, “all the newer places within our price point had really small closets.”

The couple almost bought a condo in a new building in Fort Greene. Had the closets been larger, Mrs. Kearney said, she would probably be living there now.

Instead, Mr. Sylvester of Halstead found her an apartment in Park Slope with more closet space — and a kitchen with a breakfast nook. Mrs. Kearney turned it into an extra closet.

Over more than a decade, Carolyn Musher, the New York City sales manager of California Closets, has counseled thousands of New Yorkers through closet crises. Among her clients: frantic condo buyers suffering from closet-induced buyer’s remorse.

“When you first walk into an empty apartment, you’re not taking into consideration, ‘Where’s my stuff going to go that I want behind closed doors?’s ” Ms. Musher said. “You’re enamored with the space. Then you move in and reality hits.”

When Ms. Musher and her husband decided to buy, after years of renting, she set her sights on a Brooklyn Heights building she had admired from afar. The apartments were all sold.

“Now, I’m doing closets there, and I’m like, ‘Thank God,’s ” she said.

Ms. Musher moved instead to a condo in Park Slope with generous closets. Even so, she plans to divest a half bathroom of its toilet: Voilà, another closet.

“It’s a 1,500-square-foot apartment,” Ms. Musher said. “My guests can use my kids’s bathroom.”

Article Orginally Appreared in the February 2013 Issue of New York Family Magazine

We’re celebrating the 25th anniversary of New York Family. To help rejoice in our love of all things parenting, the editors have traveled back in time to take a look at what things were like in the 1980s compared to today. We spoke with some of our favorite parenting experts to find out how raising kids in the city has evolved. Join us as we journey back 25 years, to reflect upon what parenting in the city was like back when New York Family was born.

Real Estate Then

In the real estate sector in New York City, the family buildings category has changed drastically over the past 25 years. Back in the ‘80s, one of Manhattan’s most popular neighborhoods for families and young intellectuals was the Upper West Side. Pre- and post-war buildings were being converted from rentals into co-op apartments, and the average rental fee was $1,700 per month. Family-friendly buildings were not focused on amenities such as playrooms and pools. David Stern, the Downtown Leasing Manager for Glenwood Properties, explains that 25 years ago, the majority of families were looking to move to suburban areas. “There were no playrooms, there were no amenities like that for the kids,” he notes.

Real Estate Now

While there are still a lot of families living uptown, lately, couples with kids have been drawn to the downtown area as well as Brooklyn brownstones. The trendy Tribeca neighborhood has attracted a lot affluent families to be within walking distance of stores that offer art classes and other activities for children. Generally, the average rental is $3,500 per month, a significant hike in price compared to 25 years ago. The real estate industry in NYC now caters to the demand for indoor entertainment. Glenwood Properties rents apartments with indoor movie theaters and pools with special hours for kids. In fact, the second floor of downtown’s Barclay Tower is home to the Barclay Street School, for children between the ages of 2 and 5. Stern says: “There’s a tremendous attraction for parents [to live] downtown, in many instances to be close to where they work, if they want to come home for lunch and see the kids.”


This article orginally appeared in the New York Times on Feb. 4, 2013

The online listing for a condominium in Brooklyn Heights advertises five bedrooms and wide-open views of the Brooklyn Bridge, the Statue of Liberty and the Manhattan skyline for $4.995 million. A 19th-floor two-bedroom on East 59th Street offers floor-to-ceiling windows, a gas fireplace and two balconies; corporations and pieds-à-terre welcome, $2.495 million. And a penthouse on Greenwich Street offers a 500-square-foot terrace and a pet spa for $6.195 million.

In addition to large price tags, these listings have something else in common. They all puff out their chest to announce: This apartment has a garbage disposal.

This little appliance of convenience has been widely available in much of the country since the middle of the last century, but residential garbage disposals were, in fact, illegal in New York City until 1997. And although the laws have changed, many apartment buildings, especially older ones, continue to ban them, fearing for the health of aging pipes.

They do pop up now and again in apartment listings, especially in newer buildings. On Monday, 83 listings on the StreetEasy Web site considered this modest gadget, which typically costs less than $200, worth a mention, right alongside the gyms and the views, the pet wash rooms and the 24-hour doormen.

Nancy Albertson, director of leasing at Glenwood, a company that builds new rental buildings, many of which have included garbage disposals in recent years, said that when many New Yorkers saw them, they had the same reaction: “Isn’t that illegal?”

No, just rare.

Michael J. Wolfe, president of Midboro Management, which manages mostly prewar co-op and condominium buildings, said that out of 95 buildings, maybe three of his prewar buildings and a few newly constructed projects allowed garbage disposals.

Garbage disposals were banned in much of the city in the 1970s over concerns for the aged sewer system. (More creative and gruesome reasons worked their way into city lore. Stuart M. Saft, the chairman of the Council of New York Cooperatives and Condominiums, said he had heard the police feared that the bodies of murder victims might be disposed of down the drain. And in an essay in The New York Review of Books in 1991, Joan Didion wrote that a city employee had expressed concern to her that people might be tempted to “put their babies down them.”)

Before lifting the ban, the city distributed more than 200 disposals to New Yorkers free for a 21-month trial run. The sewers survived, so the ban did not.

Yet years later, worry remains that the remnants of dinner will become clogged in corroding old pipes, especially in apartment buildings that were not built with in-sink disposals — or washing machines, or dishwashers — in mind. But plumbers, building managers and real estate lawyers said they were hard pressed to think of a single recent horror story of a flood or broken pipe caused by the appliance.

“It probably has a lot more to do with fear than fact,” Mr. Wolfe said. “But nobody wants to be the test case.”

Some plumbers do say that putting extra grease down the drain while grinding up leftovers can damage plumbing, and if every apartment in an older building suddenly put in a garbage disposal, that could cause problems over the course of many years.

The real threats to pipes, they say, comes from cat litter flushed down the toilet or a child’s toy shoved into a bathtub drain. And the true dangers of garbage disposals — many of which now operate only when there is a cap on to protect wandering fingers — appear to lie elsewhere, as well.

“I was operating a garbage disposal once, and a turkey popper flew out and whacked me right in the forehead,” said Steven Sladkus, a real estate lawyer, offering up one example.

Shawn Calkins, a manager at Fred Smith Plumbing and Heating Company in Manhattan, provided another. “Anything that can fall down there generally does,” Mr. Calkins said. “Wedding rings tend to be the most common thing down garbage disposals, and toilets and sinks.”

Regardless of the reasoning, Mr. Sladkus added, if a building’s board wants to ban disposals, it is perfectly within its rights.

This does not mean that everybody listens.

“People sneak them in,” Mr. Wolfe said, describing scenes of them being surreptitiously hustled into buildings in shopping bags. When they are discovered, his management company asks that they be removed, but some disposal lovers put up a fight. Occasionally, he said, a lawyer even gets involved.

The frequency of these sneaky instances is impossible to gauge, but Mr. Saft has a suspicion.

“My guess is everybody who modernizes a kitchen puts in a garbage disposal unit,” he said. “All of a sudden, there’ss a plumber and a unit goes in — and gee, I don’t know how that got there!”

There are plenty of new buildings, however, that have taken the plunge willingly, eager to provide an extra touch of convenience. The kitchens at Crystal Green, a Glenwood rental building on West 39th Street, include garbage disposals — as they do at the ultraluxury Midtown building One57, where two apartments are under contract for at least $90 million.

But old buildings, according to plumbers and real estate professionals, will probably continue to drag their feet.

“People are just used to doing what they’ve been doing for decades,” said Philip J. Kraus, owner of Fred Smith Plumbing. And though he believes that disposals are not a problem, he does not have one himself, for another prototypically New York reason: space.

“I just don’t happen to have enough room under my kitchen sink,” Mr. Kraus said, “or I’d be happy to have one.”

Besides, the garbage can is right over there.

This article originally appeared on on November 14, 2012.

New Yorkers looking to rent apartments that are just as sustainable as they are high-end have a new building to choose from, Crystal Green in Midtown, Manhattan. Luxury rental company Glenwood launched leasing for the property last month and in addition to opulence, the 25-story Midtown West building also boasts a design that strives for LEED certification.

Crystal Green is Glenwood’s second sustainably built rental, and is located at 330 West 39th Street in the same Midtown neighborhood as Glenwood’s first sustainable property; Emerald Green. “Midtown West stands as one of the most exciting and dynamic neighborhoods in Manhattan,” noted Glenwood Management’s Executive Vice President Gary Jacob. “As a company, we’re also dedicated to sustainable development and have built this property according to LEED guidelines in our pledge to help make a positive impact on the environment while enriching the lifestyle of our residents.”

Crystal Green has 200 luxury apartments in layouts ranging from studios to two-bedrooms. Designed by Stephen B Jacobs Group, Crystal Green’s interior design boasts high percentages of recycled materials that have been regionally sourced from the Northeast. All homes have sustainable bamboo wood flooring, which adds a feeling of environmental sophistication to the homes’s interior design. The building was designed for energy efficiency and lower water consumption. Energy Star appliances dot every kitchen and laundry, and lighting sensors also help to keep the energy use low when people aren’t occupying the building.

Crystal Green is centrally located and is within walking distance of Penn Station. Though it may be in a wonderfully vibrant and active neighborhood, this luxury homestead offers 24-hour lobby attendants, a state-of-the-art fitness center, a children’s play center, and a recreation lounge, which will collectively help create a peaceful and relaxing environment for an instant getaway. So if you are interested in a new place to live in Midtown Manhattan give Glenwood a call.

This article orginally appeared in Real Estate Weekly on November 14, 2012

Posted in Barclay Tower, Crystal Green, Glenwood News |